Une autre journée au paradis
Caporal-chef Annie Bonin, Caissier-chef de la Rotation 1 de l’Opération Attention – juin à novembre 2012
Ils ont planté des bulbes de fleurs devant l’entrée de notre dortoir. Je les regarde faire avec curiosité. Je suis convaincue que nous ne verrons jamais un bourgeon émerger de cette terre aride. Je regarde autour de moi. Je ne semble pas être la seule à avoir cette opinion. Quelques-uns secouent la tête, d’autres ricanent. Un intermède incongru et rigolo dans la grisaille du quotidien.
Les jours se suivent et se ressemblent pour moi. Tout ici est beige, gris ou brun. L’air est gorgé de particules en suspension qui embuent l’horizon. Entre collègues, nous nous saluons par la phrase « Une autre journée au paradis! », modifiant le « bonjour » habituellement utilisé.
Puis un matin, on m’apprend que je sortirai de ma routine et irai rejoindre un autre camp pour une inspection surprise. Je passerai au cœur du centre-ville de Kaboul. C’est donc les yeux grands ouverts que j’ai franchi la distance, gobant toutes les visions (principalement d’horreur, mais aussi quelques fois de surprise ou de dépaysement total!) que les bords de rues me donnaient. Les handicapés pleuvent ici. C’est ce qui est marquant en premier lieu. Ça et la pauvreté extrême. Il y a quelques puits publics, mais seulement sur la rue principale. Toutes les maisons sur la montagne (et Dieu sait combien il en a!) n’ont pas d’eau et doivent descendre “en ville” pour venir chercher leur eau. Les enfants ici sont surprenants, et très attendrissants. J’en ai vu 3 qui jouaient au cerf-volant dans un champ. Très mignon. J’en ai vu aussi, plus nombreux, dans le dépotoir à ciel ouvert en train de fouiller les vidanges. Et quand je dis dépotoir, c’est plutôt juste un bord de rue habituel, mais rempli de déchet, et tout ça semble normal ici.
La normalité pour nous n’est pas le même ici. Les gens traversent les rues sans regarder, même les rues à 4-5 voies! J’ai vu un handicapé assis en plein milieu des 4 voies en train de quêter. Les autos sont pleines à craquer, ils enlèvent même les portes pour sortir les jambes de l’auto pour entrer plus de personnes à l’intérieur. J’ai même vu 5 personnes sur une motocyclette et une autre moto avec 4 personnes, dont une pas de jambe! Comment tu fais pour tenir sur une moto pas de jambe! Tout ça est vraiment très surprenant.
De retour au campement militaire où j’habite, je repense à tout ce que j’ai vécu durant cette journée particulière. Je comprends mieux l’impact de mon implication et mes responsabilités envers mon pays. Mes sacrifices se supportent plus facilement. Ma mélancolie se dissipe lorsque je revois en pensée ces enfants si mignons jouant au cerf-volant. J’ai des espoirs pour eux de jours meilleurs, et je sais que j’y ai apporté mon assistance.
Les jardiniers ont également réussi leur petit miracle, quelques tiges délicates ornées de chétives fleurettes ont finalement éclos. Nous sommes plusieurs à s’attarder devant pour les admirer. Voilà enfin de jolies couleurs au cœur de l’Afghanistan!
Afghanistan: The First Twenty- Four Hours, A Sailor’s
LCdr Ken Dufour, Commander Force Integration and Branch Head for the Deputy Commanding Officer Special Operation Forces of the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan, Oct 2012 until July 2013, Op Attention
The door to the enormous transport aircraft opened, and in bounded an enthusiastic General Officer who eagerly greeted our mixed group of soldiers, sailors and airmen to Kabul, Afghanistan. As this senior officer greeted us, the nervous energy of the group was electric. We had finally arrived. After two months of training, the theoretical would change very quickly to the practical.
The General’s comments were brief and to the point. We had an important job to do in the development of the fledgling Afghan National Security Forces. Our mission was to be one of training. Despite no planned, direct combat with Taliban insurgents, a great risk still remained. The external threat to our safety was the continued use of improvised explosive devices by those who preferred to destabilize the nation we had been sent to secure. Of much greater worry, he explained, was the threat from within. The oft-reported insider attacks, or “Green on Blue” incidents, that had been the cause of dozens of coalition military deaths over the last year were of grave concern. Then, with his message delivered, he and his entourage quickly deplaned and disappeared into the night.
Making my way down the ramp, my stomach churned as if riding a rollercoaster; I was instantly filled with excitement, anxiety and dread. After twenty-three years of naval service these feelings were not new to me. But this time they seemed somewhat different. No longer was I in my comfort zone, directing the movements of a five thousand ton frigate or in the ship’s operations room controlling highly complex missile systems. I was now truly a fish out of water, trying my best not only to blend in, but to lead this eclectic group.
After receiving our weapons and emergency medical supplies that would be our best tool to keep us alive in the event of an attack, we scrambled into the armoured vehicles that would transport us to our initial staging base. The convoy to our destination was uneventful despite the detailed brief of the current threat and recent attacks that had occurred in the preceding days along our planned route.
Notwithstanding the darkness and limited visibility enveloping the armoured vehicle, I could sense the difference in the men who shuttled us through our first road movement. Though much younger than their passengers, they had an immense sense of confidence that eluded us as newcomers. While vigilant, they had an ease about them that suggested they had learned and seen much during their nine-month tour.
Our destination for the evening reached, we set about unloading our gear and equipment. Looking more like a group of gypsy vagabonds moving across the desert than a cohesive military body, we dragged our luggage into an enormous building that resembled a giant galvanized steel culvert cut in two and placed open-side down. Inside, the air was thick with dust that coated the inside of my nose and throat, turning my spit to mud. Fully exhausted, I found a bunk and fell into a fitful sleep.
After awaking and grabbing breakfast in a surprisingly well-provisioned dining facility, I was off to our first mandatory event, a weapons familiarization session. There were about thirty of us in the rear portion of the building, which had served as our communal bedroom the night before, when a senior non-commissioned officer set about giving us our instructions to unload and make our weapons safe. After weeks of rigorous weapons training, I quickly cleared my pistol of live ammunition and moved forward to pick up an empty magazine to start the drills.
Out of the blue a sharp crack pierced the air, setting off a deafening ringing in my ears. My internal monologue began to scream, “Jesus Christ, I think that was a gunshot, holy shit, that hurt!” Everything slowed down. Time moved one frame at a time as my mind cycled through the moment. “I think I’ve been shot?” “No.” “I’m still standing; surely I wouldn’t be standing if I had been shot?” “Man, my back hurts.” Suddenly my training kicks in. I conduct a wet check, look for blood, feel for punctures, apply pressure, and call for a medic. I find my voice, “I’M HIT!” I yell. “Someone needs to check my back; I think I’ve been shot,” I exclaim. Time continues in slow motion as a medic moves to check my wound. I lift my shirt and drop my pants; a thirty-something medic with multiple combat tours of Afghanistan confirms that I’ve been hit by shrapnel.
Eventually, calm returns; I discover I’ve been hit in the back, buttock and arm with fragments from a bullet accidently fired into the concrete just behind where I was standing. Luckily, my injuries are only superficial and are easily treated. Eventually two of the wounds will fester and force out the fragments; the third piece will most likely remain with me for life. This has been my first twenty-four hours in Afghanistan and the fact that this will not be like any other deployment I’ve ever experienced is confirmed.
Special Olympics Afghanistan
Detective John Langford, Calgary Police Service
After releasing from the military in 1998 I never thought I’d work alongside CF members again, let alone deploy overseas. I am currently a member of the Calgary Police Service, but prior to becoming a police officer I was a member of the Canadian Armed Forces for seven years. I served in the artillery and later as a medic. I completed two UN tours as a rifleman, the first in Cyprus in 1992/93 and the second in Yugoslavia in 1994. From November 2011 through November 2012, I deployed to Kabul, Afghanistan as a civilian police officer where I mentored and advised the Afghan National Police in the areas of human trafficking and human smuggling.
Afghanistan was like no other place that I had been. I saw it as a country of extremes: extreme weather, extreme violence and extreme poverty. Everyday many people went hungry and without the necessities of life. It goes without saying that people with special needs were completely overlooked by a population that was doing everything it could just to survive another day. Since becoming a police officer in 1998 I have been active with the Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR) for Special Olympics. LETR is an organization where police officers raise money and awareness for Special Olympics. After arriving in Afghanistan, I took the opportunity to look for a way to help those with special needs in that country.
I contacted the national director of Special Olympics Afghanistan (SOA) and I learned that the charity existed in Afghanistan, but it was completely bankrupt. They had tried to host events in the past, but the events were repeatedly cancelled due to security concerns and a lack of funding. While I was there I realized how difficult and dangerous it was for this group. There was an incident while they were training where coaches and players from the Special Olympics girls’ soccer team were violently attacked by the Taliban. Those who have served in Afghanistan know that attacks like this are all too common of an occurrence.
I wanted to raise money for Special Olympics Afghanistan, just as we have been able to do in Canada. The national director of SOA stated that he would love to be able to host a Special Olympics Summer Games if we could raise enough money. After the attack on the girls’ soccer team, I asked them if they still wanted to hold the Summer Games. In true Afghan spirit they said they would. I don’t think anybody would have criticized the organizers if they had decided not to host the event due to the ever present threat of the Taliban.
Amazingly, they were not intimidated and they showed true strength and determination by not backing down.
On July 1st, 2012 I teamed up with Lt. Jon Barnett and other Canadian Forces members in Kabul who were holding a Canada Day charity hockey tournament. More than $580 was raised that day and the CF members were very enthusiastic about donating the money to Special Olympics Afghanistan.
I was extremely appreciative for the funds raised from the tournament, but I knew that more money would be needed to finance the Summer Games. I wrote a donation request to Boomer’s Legacy Fund back in Canada. This fund was set up in memory of a Canadian soldier, Corporal Andrew Eykelenboom, who was a medic killed in Afghanistan in 2006. Like Boomer, I had served as a medic with 1 Field Ambulance when I was in the military, so I was particularly honored when the foundation agreed to donate the $5,000 I had requested for Special Olympics Afghanistan.
On August 30th, I along with three RCMP officers (Chief Superintendent Norm Mazerolle, Superintendent Rich Boughen, and Sgt. David Muirhead) were fortunate enough to attend Ghazni Stadium in Kabul to watch the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Special Olympics Summer Games. The $5,580 raised was enough to finance the event for more than 300 athletes, coaches and volunteers. This was only the second time ever that Afghanistan had been able to put on the games. We were led to an area where we sat in the sweltering Afghan heat with the President of the National Olympic Committee and other dignitaries. The athletes paraded past us in much the same way athletes entered the Olympic stadium in London earlier that summer.
To my shock and surprise the last group of athletes carried a large sign that read “Mr. John Lang Ford Football Team 2012”. It is difficult to express in words how that made me feel. I have always known that the Special Olympic athletes have been appreciative of our efforts with the Law Enforcement Torch Run in Canada. But to receive this honour, from such a deserving group of athletes, in a country that many people have completely given up on, was overwhelming.
The fact that this was occurring in Ghazni Stadium, a former Taliban mass execution site, made it seem even more surreal. Not that long ago, the stadium was literally a killing field, and it was now publicly being used for some of Aghanistan’s most vulnerable citizens. I witnessed what those of us involved with LETR have come to know and cherish: athletes, who otherwise would never have had the chance to participate in sports, were there competing and supporting one another. We stayed for the first race, the 100 metre sprint, and I was privileged to be able to hand out medals to some of the finishers. There was no war. No Taliban. It was amazing to see what was happening, contrasted against the backdrop of the stadium’s history. As I took this all in, I hoped that one day this spirit could spread throughout the entire country.
Since then efforts have continued and the Alberta LETR team, along with the Afghan community in Calgary, have hosted two corresponding hockey tournaments. Close to $10,000 was raised each year for Special Olympics Afghanistan. These funds raised in Calgary have helped sustain their charity in Afghanistan. They have also provided medical checkups for those with special needs, some of whom have never in their lives had the opportunity to see a doctor. In December 2013, SOA was able to host their third Special Olympics Games as a result of the funds raised in Calgary.
Being ex-military, I was very proud to see the combined efforts from the Canadian Forces, civilian police, and Boomer’s Legacy Fund on this initiative. I think this event was the highlight of my tour. Throughout my involvement with SOA, the Afghans have shown me that our efforts were sincerely and deeply appreciated. The chance to help these citizens, who are in such desperate need, is truly an achievement only made possible by the previous war efforts from Canadians. Goodwill projects like this were only possible because of the blood, sweat, and tears shed by those Canadians in uniform and their families who served before I arrived in Afghanistan. I am forever grateful for their sacrifices.