My first week in Afghanistan
Master Corporal Stephane Rodrigue, Operation ATHENA 3-10 from 15 Nov 2010 to 15 Jul 2011
My name is Master Corporal Stephane Rodrigue, and I deployed to the Canadian mission in Afghanistan, Operation ATHENA 3-10 from 15 Nov 2010 to 15 Jul 2011. I experienced many events and had many adventures throughout the course of my tour. This article is the story of what took place during my first week in Afghanistan.
I am an Electronic-Optronic technician in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). I have extensive training and am highly experienced in my field of work. We are well trained soldiers, both mentally and physically, but that being said, I still was not prepared for what was going to transpire during my tour. I don’t think we are ever truly prepared to face the realities of war.
Originally, my entire tour was to take place in Kandahar Air Field. When my boots hit the ground, I had a rude awakening. My Warrant Officer greeted me by stating I was not to unpack my personal belongings, as there were changes. I would be spending my tour at the Forward Observation Base (FOB) Shoja in support of the Artillery and two front line house platoons, Ballpeen and Imabshaib. Two days later, I was at FOB Shoja, greeted by the Master Warrant Officer, and instructed that my assistance was required due to an unforeseen situation involving electrical deficiencies at Ballpeen. The International Security Assistance Force had told the Engineers that they were not to leave the relative safety of the FOB. In contrast to this, my group, the National Support Element (NSE), would operate outside of the FOB. I was given my first task. The inquisitive minds that are had hopes that I would be able to achieve a complete rewiring and reorganization of the electrical grid for Ballpeen.
After investigating the concept, I proudly accepted the mission and developed a solid electrical wiring plan for the Platoon houses. I then received the projected route to reach Ballpeen. It was a 3 km convoy by light armored vehicle and a 1.2 km foot patrol within a Panjawi village.
After being dropped off by the convoy, a Royal Canadian Regiment Sergeant in charge informed me there would be a possible attempt to attack our foot patrol. The estimated threat was a group of five Suicide Bomber Insurgents. The Sergeant instructed me to have my weapon at the ready, and be on alert for any possible attack/combat.
I would like to state I was brave and courageous but honestly, at the same time, I was scared. It would be my first combat experience and I had no idea what to expect. The Sergeant taught the drills to our group of eight soldiers for the patrol. At this point, it dawned on me that my life would truly be in danger.
During the patrol, there was no attack but one event did truly test my resolve. An Afghan local attempted to “test me” by antagonizing me. At this point I made use of every protocol within the CAF’s rules of engagement (ROE). In the end the individual retreated, but it was the first time I had experienced pointing a loaded weapon at another human being. It made me uncomfortable but the mission was top priority and conducted as per the ROE. I now fully realized the extent and reality of this mission.
After arriving at Ballpeen, I assessed the generator and concluded that it was under powered. I arranged for another 10 kilowatt generator to be brought by helicopter to the FOB without delay and I proceeded to reorganize the electrical distribution grid within the platoon house without any further complications.
My stay at the FOB would not be without further incident, however. During my last night at the FOB it was necessary for me to use the bathroom, which was a cordoned off area outside. Once outside, I heard the sound of AK47 shots. At this point my brain had not begun to process what was actually going on. Within seconds, the violent reality struck me: I was being shot at…… My heart skipped a beat and I immediately ran back to the platoon house, where we executed our drills and I was able control myself and the situation. A couple of days after this incident, and with the task successfully completed, I returned to FOB Shoja, concluding my first week in Afghanistan.
MCpl Rodrigue returning from Patrol in Afghanistan, 28 June 2011
The Awkwrd Soldier
Lt(N) Jim Parker
I am about as far away as one can get from being a Canadian soldier. I am a naval reservist and in civilian life I was a prep school physical education teacher, and now a writer. “How the HELL did I end up in Afghanistan”, was a question I asked myself the evening we landed in Kabul and many times thereafter. I’d served in the Sudan a few years previously as a UN military observer, and I suppose I thought this gave me some credibility, wrt to putting my name forward to serve on Op Attention, the training/mentoring mission in Kabul.
Anyway, after many months of fitness testing, courses, kitting out, training, indoctrination, inoculations, last minute changes, traveling and much more, I found myself on the tarmac at Kabul International Airport, with a couple of hundred other Canadian Forces members. I think what first opened my eyes ‘for real’ to what I was now involved with, was the issuing of weapons and other personal gear. You have to understand. I was not/am not a ‘pointy end, regular army soldier’. I am more like your ‘awkrd soljer’. I did and successfully passed all the necessary training in order to meet the standard. But in ‘mindset’, I was still naval reservist-civilian.
I believe when someone deploys to a war zone, they have to be absolutely switched-on and ‘in the zone’. They also have to hold themselves at this state for the whole tour. No letting down. This is only fair to themselves and to their comrades. In all honesty, I doubt I would have been of much use to anybody, if the ‘shit hit the fan’. There were various ‘incidents’ throughout the tour, but nothing that directly involved me.
When I look back now and at some of the work I was involved in (i.e. ‘airport liaison’), I shudder at my ignorance and naivety. Fortunately, I was surrounded by incredibly talented, professional and competent CAF members, almost the whole time I was there. From the anti-terrorist trained drivers, to our senior leaders, to the NCOs and hands, I was always amazed and proud – especially in comparison to many of our allies’ soldiers.
As with any deployment, Op Attention on a personal level, consisted of good and bad events. The good being the people I served with, including the Afghans, the lessons I learned and getting to travel to a foreign land. The bad was losing comrades to the enemy and being away from home. As with my deployment to the Sudan in 2008, I tried to leave much of my ‘Canadian-ness’ behind. That is, I was determined to experience my part of Afghanistan and its people for what it and they were. No preconceived notions and no comparing our two countries. This way, I thought I would enjoy the deployment and learn more. I was partially successful.
I was sent to Afghanistan as part of the support group as a contract officer. This would entail working on all the private logistical contracts that existed between ‘the locals’ and the military. I had a secondary role as a ‘airport liaison officer’. The latter was interesting work in that it allowed me to get off the Base and out into Kabul. After a month in country, I was transferred to a smaller Canadian camp, where I was to be an assistant ‘plans’ officer – a job for which I was completely untrained. However, the move turned out to be a great thing for several reasons.
The camp was much smaller than the main one, so one got to know more people. The Canadian contingent had some really wonderful people and in the mentor/advisor role, we got to interact with the Afghans. In my role as assistant plans officer, I would have spent most of my time stuck in an office in the camp. However, when the ‘highers’ found that in civilian life I had been a physical education teacher and had a graduate degree in exercise physiology, I was hooked up with the Afghan colonel in charge of sport and fitness for the recruits. Perfect!! Here was an area where I thought I could contribute in a ‘real’ way.
In retrospect, I suppose I did help a wee bit. However, the Afghan colonel I worked with was corrupt, disliked by his troops and pretty useless in his position. All of this made me think that he had been punted to that position by his highers, to keep him out of the way.
Anyway, it was not as important as most of the work done over there, but it was something contributed by me and that had been a bit of a worry. Before I went to Sudan as an UNMO and now this time to Afghanistan, it was important to me that I do ‘something’ ‘over there’. Something good. Something contributive. As Rosemary, my partner Heather’s sister said, even if I just caused a few smiles and some laughter to occur, in those harsh places, that was something indeed. Well yes, at least I did that…..
What does the future hold for Afghanistan?
Major Graham M Longhurst
It is extremely doubtful that any Coalition soldier deployed to Afghanistan has not been asked at some time by a relative or friend: “What is going to happen there? Will Afghanistan make it?” I know among my Canadian colleagues, the question has often been asked and remains a topic of intense interest even for those of us observing the developments up close here in Kabul.
If we could look into the crystal ball… It has been 10 years since the ousting of the Taliban. Given another 10 years, what will the headlines read?
(1) “AGAINST ALL ODDS, THE AFGHANS ACTUALLY DID IT”
(2) “DESPITE THE DECADES OF HELP AFGHANS REMAIN MIRED IN THE DARK AGES”
Whether one’s outlook follows headline 1 or headline 2 depends largely on what one is measuring against. If one is inclined to contrast Afghanistan’s progress against the quality of life Canadians are used to, then the pessimism of the second headline will dominate.
But if one puts the progress into the context of Afghanistan’s history, there is plenty of room for optimism.
Consider that until the nation fell under the grip of the Taliban, it was considered one of the more progressive Islamic nations. This was especially true from 1933-1973 during the reign of its last King Zahir Shah, who not only tolerated, but encouraged the incorporation of many western lifestyles.
It is really only the draconian throwback of the Taliban’s tyranny upon a generation from the early 1990s until late 2001 that has caused the world to view the nation in terms of the Dark Ages. Many in Afghanistan recall those more relaxed eras and long to return to the path toward modernization.
In reality, that is the true mission of the international community and the Coalition Forces — helping to re-establish the building blocks for a bright new future.
At the same time, we also know the place to which the road paved with good intentions can lead, which is why the original question of Afghanistan’s future remains an open one.
We members of the Coalition Force and international community have come here to help train their future leaders who, with our help, have extended the rope from which the nation may climb from the abyss. Given the terror of their recent past and the periodic security breaches, it is understandable that many Afghans remain reluctant to grasp that rope.
It can be discouraging to some among the Coalition Forces when it appears many have picked up the rope but are reluctant to move forward out of the darkness, even with our encouragement from beside them. Indeed, it requires a kind of faith in those we advise that enough brave Afghans will to pick up the rope, move forward and lead the rest to the bright future that they seek.
What complicates the matter is the news coverage of the immediate future and the focus on 2014. What does the date mean? Are all or most of the Coalition Forces leaving in 2014? Will the financial support suddenly cease? To what extent are this government and its military expected to fend for itself within 2 years?
No one really knows. The date has been bandied about, but how the plans have not yet been clearly laid out.
Many of us on the ground believe the Coalition forces must remain past 2014 even if not in the current strength. That is because a 10-year-old republic trying to govern itself with a 70 percent illiteracy rate will need a transitional safety net until the younger leaders advance to higher positions of authority. Yes, the Afghan National Army and the police will need to take an ever-increasing role in providing the security and stemming the insurgency, but they cannot be abandoned abruptly.
That transition is not without real and significant challenges, not the least of which are:
— residual corruption
— lingering comfort with the Soviet-style command centric direction
in the ANA.
— ingrained inertia.
Keep in mind that my perspective is that of a logistics Major whose primary responsibility is to advise the Afghan officer (G4) responsible for the logistics for the Kabul Military Training Center (KMTC). KMTC trains up to 60,000 recruits a year. That is the size of the entire Canadian Military – in a single year! The volume of supply and support required to do this is at a scale that perhaps even the Canadian Military would struggle with.
That is why I am concerned that the current logistics support system may very well not be ready for the Afghan lead in 2014. I am reminded of the old military adage:
For Want of a Nail
For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail
So as I ponder the aftermath of 2014, I hope I am not predicting the complete collapse of the current fragile government of Afghanistan, but a breakdown in the ANA’s logistics system could have far-reaching consequences.
What if the logistics system cannot provide the equipment needed on time for the ANA to successfully continue fighting the insurgents? What happens when the soldiers stop getting paid regularly? What happens when they stop getting fed every day? The answer likely is the mass exodus of the soldiers from the Army.
True, a well-trained army will follow a good leader through a lot. The camaraderie built when facing huge challenges and surviving can cause soldiers to band together. But when we are talking about logistics, we are focusing on the basic needs that have to be taken care of. Without the food, pay and equipment, soldiers will question the worthiness of their cause and begin to doubt their leadership.
Virtually all governments – especially in potentially unstable environments — rely on their military power to maintain authority over the governed. This can be through fear or trust, depending on how public consensus views the army. But if the army no longer provides that governing foundation, if the soldiers have started a mass exodus, the resulting vacuum will be filled by others with power.
This was evident when the Taliban managed to fill the power void in the 1990s. It is evident the Coalition and Afghan forces have weakened the insurgency drastically, but one cannot be certain they, with help for other nations, do not have access to sufficient resources and people to topple a government that has lost its military base in the wake of a Coalition rapid withdrawal.
To shore up the logistic system in the ANA, the three challenges, at a minimum, must be addressed.
In rooting out corruption, we have to acknowledge two fundamental truths. First, given the extreme poverty of Afghanistan, many here have grown up with a survival-of-the-fittest mentality that prompts them to look out for themselves and their family above any kind of western norm frowning on corruption. Second, things western nations view as corruption are not necessarily viewed that way here.
For example, the Persian word Baksheesh is a term used to describe tipping, charitable giving, as well as certain forms of political corruption and bribery in the Middle East to South Asia. In the view of some here, the personal payment in exchange for a favorable decision is akin to the western view of tipping a waiter or waitress for good service. It is just not considered immoral or wrong in all quarters.
But in the army, this can have significant negative consequences. Some of the money that is siphoned off comes from the soldiers themselves, either in the form of pay distribution, cost of promotion or surcharges on items sold in the soldiers’ canteen. If soldiers see this and see their leaders profiting at the expense of their subordinates, the resulting weakening of the chain of command would be obvious in any army. Certainly, this cannot be overlooked as a potential factor in the 30 percent attrition rate in the ANA.
Further complicating this is a command-focused army. Keep in mind, the army here has had more than half a century of learning the Soviet way of running a military. The concept of a noncommissioned officer and delegation of responsibilities are new concepts introduced within the past 10 years.
For things to get accomplished, often a command directive is necessary by someone up the Chain of Command (CoC). A kind of military inertia sets in. Inaction (unless commanded) combined with poor motivation (unless there is a benefit) comes across to a western view point as a lack of initiative. Armies will stagnate and not progress without change and the willingness to change comes from initiative.
This highly command centric system regularly causes their supply request to be crippled. Every layer of command seems to feel the need to sign off on the issuing of kit, equipment and supplies. The consequence is that simple supply requests can take upwards of two to four months to flow through all the authorities to obtain signatures.
The requisition form is called the Ministry of Defense 14 (MoD 14). My experience is only one in four MoD 14s end up authorized and there are no tracking systems to determine if the request has been lost, trashed or denied by someone in the CoC.
In time, the system will smooth itself out and a comfort level will be established in the supply process. But the key word is “in time.” If the ANA is forced to implement the system fully within the next two years, there is little reason for optimism. But if the younger officers are given the time to learn the system and iron out the wrinkles, success will follow naturally.
In the end if the ANA leadership do not change the way they handle MoD 14’s it could lead to a failure of the supply and support system. Thus the soldiers not trusting the leadership, for various reasons, and voting with their feet by leaving the army, thus causing the government to lose its power base and opening the door for the possibility of the Taliban to reassert its power base.
In the final analysis, it really does come down to the willingness of the Afghans themselves to re-adjust to the path upon which they were traveling and the willingness of the rest of the world to provide time for the Afghans to make the adjustments free from tyrannical interference.
We do hear the leadership in the ANA saying the right things in front of large crowds of soldiers –statements like “The ANA is leading the country as an example of unity. KMTC is a place where the door opens to represent all people of Afghanistan”, “Soldiers come first and are the priority over leadership”, ”Accountability of kit and equipment is essential for future success in the Army.”
So in spite of the dire headlines and the media’s “2014 Sword of Damocles” hanging over Afghanistan, there remains the basis for optimism. On a day-to-day basis I observe encouraging actions taken by members of the ANA. I have seen the logistics staff held accountable for poor performance and recognized in front of the group for doing good work. I have seen them discipline those who are guilty of corruption.
The ANA has produced guiding core values that promote God, Country and Duty. They promote values such as integrity, service, courage, honour, respect and loyalty; which were defined and chosen by the ANA themselves. The values have not universally taken root, but each year, one can see progress. The ANA at KMTC have the experience to produce trained soldiers prepared for what they may face against the insurgency. The key is to ensure they have what they need to do the job and the time in which to accomplish the job unmolested.
A Sailor Adrift in a Sea of Soldiers
Lt(N) Matt Jones
I served with the Task Force Kandahar operations centre from the summer of 2010 to the summer of 2011: a sailor adrift in a sea of soldiers. When we weren’t on shift we flipped huge tires behind the gym, rousing clouds of foul-tasting dust. In the operations centre we watched the war play out through drone feeds and reports from troops in the field. Operationally this was an exciting time because our area of operations withered to include only two provinces: Panjwa’I and Dand. We expected to condense our focus and increase our influence with local villages by showing them Canadian soldiers were capable of deploying in the concentration required to protect them from Taliban intimidation tactics.
We weren’t always successful. We still heard reports of acid splashed in the faces of girls on their way to school and grenades thrown through windows of families as they were eating and insurgents cutting off the ears and noses of workers we had hired. We saw suicide bombers blow themselves up in marketplaces and IEDs detonate on our troops with devastating effect. We saw a massive prison break that unleashed hundreds of Taliban that we had worked so hard to capture. We saw a minister in the southern US burn Korans on television and watched the riots erupt in Bazaar-e-Panjwa’i. We watched as a mob of villagers refused to allow a medical team close to a woman who suffered from an IED blast, her leg severed at the knee, until she stopped flailing and lay silent in the dust.
We controlled drones, jets, bombers, artillery, and helicopters. We hunted IED emplacers down the winding roads as the boiling sun retired and the Afghans took to their roofs to smoke and talk on their cell phones. Despite our physical distance from the conflict we still felt we could participate and help our friends in the forward operating bases.
We had victories. We built a road that wandered south alongside the Dowrey Rud, or river, all the way from Masum Ghar into the horn of Panjwa’i: no man’s land. We built schools and hospitals and infrastructure and made locals feel safe. We arranged the medical evacuation of Afghans who were injured; we trained the Afghan Army, police force, and prison guards. We distributed aid and food and dug wells. We recovered helicopters that crashed into the sand dunes and brought the pilots to safety.
Eleven and a half long months in the operations centre with daily situation reports, endless briefings, and watching people get blown up. We drank a thousand litres of coffee. After eleven months it felt like we’d always been there, in Afghanistan, and home was just a dream. But the end of the tour arrived like those monsoon rains in the winter and after a long flight, a breakdown in Iceland, and a freak electrical storm, we landed back in Ottawa safely.
Trauma Bay Role 3 Hospital
Janet Harrington Civilian Deployed with CFPSA, Kandahar Airfield, July 2007-Jan. 2008, Jan. 2011- July.2011
I was deployed to Afghanistan with CFPSA and worked retail on the Airbase in Kandahar. During my time there, I also got involved at the NATO role 3 hospital, volunteering in the ward and eventually in the trauma bay. I was given the opportunity to work with a team every 5th day, and duties included cleaning stretchers, moving patients, and assisting with any needs the team had during a trauma call. Sometimes I did IV’s or wound cleaning, as I have a medical background, they allowed me to be more hands on with the people coming in. Sometimes we saw Afghan civilians, children who has been hit by stray bullets, or families who’s vehicles had struck IED’s. Often we had military members come in from any of the NATO countries working over there.
One day I decided to head over to the Trauma bay for a few hours before going into work later that day. We were preparing to do MOC drills and started working out the details of who would be doing what during the drill. The pager went off mid-way thru, a triple amputee was being brought in from point of injury. Imminently the bay was full of staff preparing everything from IV’s to blood transfusions. A crew was sent out to meet the chopper flying the patient in. For almost a brief moment it seemed like the room stopped and suddenly a voice was head, screaming for morphine, making pleads to God and us to stop the pain. Everyone sprung into action. We removed what was left of his clothing, both right and left legs were gone except an inch or two of bone and bloodied mess, I grabbed onto it to hold him steady while the doctors and corpsmen intubated the young soldier. His right arm, still attached to his body was hanging by skin. Blood transfusions began, new turnicates were applied and the soldier was prepped for surgery. It seemed like hours had gone passed, by the time we rolled him into the OR. However the team leader informed us later that everything from entry to exit had been just under 15 minutes.
I had never seen an amputation before, and later that afternoon as I prepared for my shift at Tim Horton’s, I reflected on the sacrifice this man had made. I wondered what it would be like when he woke up and was aware of what happened. Although I was on my second tour in KAF, and had attended multiple ramp ceremonies, the sacrifice this man had made really seemed to hit home personally. That day gave me a new appreciation for what our soldiers do in Afghanistan. I have the utmost respect for every man and women that has come home in a casket, I see their names and faces on memorials and I know I will never forget them. But nor will I forget that many, many more have come home forever changed. This day reminded me that even though not every name will make it to the history books, and some not even to the newspaper, they too need to be remembered for everything they have given.
A Canadian in Kabul
By SLt David Lewis PAO – Chief of Social Media
NATO Training Mission – Afghanistan Camp Eggers, Kabul November 2011
The Canadian Forces combat mission is wrapping up and OP ATTENTION, the Canadian Contribution Training Mission Afghanistan (CCTM-A) is underway. As a member of Roto 0, my boots are on the ground at Camp Eggers in Kabul.
It is a somewhat surreal experience to be standing here in Afghanistan. The hot barren mountains of the Hindu Kush which surround the city have been witness to a dramatic stream of human history. I am now part of that history. As I ride in a convoy through the streets of Kabul I am amazed at the differences, and the
similarities between here and Canada. On a side street, for example, I see a young father holding the seat of a bicycle while his son learns to ride. The feeling that most consumes me is an overwhelming sense of responsibility. I have a responsibility to the Afghan people who smile and wave to me on the street. I have a responsibility to the mission, and I have an inherent responsibility to those Canadians who have preceded me here. It is their dedication and sacrifice that passes the torch to me. I do not accept it lightly.
The NATO Training Mission – Afghanistan (NTM-A) mission was stood up over 21 months ago. Canada is one of 34 troop-contributing countries, under NATO command, dedicated to ensuring that Afghanistan’s security institutions (Army, Air Force, and Police) are self-sufficient and self-sustaining. Canadian trainers
and mentors are playing an integral part in this mission.
Literacy has also become a fundamental part of this new mission. NTM-A launched an aggressive campaign to dramatically change literacy training for Afghan security personnel. As of 12 August 2011 there are 87,400 Afghan soldiers and police enrolled in literacy class. Recently the 100,000 graduate of literacy training received his certificate. School enrollment also has increased from 900,000 (mainly boys) to almost seven million (37 percent girls). NTM-A is also reaching out to the civilian sector to establish educational relationships to increase literacy opportunities. One of the core missions is to establish an enduring educational capacity.
Over the next several years, they will develop key force enablers such as logistics, human resources, and finance. Professionalizing the force is a key to creating enduring institutions and reducing Afghan reliance on ISAF. As Afghans assume the security lead, NTM-A’s focus shifts to training the trainer.
Over the past two years, an additional 113,000 Afghan soldiers and police have been trained and are working with 130,000 NATO. In seven areas of Afghanistan the Afghan Army and Police are already leading security efforts. Local militias are integrating into the formal security structure; commerce is returning; and schools are opening. GDP has increased from $170 under the Taliban to $1,000 per capita in 2010. Almost all Afghans now have access to basic health services (only nine percent did in 2002). Most of the country is now connected via mobile phones and highways. The powerful force of social media is altering the landscape as over one million Afghans have internet access and over 215,000 have facebook accounts. The fabric of the Afghan society itself is evolving.
If there are Canadian troops who have arrived home wondering if there was more they could still do’, I want them to understand that we are here, continuing their work. Every success we have is part of their legacy. I have hope. The Afghan people, with the help of the world community, are reclaiming Afghanistan.
I think again of the young Afghan father supporting his son as he navigates his new bicycle. I watch the father let go and I see the son move forward on his own, and I think of Afghanistan.
Canadian Naval Reserve in Arid Cadpat
By SLt David Lewis, RCN, NTM-A PAO Kabul
It’s early morning and the main road running through Camp Eggers, Afghanistan has come alive with the camouflage uniforms of 34 different nations. In the flowing river of green and brown patterns there stands out a small flash of red – a maple leaf. Like a salmon swimming upstream, this Naval Reservist from Ottawa, Ontario weaves her way through the hot Kabul morning.
It’s already 38 Celsius as Lieutenant (Navy) JoAnne Carter heads to the motor-pool where she dons her heavy flak jacket and tactical vest. Meeting her convoy team she climbs behind the wheel of an armoured SUV and heads towards the gate. The vehicle snakes its way along the concrete canyons, through the weave of rock-filled gabion-basket walls and past the sand-bagged armed sentry
“I find the driving a real challenge but I truly enjoy it”, say JoAnne “It’s a fascinating view of the Afghan people going about their daily life in this war-torn city.” When the convoy stops it will be at the Afghan National Civil Order Police (ANCOP) Headquarters where LT(N) Carter is an advisor. The ANCOP mission is to maintain the rule of law and order by utilizing proportionate armed capability. ANCOP is the lead police organization in counter insurgency
operations and it works in close cooperation with the other Afghan police organizations.
“I have an Afghan counterpart whom I meet with several hours a day, at ANCOP HQ,” says JoAnne, “He is a very professional and personable officer with a long career in policing and investigation. He’s asked for advice on a wide-range of topics.”
This is not the first deployment for this Naval Reservist. Since joining at HMCS Carleton in Ottawa in 1983, she has been a recruiting officer, staff officer at Submarine Acquisition, Training Officer at both Fleet School Quebec and at the Maritime Warfare Centre in Halifax. She has participated in Exercise Bell Buoy 2010 in Newcastle, Australia, and was selected for Roto 0 of OP SAIPH, Canada’s participation at NATO, Northwood in the UK, in the campaign to enhance maritime security in the Persian Gulf and in the waters around the Horn of Africa.
It is no surprise that JoAnne volunteered for service in Afghanistan. Her family has a history of service. Her father was a Second World War veteran with the RCAF and her grandfather was a First World War veteran with the Royal Newfoundland Regiment.
“I always knew that if I was in a position to volunteer for service, I would,” she says quietly, “But it was a family member being killed here in Afghanistan in 2007 that inspired me to come back into the Canadian Forces and put my previous 15 years of military experience back to work.”
It has been an incredibly rewarding experience already. She has been welcomed into her counterpart’s office and he has shared information with her about his family and his career. She shares his concerns about the safety of ANCOP personnel both in the field and in the headquarters. There is a great deal of understanding, humour, and a profound sense that they are not very different.
“We want the same outcome and trust each other to work toward the same goal.” She smiles as she says, “It’s rewarding to be part of OP ATTENTION and to continue the good work Canadians have already done in Afghanistan. I get to work with fellow Canadians, and with so many other nations who are committed to this mission.”
And tomorrow morning, as the first beams of sunlight stream down over the Hindu Kush, they will no doubt illuminate a black Royal Canadian Navy beret, and a small red maple leaf, moving through the crowd.
Mobile Construction Team
MCpl Shaughn Wittman, 10 Nov 2010 to 25 Jul 2011, ROTO 10
MCpl Shaughn Wittman – Dates of my deployment were from 10 Nov 2010 to 25 Jul 2011. It was ROTO 10. I was the 2 i/c of a mobile construction team who toured our AO and prepared various FOBS for the rainy season and gave them creature conforts that they never had.
Photo of MCpl Shaughn Wittman by Sgt Twaddle
We spent on average 30 days at each FOB or TI then moved onto the next. Incredibly busy. We ended up getting the Task Force Commanders Commendation. We were based out of KAF for the first part of our tour and went to FOB Shoja, FOB Basha, TI Pul, TI MacThab, and FOB Folad. We were stood down in late January 2011 and from there I went to FOB Folad and took over as Det Comd for the Engineer Services Squadron where we maintained the camp of 300 and prepared it for handover to the US Forces from Alaska. We did this with a team of 4. The photos are of me and my team. The artist drawing was done by Johnson, Richard (National Post) where I was printed a few times as he was stationed in Folad for a few months. On many occassions I acted as his body gaurd when we went outside the wire to the top of Spotter Hill. We got quite close and he drew each member of my team.
Engineer Support Services on Tour on duty 24/7
The photo of the team was taken Capt Mathew Swegal of the USF
Left to right – Cpl Postma, MCpl Duval, Cpl Allard, Cpl Maillette, MCpl Wittman, Sgt Twaddle, and MWO Morningstar.
Being on tour has many challenges, from a tradesman’s point of view. Especially when you start off that tour as a carpenter on the Mobile Construction Team. After volunteering for what was to be an insane pace, we were apprehensive. All the major trades were there, and for good reason. The plumbers, electricians, carpenters and refrigeration techs were all kept busy. In most cases, we had over a weeks work to do in a matter of a few days. And since our time at each site was prescheduled, we had no choice but to get done what needed to be.
As the carpenter, I was crazy busy constructing floor boards for no less than 20-30 sections of modular tents at a time while making OP roofs and doors for offices. All of this within a few days. Even sneaking in the odd shelving unit for someone who needed storage space. When I wasn’t doing those, I was constructing decks over pits and mezzanines to increase sleeping areas for our guys on the ground. But we got it done. It’s amazing what can be built with a circular saw and a drill. Our time was well spent at night planning for the next day or sleeping off the exhaustion. But it all paid off at the end of each road trip when you saw the joy on the faces of the men and women when they saw what we did for them. Which usually meant flooring from the carpenter, running hot water and showers from the plumber, and fresh electrical grids and A/C from the EGS and RM techs?
The soldiers at each site were more than eager to help us if they could, as it helped us help them. But as all good things come to an end, so did our rotation as the MCT. I was lucky to finish and go on HLTA. Upon returning, I was moved to a FOB as an A Det Commander. My worst fear of boredom was beginning, because most of the infrastructure was already in place. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. As a team leader for an ESS element, I had the same crazy busy schedule. Only this time, a different set of problems every day. From overseeing the tasks of the tradesman on camp, and ordering supplies for future jobs or just restock, writing weekly evaluations & DSR’s, and attending meetings in HQ, as well as overseeing contractors, it never ends.
From sun up to sun down, an ESS commander never really stops. Unless its meal time, which of course, is usually when the contractors show up. But it too has its rewards. When there is an issue with something structural, we are the “go to team.” As the site engineers, we really make the difference between comfortable and safe. It is our expertise that helps make the difference whether or not they stay dry in the rainy season or cool in the hot. And being the leader of that team makes me in high demand most of the time. During the HQ meetings here, I am constantly being asked questions that make me look back at my training or refer to past experiences from the other trades. That is my challenge. Working the brain every day to ensure the jobs get done and everyone is happy.
Drawing by Richard Johnson, National Post.
I tend to look at this job as a business. The camp is my customer and when a request comes in, I ensure the highest quality work is done in the most reasonable time frame so the customer gets satisfaction. But when the request involves outside help from a local contractor, it gets interesting. Overcoming the language barrier between an Anglophone Det Comd and the Francophone unit here is hard enough let alone throwing in a Pashtu contractor. And the camp interpreters (Terps as we call them), really have to know their jobs. They act as a mutual aide to both sides to help get the job done. Information loss thru language exchange is important here. After all, you wouldn’t want a hundred trucks to show up when you request just one. It’s just another of the daily challenges.
But in the end, jobs get done. They have to. No matter how small like fixing a door, to installing a 2000LB generator for a new structure being built, or even assisting our fire chief as he does an inspection. Because the jobs never stop coming in. Every member here in the construction trade is devoted to keeping the wheels of the FOB running. And in most cases, like mine, we have 2 or more TI’s as well to support. Crazy busy. It’s the new term to describe my daily tasks as an ESS team leader. But in all the craziness of a day, friendships are formed. Language barriers are overcome. And a small team, the ESS team, keeps a large place running smoothly as a well oiled machine. CHIMO!
Three Tours in Afghanistan
Warrant Officer Randie Potts, CISTM – 1 Service Battalion Edmonton.
I have done three tours in Afghanistan, 2002, 2006 and 2011. All three tours were based out of Kandahar Airfield. I would like to share some changes that I experienced over there.
2011 – The Canadian C-17 transport stopped in front of the military air movements building as I walked towards it nothing was the same. We were taken to our interim barracks BATS then to the weather havens until the Roto 10 leaves. Two days of briefings this time, a lot did not pertain to us as we were not to leave the camp.
The quarters are ISO Trailers stacked two high with showers and indoor plumbing. Two guys to room with real beds and mattresses there was even an air conditioner in each one. Six very different Mess halls to have meals in. The tech shop was the same work area, a MEC shelter, sea can office stacked sea cans for storage with more LSVW MRT’s. One of the mess halls from the 2006 tour was made in the PX. The boardwalk was complete circle of small shops and eateries. There was the floor hockey rink notably Canadian with white boards and red trim. During the tour they put in a soccer pitch a large carpet of dark green artificial turf in the centre of the boardwalk circle. Tim Horton’s had moved it is now 4 trailers put together and only about 50 Metres from my quarters right across from Canada House. My son Adam and I use to treat each other to icecaps and Irish Toffee Cappuccinos at the picnic table by the walk by window. My oldest son, Adam was with me on this closeout tour. My youngest son, Ian had completed an second tour in 08/09 so he stayed back to deliver my first grandson, Charles. He came into this world the day before my birthday.
While on this tour I was proud to join my son on parade when he was presented with the Canadian Decoration.
What I found out about these tours is … what I enjoy is coming home to smiling faces and a few happy tears.