Afghanistan-A-Go-Go

A Reservist's Tale Of A Tour

Archive for November 2011

Into Every Training Plan A Little Rain Must Fall

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Today was our last day out in the training area until the end of this block of training when we get RTU for Christmas leave. Today’s training was a trip to Drummond Close Quarter Battle Lanes (which are commonly known as “jungle lanes”) to do pairs fire and movement. Rather than a conventional (static) range where you fire from a specific firing point, jungle lanes are lanes in which two firers move down the range engaging a series of targets. Normally, it’s done with electronic pop-up targets, but to make things easier, we just used conventional paper targets called Figure 11s, basically the silhouette of an angry looking bad guy sometimes called Chargin’ Charlie. The aim is to work with a partner and practice communication, basic battle drills, and so on.

We took buses out to Drummond, and divided into five groups headed to the different ranges. It wasn’t until we got off the MSVS’s at lane 6 that I realized that my friend Adam was on the same relay. Being that we are both infantry, we decided we’d pair up, and we ran through the dry training before the live range pretty quickly. We were set to go first before being stopped for not having flak jackets, which we’re supposed to have already but had to order. So we waited for some other teams to go downrange and grabbed theirs on the way back out.

When our turn came it went pretty slick, though I think I kind of rushed things and got myself into Condition Black (a physiological state where heartrate and respiration makes fine motor skills difficult and there’s an element of panic), and it wasn’t as good as I would have liked. This was the first range I did with my SORD rig, too, and mag changes were easier than with our old Tactical Vest but not as slick as I’d have liked. I’ve also decided I don’t like the way my single point sling hooks up: the sling caught the charging handle of the rifle a couple of times and made it difficult to do some drills.

The lane was full of sucking mud, and I slipped into a puddle, coating my boots in mud and drawing laughter from the safety staff, and Adam once he had the chance to get some rounds downrange. It’s drying off now, but I don’t think I’ll be able to wear those boots for a couple of days, and they’ll need quite a brushing off when I do.

We were done in no time, which was great as the rain started hammering down, and I scrambled into the back of a LAV-III parked on the range to get out of it. We were done so early that our buses were nowhere near picking us up, so the range staff decided to pack everyone into two MSVS’s and send us back to camp that way. It’s a long, slow ride because army trucks cannot take public highways while loaded with soldiers (“trooplifting”). I called shotgun as a joke, and was rewarded with a ride in the cab of the truck which was much more comfortable, despite the driver’s taste in some pretty heavy rap.

Getting back to camp, I gave my rifle a quick clean and turned it in and returned to the office to finish off the leave plan, which I had to reformat to fit in the master document. It was a tedious process, but I got it done eventually. I was also able to learn that my second pay on my Class C contract went to the wrong account, because some clerk transposed digits in the bank transit. Fortunately, a friend at the bank got it sorted out in no time, and the clerk who was responsible has been reassigned, apparently. It wasn’t only me that had problems with pay based on this transposition problem. It should now be good to go for next pay, on December 15th.

I then headed over to clothing stores and was able to pick up my very own flak vest, right after the last range I’ll need it for until the new year. Oh well. It’s good to have and get used to wearing. We have training plates that simulate the weight of the bullet resistant ballistic plates we’ll get before we go, and as I’m not used to wearing them, it only makes sense to start.

We capped off the day with a slightly comical briefing on “AFV Recognition”. Normally this would be “armoured vehicle recognition”, how to identify different types of tanks and other vehicles. This, however, was more “Afghan Vehicle Recognition”. I’m not totally checked out on the differences between Toyota Corollas (90% of the cars in Afghanistan), Corolla Sarachis (station wagons), Toyota Hilux pickup trucks, Toyota 4Runners, Toyota HiAce minivans, jingle trucks, cargo trucks, and so on. The only real key point is that the bad guys use all of them. A Toyota Land Cruiser carrying 700kg of homemade explosives was what killed MCpl Greff in Kabul just before Remembrance Day, after all.

Tomorrow we have nothing official on the schedule, so it’ll be some cultural briefing and readings, some language study, and my unit CO (and possibly the CO of my old unit) are going to be in town for a graduation parade at the Infantry School. I’m hoping to see them for lunch or something like that. I should also be able to head over to clothing stores again to pick up my new rucksack, which apparently arrived in a shipment today, but the supply technicians hadn’t been able to get all the parts together when I picked up my flak vest.

Friday is a bunch more briefings before I head back to Halifax again, where I’ll be off to Costco collecting stuff to pack in my UAB since it’ll be shipping out next week. I’ve got some ideas about what to pack – simple things mostly – coffee, tea, shave kit type stuff, and so on. I have lots of space, so I’ll fill it up with stuff I want to make sure I have over there, rather than being at the mercies of whatever I can acquire.

Here’s a picture of me from the range today, making the best effort I can to look like I’m having fun with all the liquid sunshine.

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Written by Nick

November 30, 2011 at 11:48 pm

Posted in Workup Training

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Over The First Hurdle

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My first big job in my position as S1/Adjutant for my camp is to sort out the HLTA plan the leave schedule for the folks coming to the same camp as I am. It’s going to be a job to manage the plan as it looks like people will be shifting around a lot over the next year as ISAF shrinks dramatically in size. The US military is taking about 1/3 of its deployed forces out of Afghanistan, and several other countries are winding up their contributions. Deutsche Welle World Service reported that the German military will hand over their AO, centered around Feyzabad in northwestern Afghanistan, to the ANSF by the end of this year, for example. That is the idea, though – to work ourselves out of our jobs.

In the case of my camp, it’s converting from a regular military training centre to a literacy school, and NTM-A will likely decide that a presence there is not as necessary and we’ll be moving. So far, it sounds like we’ll be moving to Camp Julien, which was actually the original Canadian base in the Kabul area, but no one is really sure about that. We might also break up our current unit.

You can probably anticipate the problems that this will generate for managing leave plans, particularly for people I wind up no longer working with.

Today, however, I got the first draft of the plan done. I solicited everyone’s top three choices of dates (which are allocated in blocks based on logistics plans to get people out of the country), and started filling them in. I think I managed to get a good chunk of people the blocks they wanted, fortunately, and all of the people who have critical dates to hit in Canada I’ve managed to accommodate as well – we have a soldier who’s wife is pregnant and due to give birth while we’re away. An officer whose daughter will graduate from university. A soldier with a sister getting married. These sorts of things we do our best to fit in, and we’re set to manage that.

Of course, not everyone will be happy, and even though many junior soldiers chose mid tour blocks as their preferences, someone’s going to be leaving in the first block, within a couple of months of arriving, starting into an eight month tour. That’s life, though. I think I’ve got it reasonable well distributed. In my case, I chose the last block initially, but bumped it forward by one to give a Private his first choice. I would rather work though most of the tour and have less to come back to at the end. Just seems to make more sense that way.

Other than that, today was pretty slow. We were out to Wellington Range to “spectate” while a small number of people got to fire M72 rockets. The M72 is a 66mm single shot rocket which is effective against soft-skinned vehicles, light armour, simple bunkers, and so on. I laugh because since I joined the CF I’ve heard repeatedly about how it’s obsolete (it’s a modernization, basically, of the WW2 “bazooka”, and dates from the Vietnam area, though today’s NM72E5C1 model is much more advanced) and will be phased out of the system. For eleven years I’ve heard this, but apparently people found them useful in Afghanistan.

For workup, only 48 rockets were available, so only about 1 in 10 of the augmentees were able to actually fire, the rest of us just went to the range. What a day to forget my camera. That said, I didn’t get much of a view, but video might have worked well. It was a quick process, though for some reason we went with rifles again, drawing some funny looks.

We managed to get one rocket allocated for our camp, so I made sure it went to our medic, who likely wouldn’t get another change to shoot an M72. She was giddy for lack of a better term. May as well enjoy it.

Tomorrow, I will feel somewhat smug that all the stuff I had to get done before my next conference, and I’ll head off to do jungle lanes, which if the weather is good should be a bit of fun.

Written by Nick

November 29, 2011 at 11:03 pm

A Lot More Traffic!

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Well, today was the busiest day the blog’s ever had, thanks to the link my civilian employer added to its intranet site. I’m working to keep in touch with them while I’m gone, and quite a few people seemed to have an interest in what’s going on, so I wonder how many will keep following along having seen this. Kind of unfortunate that I didn’t have anything too interesting up. I’m going to work on that more. And on adding more pictures, but it’s been difficult to get many good ones during training, because training is of course my priority.

I have to commend our hosts from 2 RCR (mainly India Company, who are largely making up the Rear Party and running all the training for us). They’ve been running some of the most efficient ranges I’ve seen, which is important when you’re trying to get so many people through the process of getting all their qualifications without wasting too much time. They’re faced with an additional challenge in that the Task Force is composed of people from all arms and services, and all different levels of skill. They’ve handled the challenge incredibly well. Today was no exception, although I did start my day off with a fair bit of confusion about where to be and when. We also wound up drawing our rifles from lockup and it was totally unnecessary as we didn’t use them. Oh well. It meant they got a bit more cleaning, and it did give me a chance to experiment a bit with the set up of my SORD rig, which was good. With totally new gear we’re trying out all sorts of different configurations to see what works, and I think once I find spots for my radios I’ll have mine set. The trick, of course, is that I don’t know what radios I’ll be carrying, if any. My job “over there” probably doesn’t require any, but I’m looking beyond just the tour in the hopes that this is the kit we’ll be keeping, because it’s a pretty dramatic improvement over our current load carriage equipment.

In any case, by about 9:30 we had finally figured out what we were doing for the day and got started on training. First off was the grenade range, which starts off by throwing dummy grenades to ensure that everyone’s clear on the drills. That’s actually how all range training starts, with what we call TOETs, but with grenades it seems to be more important. We then jumped into the back of an MSVS (big army truck) for a ride out to Verdun Range. As an aside, all of Gagetown’s ranges are named for World War I battlefields, fittingly enough this fall as they’re all muddy mires. The ranges went pretty quickly until about halfway through the first relay (group of throwers) when we had a dud, tossed by the S3 of my camp. This meant we sat and waited 30 minutes to see what happened before calling EOD (explosive ordnance disposal – combat engineer specialists) to blow it up. As soon as that was done, however, it was back to business, and we were all done not long after noon. Everyone has to throw two grenades to get the IBTS “check”, and that’s generally pretty quick. No one had any issues, although some people get pretty nervous around grenades, “boob nervous” as the Sergeant running the show called it. I’m sure I don’t have to explain the meaning there.

We had lunch in the range shack quickly and jumped on another MSVS to get shuttled to Somme Range, to do some pistol shooting. The Infantry School’s Urban Operations Instructors came out to do some training, which was of great value. Most people in the CF rarely see, never mind shoot pistols, and the reality is that on this tour, if anything happens that will put us into a firefight, it’ll likely be the pistol that we’ll have at hand. It makes me think of an old, classic Steve Earle song called “The Devil’s Right Hand”:

About the time that Daddy left to fight the big war
I saw my first pistol in the general store
In the general store, when I was thirteen
Thought it was the finest thing I ever had seen
So l asked if I could have one someday when I grew up
Mama dropped a dozen eggs, she really blew up
She really blew up and I didn’t understand
Mama said the pistol is the devil’s right hand

The devil’s right hand, the devil’s right hand
Mama said the pistol is the devil’s right hand

My very first pistol was a cap and ball Colt
Shoot as fast as lightnin’ but it loads a mite slow
Loads a mite slow and soon I found out
It can get you into trouble but it can’t get you out
So then I went and bought myself a Colt 45
Called a peacemaker but I never knew why
Never knew why, I didn’t understand
Cause Mama said the pistol is the devil’s right hand

Well I get into a card game in a company town
Caught a miner cheating I shot the dog down
Shot the dog down, watched the man fall
Never touched his holster, never had a chance to draw
The trial was in the morning and they drug me out of bed
Asked me how I pleaded, not guilty I said
Not guilty I said, you’ve got the wrong man
Nothing touched the trigger but the devil’s right hand

We actually had a pretty successful shoot, a lot of people with little or no confidence with the tool were a lot better off. I was talking to one of the instructors, and we both observed how in recent years, we’ve gone to teaching a program called “Gunfighter” which is a more practical shooting program. It basically requires breaking people of bad habits, including most of what they were taught on basic training, because we still essentially teach them “wrong”. The thing we noticesd is that the people who identified themselves as having little or no experience tended to be among the best students because they were blank slates, and with good instruction we can turn almost anyone into a good shot. The biggest challenge I found, being a recreational shooter who uses what I can only describe as more modern pistols generally, is that our 9 millies have controls that are not exactly user-friendly, in particular the safety which is not hard to take off, but hard to get back on – I can’t actually do it with one hand as you should be able to. Many modern pistols don’t have mechanical safeties in the same style, which is my prefererence, but alas, I have to use what I have.

I was happy with my shooting, though, and even though it was raining by the time my relay was up, it was not bad. The only part that wasn’t much fun was the inevitable cleanup, picking up as many of the spent casings as we could in about 20 minutes before we shut down for the day. Back to the MSA to check my rifle in, off to supper (I went with spaghetti and meat sauce, and an excellent turkey soup, with a big salad), and now I’m back in my room, mulling over whether to do laundry now. I think I’ll wait until tomorrow, though, since it’s back to the range and more mud is inevitable. I have an OGrp tomorrow at 7:30 before PT so I think I’ll try to get to bed at a decent hour tonight, I didn’t manage to last night.

I’m also trying to think of what else to pack up in my UAB. I have the Keurig, and I think I’m going to go buy some new books. I figure I will have a fair bit of time off work with not a lot to do, and there has to be better things to do than play video games, and I can only spend so much time in the gym… frankly I’m not a gym junkie and while that might change, I have to have more to my plans than that. I might even look at more schooling by correspondence. I have a litany of these sorts of ridiculous ideas running through my head, actually, but for now they’re not gelling into anything so I just keep pondering. I think I’ll head to Costco on the weekend and stock up on some snack and treat items to send over, things to break the potential monotony of DFAC food and so on.

That’s my Monday. Lots of fun. Tomorrow we’re off to the rocket range, mainly to watch people shoot M72s, a light, 66mm anti-tank rocket. They’ve been “going out of the system” for years, but apparently in Afghanistan they were found to be quite useful, and so they’re still around. There’s only a small number available, and I’m pretty sure I’ll just be taking pictures. Wednesday we’re off to do jungle lanes, a fire-and-movement range, which should be a lot of fun, and rather practical. Thursday we have grenades on the schedule, but that’s rather pointless since we’re done, so we’ll be finding something else to do – language training or possibly some other IBTS training. Friday is “professional development” of some sort, whatever that means, and then back again to Halifax.  Two weeks until we cease training for Christmas and New Years, and I get to spend some quality time at home.

Written by Nick

November 28, 2011 at 7:12 pm

Over the halfway point for Block 1.

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Had a nice weekend at home, a little cocktail party last night and an overall pretty relaxing couple of days. In fact, last week in general wasn’t bad at all, even with the nonsense of training being unexpectedly rearranged. We’ve been lucking out with weather in particular. Friday morning was an early one to do our BFT. Rather than a boring route on base, we followed a rail trail which was snow-covered, just tamped down by ATV tracks. Made for a little bit of a harder go than normal, but nothing insurmountable. In fact, the snow made us use a bunch of different muscle groups, which was probably a good little workout. I trailed a bit behind the pack as I got into a conversation with one of the NCOs – but I ran a bit to close up in the end. I was in in 2:14 which was a little longer than an ideal time but well within the standards.

Getting done nice and early afforded me enough time to go get a nap in before the Task Force BBQ in the afternoon. I also sat in on the J4 Conference, which gave me a little insight into how the logistics end of the tour is unfolding. I’m the kind of person who gets a little obsessed with knowing as much as possible even outside of what I need to worry about. It was kind of pointless for me to be there, but the last one apparently covered some things I should have known about, so I went. I do feel good about the fact that we seem to be well ahead of where we need to be to get things done. I’ve started on the leave plan, and next up will be performance management stuff we should be able to get going on pretty quickly this week.

This week I’m hoping for more good weather, as we’re spending most of it on ranges – starting with pistol ranges tomorrow, jungle lanes, M72 though we just get to watch, only 48 rockets are available for the whole organization, so not many people get to actually shoot them. Mind you, I’m combat arms, so I might be one of the people who gets to shoot a live one. Who knows…?  Some more briefings and possibly the cancelled first aid training will happen this week as well I think. Not really clear yet.

This weekend, I’ve got to get all my UAB straightened out – going to hit Costco and fill up my MOBs with some more snivel kit stuff, and next week it gets sent out, and I have no idea how long it’ll be before I see it again! I’m going to be leaving here after the following week, so I’m going to try to get everything organized so that I’m basically able to live out of what’s coming back with me in January, and all of that will be what I take over to Afghanistan.

The other piece of the puzzle I’m contemplating is HLTA travel plans – where we’re going to go, we’ve discussed a few ideas, and if I can can firm some of those ideas up I’m going to have an easier time picking my leave block. I found an awesome GAP Adventures 17 day Trans-Mongolian Railroad tour which sounds incredible, but I don’t think that’s as appealing to the wife. Another time perhaps then. However, I don’t want to do something that’s easy to do another time – we get a fairly good-sized allowance for HLTA and I want to use every penny of it if I can, head to somewhere a little different/out of the ordinary. The tour aspect holds some appeal because then I won’t have as much planning to deal with, and in some cases, I can use HLTA money for more things. Cruises work the same way, but they’re really not that interesting to me, so I don’t know.

Let’s see how the week shapes up…

Written by Nick

November 27, 2011 at 10:52 pm

Racing Through Week 3

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I can’t believe how quick this week is going, I actually thought today that it was Tuesday for most of the day until I realized it was Wednesday. It’s been productive, or at least it was until today. I’ve got all my desert kit, and also got my new SORD rig, which is now set up, at least for the first iteration. I’ve got to actually trial it on the range to see how it works out. I’ve got not much left to do, and I’ve actually been able to start doing the job I’m supposed to be doing. First up is the HLTA plan, I’ve got the blocks now and I’m starting to gather the preferences from my team so I can compile the plan and get it done. I’m thinking I’m going to push my leave as late as possible within reason so I’m coming back to a short stay.

Today the augmentees were supposed to start combat first aid, but when we showed up after PT (which was a 6km run broken up with pushups, squats, and burpees) they told us that if we didn’t have Standard First Aid done in Gagetown we weren’t supposed to be there. That’s two days of full schedules gone, and now the complexity of trying to fit that course in elsewhere. The ops folks weren’t too impressed with the development. I did, however, manage to make something of the day. I started the leave plan, worked on a presentation I’ll be delivering to our team about Afghanistan’s history and the history of NTM-A and ISAF, and got a lot of professional development readings done.

One of them was http://usacac.army.mil/CAC2/MilitaryReview/Archives/English/MilitaryReview_20110228_art014.pdf –  Multiplying By Zero, a rather pessimistic view of the prospects for NTM-A, based on the cultural differences that exist, and a tendency to set the bar too high in terms of expectations. It’s a good if slightly grim read, and sadly, it seems to jive with some of the information we have gotten from the group we’re going to be relieving on arrival. It couples with a lot of information that’s emerging, really, and this particular article explains in great detail a lot of things I’ve observed in my own research about Afghanistan. I worry we’re undertaking a Sisyphean task, but it does seem that we have to try, we can’t just give up.

Today was the onset of winter in New Brunswick, as well – and the trudging over to the BARFF for dinner sucked, but at least it was a pretty good meal, and a chance to chat with my clerk about his progress on organizing all of our DAG documentation so that by the time we take off for Christmas leave we’ll be done everything hopefully. There was something bizarre about slogging through the snow in my desert boots – you can tell all of the people here on workup because we’re sporting any number of different types of tan boots as opposed to the conventional black boots we normally wear. We’ll stand out more in January. To save on managing so much kit, we’ve been told to leave our green CADPAT at home and show up for work in arid pattern.

So, I have no idea what tomorrow will bring, I’m not sure what I’ll do for PT as it’s not going to be company PT, and we don’t have anything on the schedule yet. More language training if I can, I guess. We’re apparently getting an early dismissal to let people go over to the mess to watch football (and presumably spend money). Friday morning it’s up early for our “teambuilding” BFT that is just being done as a challenge since like most people here I have the “check in the box” already, and don’t need to actually do the test. It’ll just be a good 13km walk mostly, but the arrival of large quantities of snow might have ruined our route. We’ll see I guess. Then a BBQ. Then back home. This weekend I’ve got a party at home, and I’ll be out shopping for luggage for my HLTA so I can pack my MOBs up and they’ll be set to ship. They’re going to be going over mostly empty it seems! Without the Keurig machine, actually, one would likely be empty entirely. I’m sure I’ll find things to fill it with when I am heading back, though.

Written by Nick

November 23, 2011 at 10:49 pm

Kicking Off Week Three

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Last week ended alright – got some tear gas, got my rifle qualification done, and did a rather boring machine gun familiarization shoot which culminated in standing outside freezing waiting for a ride back to camp before I headed back to Halifax for a weekend that was quite enjoyable. Joy had been shopping for a lot of “home decor” stuff, and my friend Logan and I were set to work getting it all put up, which went well. It was slightly comical, as well. We tried to hang a mirror and couldn’t get it level despite using a laser level. It was only after drilling a few holes we realized that the problem was that the hanger points on the mirror itself weren’t level.

I also bought a Keurig K-Cup coffee machine to take with us. Our TAV folks told us our camp has terrible coffee so a few of us decided to bring our own kit for it. It’s going over in one of my MOBs.

This morning we again had some fantastic weather to start off the day. I started off the day with a little PT and headed over to sign out my rifle, which turned out to be a little bit pointless. Today’s range was a familiarization with the Canadian Forces’ Gunfighter program, a combat shooting program including a lot of close quarter and instinctive shooting. It’s a good program, the problem with it is that it’s a lot of stuff we should teach new soldiers from the outset rather than having to force people to “unlearn” all the bad habits they were taught. It was a 150 round shoot, nothing too exciting really, but a good bit of practice, since all shooting is good shooting. Anyhow, drawing my own rifle was pointless because the range had rifles set up with special slings and iron sights and we didn’t use our own. It did give me a chance to clean it a little, which it desperately needed. I have never signed for such a filthy rifle, most CQ’s I’ve seen would never have accepted it back into lockup in the condition it was in when I first brought it out.

We were done on the range around 2pm, so we headed back to Battalion, where I drew my SORD Modular Fighting Rig. For a while now, the CF has accepted that the Tactical Vest which came into service a few years ago was not adequate to meet the needs of soldiers deployed in places like Afghanistan, and they’ve been trialing several replacements. As I understand it, we’re the first group to trial this particular option formally, though it’s been a popular choice for soldiers as an off-the-shelf purchase, one that is evidently begrudgingly tolerated by the powers that be. We’re also getting some other new Gucci items we haven’t seen yet.

After dropping my rifle off I headed next to Clothing Stores to get fitted for a flak vest (body armour) and a new rucksack, and then to draw my new kit. Dragging two MOB boxes behind me I left with virtually everything I’ll need for overseas. In fact, that only things I’m missing are items that won’t be issued until I get there. It’s a lot of stuff.

All the stuff...

That was my day. I was planning to do all the kit issue stuff tomorrow, thinking I wouldn’t have the chance today, but now I’m a day ahead, which is good, because I think I’ll have a chance tomorrow to get some other personal administration stuff done, things like getting new orthotics, getting a haircut (which I desperately need), and going to figure out from the clerks why I haven’t been paid. I’m also going to take a fair bit of my stuff over to clothing stores to exchange – anything old, worn, damaged, obsolete – and there’s a fair bit of that kind of thing that I have here. I’m also going to get at least one MOB ready to close up to be delivered to the traffic techs to get shipped off.

We don’t really have anything else on the schedule until Friday, a BFT and BBQ – but there’s lots that will come up I’m sure.

Written by Nick

November 21, 2011 at 7:13 pm

Some Real Training Gets Underway

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Things are getting underway, after a  slow start. Thursday morning I went was woken up pretty early by a bunch of people heading out for an early breakfast so they could go to the range. I got up and went out for a nice run through the Lindsay Valley, which is a trail system on base. Was a nice morning to watch the sunrise. The day’s agenda was pretty simple – CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear warfare) training, one of the IBTS checks in the box we have to get for whatever reason. In the morning we did some dry training, getting refreshed on how to use our kit – a “bunny suit”, overboots, and heavy rubber gloves, and of course our gas masks. I hadn’t used the one I have in a gas environment and forgot to bring it to Gagetown last week, so I didn’t get to do the Quantitative Fit Test, which confirms that the mask fits and seals properly before you actually get the gas. I was taking a bit of a chance, but it sealed alright during rehearsals so it wasn’t too bad.

Once we were done that we went off to lunch, and afterward headed out to N6, the gas hut. It’s a pretty simple one room building with a hot plate which disperses CS (tear gas). CS comes in capsules, just like you take medication in. You heat it up and the gas is formed almost immediately. So, first time you go on, you’re in Dress State Four – completely in the suit. It’s done to allow you to get familiar with the layout and get confidence in the kit – you do some exercises and moving around to see that it works. Then you head out. Next time you go in, you simulate being caught out in an attack – so you pull up a hood, cover your hands under your arms, and run for shelter – right into a room now well filled with gas. So you get a good feel for the effect, get all suited up, and then you change canisters. You take a huge breath, unscrew the canister, hand it to your buddy, and then reinstall it – which is a little tough when you don’t have peripheral vision. No issue. Last trip in, you do the full decontamination drill – using a fake version of RSDL – reactive skin decontaminating lotion – greasy, nasty stuff that gets all over you, but the real stuff works against pretty much any chemical agent.

Once we got done that, it was a done day, and a long hot shower to get all the RSDL shit off me, and we took off for wings, myself, the S3, and the S4 of my camp. We’re all around the same age so it seems a good idea to start hanging out a fair bit, we’re going to be living in close quarters for the next year or so anyhow. Good times were had by all, even me sweating away with the Thai chili sauce on the wings.

This morning was our day to get up early to go to the range, so I walked over to the MSA Warehouse where our weapons are stored to sign out my C7, and we jumped on a bus out to the training area, to the Amiens 600m rifle range. We were there to complete our PWT-3, personal weapons test level three, the infantry shooting standard. Here’s the fun part: because my camp is so small and has so few augmentees, we’re lumped in with another contingent, mostly health services people – among them dentists, orthopedic surgeons, an anesthetist, and so on.  Because they are deploying they have to shoot to the infantry standard (well, in theory, but I’ll get to that…). In fact, for this tour, they’re getting the CF’s Gunfighter supplement, which is a much more intensive course in close quarter and instinctive shooting. Should be a fun few days. I shot on the first relay, and despite a stoppage keeping me from being able to get all my rounds off I passed. Not as good as usual. My boss was one off perfect, though, pretty cool. There was a subtext to the scoring brief that 29 is a pass. And there were a few 29s, suggesting that some “miscounting” might have happened.

After cycling through the butts, we were done around 2:30 and went back into camp for a couple of hours until it got dark so we could do some shooting with Monocular Night Vision Goggles and PAQ-4C laser aiming devices. In the meantime I had my first meeting with the J1, the guy who basically I work for as part of the National Command & Support Element. Trying to explain how chains of command work on this mission is complicated, and probably boring. The 1 shop’s job is basically to look after all the people over there, and so the J1 is in charge of all of that for all the Canadians there, and S1s like me function as camp adjutants for Canadians, so I will be the CO of my camp’s aide on staff work and be looking after everything for the 40 or so Canadians there in terms of leave, adminstration, and so on.

The meeting wasn’t too detailed, just a chance to meet our peers and get an idea of what’s being worked on. There are three major things that are being dealt with – leave, performance assessments, and HLTA issues. All are a ways away from getting organized but at least we know where things are going.

I got out just in time to catch the ride back to the range for the night shoot, which went pretty quickly, and it started to rain just as we were giving the final ammunition declarations to get off the range. Buses took us back to the MSA to turn in the rifles (which we couldn’t clean because they haven’t bothered issuing us cleaning kits!) and now I’m back in the shacks. And pretty tired.

Tomorrow I’m going for a run with the S3 and S4 because we don’t have planned camp PT. The boss really doesn’t seem to have much concern about that, he just cares that we’re doing some form of PT, and it was his asking that prompted us to plan to do it together, so that was good. After that we’re back out to ranges (Vimy 600m range this time I think) for a familiarization shoot on the C6 general purpose machine gun (sometimes called “The Pig”), and the C9A2 light machine gun. Not really a big thing for me but it’ll be interesting to see the doctors with them. Should be fun. And that’s the week done, I’ll pick up my leave pass and figure out a way back to Halifax tomorrow night.

Next week, we do Gunfighter training and start combat first aid, and at some point I’ve got to get over to clothing stores to draw all of my desert pattern kit. In a bit of forward thinking, when we come back from Christmas leave, we can leave out green CADPAT at home, and tans become our dress of the day until we leave. Makes good sense.

Written by Nick

November 17, 2011 at 9:21 pm

Write Down Timings, Then Show Up Early Anyhow…

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Before I left the office Monday night I scribbled a note about when we were due in this morning for a parade which was supposed to see a large number of “while so employed” promotions being done. I had down that we were forming up at 7:30. So I made a point of being at Battalion at around 7:20. And I was one of the last to arrive. And walked down the frontage instead of just hiding in the back as I went to fall in with my camp, which was of course at the far end of the hall. Fortunately, nothing more was said, and the parade didn’t end up starting until 7:30, at which point we were told that the WSE promotions weren’t ready anyhow, and since we were all here, we were going to carry on with drug testing. Not really a surprise, and not something I’m worried about, but it was quite a production. Fortunately it wasn’t too bad in terms of organization, and I quickly went and stood in the next line of the day – to see the medics who wanted to review my needle book to make sure I got all my shots (which I was already signed off for before I left Halifax – pay attention, there’s a theme here!). Good to go. By that time I headed to the kitchen for lunch as the next line, to pick up my PRV form, was too long.

Back from lunch I got into another line, and into a conversation with some people about the idea of doing a social experiment of getting some soldiers to form a line at random, and see how many people would join without knowing what it was actually for. After I got to the counter, a flustered clerk reported he couldn’t find my paperwork. Why, you ask? Because all the Reservist files are segregated, and were in another office. With no line. Oh well. Off to mental health screening after that, a quick chat with a social worker (which again I had already done), a new signature on the PRV, and back to the office to drop it off.

I did find out that I’m getting paid tomorrow, though my contract hasn’t quite come through, it should be sorted for next pay day though.

The day ended with some notes from an OGrp (and a meeting I was supposed to attend that no one bothered to tell me about!) about what’s going on for the next few days, and we were gone. Tomorrow, I’m off to get my CBRN IBTS check in the box – which means a trip to the gas hut – a room that will be nicely filled with CS (tear gas) to confirm I know how to mask up, drink with my mask on, decontaminate myself, and all that fun stuff. following that, we’re meeting with the guy who’s come back from our camp to pick his brain a little more, which might include beer and wings at a place off base… we’ll just have to see.

Written by Nick

November 15, 2011 at 10:54 pm

Monday of Week 2

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If anyone has come up with a better way to kick off the week with lots of energy, I don’t know who it is – this morning I was over to the Base Theatre at 7:45am to sit through three and a half hours of briefings. Three and a half hours of Death By PowerPoint. There was, fortunately, a little levity in the process, delivered by the Padre while he waited to start his brief, but for the most part, it was the grinding nonsense that is part of the process of getting us out the door. It would have been a lot nicer to have had it at just about any other time, especially given that based on my insomnia last night, I timed my wake up to give me pretty much just enough time to roll out of bed into my uniform and walk down to the theatre. And while I was waiting to get in, it didn’t dawn on me to walk across the street to the Tim Hortons to get a source of caffeine. Oh well.

So the briefs… lots covered. First up was the Chief Clerk, giving the lowdown on all the allowances and benefits and so on that we get overseas – how things like HLTA, leave, and all that sort of thing work. Based on that I have pretty much an exact idea of how much I’ll be getting paid while I’m overseas, and the next step is to figure out how to divide it up. Some will stay in theatre, accruing in a pay account of sorts I can get paid out in cash for carpets and so on, the rest goes home and into the bank here.

Next up, the Deployment Support Centre – the folks who basically link our families to the military while we’re gone. I don’t expect that they’ll be necessary, but it’s good to know that they have a system in place for a lot of different contingencies. The DSC is based in Gagetown but they link in with resources everywhere so it doesn’t really that my wife is in Halifax, if something comes up they’ll help out. My home unit also has a “family rep” who is linked into the rear party and will keep in touch with her to make sure she’s doing alright.

Following them, a representative from Operational Stress Injuries Support Services spoke. Interestingly, it was Fred Doucette, who wrote a book called Empty Casing about his experiences serving in Sarajevo, and his subsequent struggles. I know two OSISS folks, both of them are basically “peer outreach” people, the other is Sgt. (Ret’d) John Tescione. Google his name, and you’ll see why dealing with OSIs is nothing foreign to him. The message from OSISS was simple, but important – a good chunk of people who deploy will experience some form of operational stress injuries – but they can be dealt with, and most people will recover completely as long as they seek the help they need. OSISS exists to try to persuade people that they can get help, and to break the stigma against seeking that help. It’s important, and the message is pretty credible when it comes from someone who suffered and took too long to get the help they needed. Fred’s book’s a great read, incidentally.

Next up: the padre (Chaplain) for the Task Force. I make no secret of being an unabashed atheist, but I generally speaking have a lot of time for Chaplains in the CF, and his rudimentary attempt at stand up comedy certainly broke the morning up a bit. Not much said there that people didn’t know – just that they’re there to listen to anyone, generally confidentially, and so on. They tend to be great for solving problems that soldiers face, they almost have a social worker function within the Forces. I don’t see why we pay clergy when we could have secular people do the job… but that’s a whole other matter I’m not going to delve into.

Then SISIP – the financial services and insurance folks, who were nice enough to point out that my insurance coverage should be reviewed, and that the limits on insurance we can get have been raised since I got mine and are going up again next fiscal year. They’re working out a way to make sure we max out. I, of course, hope that I have no need of that, but as a wise old Sergeant long ago told me, better to have and not need than need and not have. I got briefly excited at the fact that they can handle my taxes, until I realized that they won’t do mine because they’re far to complicated given the rental property I own, and the nature of my “day job” employment. I’m going to have to get everything organized before I go and get an accountant to finish it off… if it’s in my favour anyhow. If it looks like I owe, I’ll take advantage of the blanket extension we get.

Then a pretty dull discussion by the JAG about wills, powers of attorney, and so on. I have this basically looked after but not in detail so I think I’ll consult a lawyer over Christmas break just to make sure I’ve not overlooked anything. Having the background I do I’ve seen all sorts of nightmares and I don’t want to deal with that.

Last was the moment we were really waiting for – a “reverse TAV” briefing. I’m pretty sure that TAV is “theatre activation visit” – reversing it means that people from theatre came back to Canada to give us some pertinent information about what Roto 0 has experienced and learned. Most of the detail pertained to other camps, but there’s someone here from the camp I’m headed to and we plan to spend some more time with him with a list of questions it’s my job to compile. A lot of the generic information about NTM-A was interesting, not shocking really. Training the ANSF is a grinding, frustrating, slow process – and success doesn’t look like what we’d expect to see here. The lessons learned are simple: learn the language as best you can, use the interpreters wisely, prepare them well when you’re dealing with technical issues, expect that things like nepotism/tribalism/corruption will be a factor in all planning, and so on. One of the more interesting things is that the previous rotation too often “gave” them things, solved their problems for them, instead of actually forcing the Afghans to learn to do so for themselves. That’s also not productive, and it makes sense. it’s particularly important in the field of sustainment because that’s where we really need to focus on developing their capabilities by the sound of it.

After that, we briefly met with our boss, who hasn’t actually joined us on work up because he hasn’t been released from his current gig, and then dealt with some administrative issues, stuff that has to get organized and is starting to. My fellow staff officers and I fairly quickly realized there wasn’t much else we could do, so I headed back to the shacks to be more productive, and spent a couple of hours with my Dari instructional software. I got through a couple of modules, primarily focused on familiarization with Dari script (the Persian alphabet) and matching letters to sounds. A lot of it was filling in missing letters from words/phrases so that I learn to recognize phonemes. Most Dari sounds are fairly easily equated to English phonemes so it isn’t that hard. There are also exercises built around figuring out what words mean by reading the Dari script. They do this with city and country names, and loan words so that they’re somewhat familiar already. The trick to Dari is that the short values aren’t written, they’re just determined by context, so it’s hard to look at a word and get the sound unless you have some recognizable context. As I understand it, it gets easier as you start building a vocabulary. I have three months to get a foundation, and eight months to really develop it.

We’ll leave aside the question of what I’ll do with a knowledge of Dari after my tour… go on tour again, I guess? That’s not exactly the right answer, though.

Tomorrow is a big parade – lots of “WSE” (while so employed) promotions to be handed out, and things like that. Wednesday we’re off to the gas hut to get the CBRN check in the box, and Thursday and Friday I’ll be out to the ranges. Hopefully the weather cooperates all along.

That’s all for now, I suppose… more than I usually write, I think.

Written by Nick

November 14, 2011 at 10:27 pm

Slight insomnia

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Back from weekend leave and feeling kind of restless. This week should be interesting, we are actually going to be starting to really train. Tomorrow morning will find me in briefings in the morning (I think involving guys on the “reverse TAV” – people serving on Roto 0 back to share their knowledge), and the afternoon is a “free day” – which means probably some combination of PT and some other administration time. I do have some things I need to find time to do this week, like ordering all my desert kit that I was apparently supposed to get before coming to Gagetown. Tuesday is more of the same, but there’s nothing in any detail on my schedule, probably just a slew of briefings on money issues, MFRC, leave, and so on and so forth. Wednesday we’re off to the gas hut to get tear gassed and confirm our CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear) drills are good. I guess I’ll pay for forgetting my mask last week if it turns out mine doesn’t fit. Thursday and Friday are ranges, and I should be on leave and back to Halifax Friday night.

I started a bit more into my Dari course – the first modules are just getting familiar with the Persian alphabet and script – some simple stuff, so I’ve been doing some writing, copying out various words they have – a random assortment, but I figure that it’s a good idea to just get used to the feel of the language. Like Arabic, there aren’t really any written short vowels in Dari, it’s left to the reader to fill them in, something that a native speaker would do implicitly by context. That’s the tricky thing I think I’m going to find. If you don’t know what vowels go into a word, you can’t pronounce something just from really. I’m hoping that there’s a way to tackle this, but I think it’s rote memorization to a great extent – but again, I’m hoping by getting a jump on language courses I’ll have some ability to interact with Afghan when I get there.

Written by Nick

November 14, 2011 at 12:15 am

Posted in Workup Training

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