Afghanistan-A-Go-Go

A Reservist's Tale Of A Tour

Archive for December 2011

Regimental Birthdays

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Happy Birthday to The Royal Canadian Regiment and The Royal Canadian Dragoons, both of which turn 128 today. Much mirth will be had at the celebrations, but as I’m in Toronto on my way back from a great vacation in Cuba, I’ll only hear the stories.

Pro Patria! (For Country) Motto of The RCR

Audax Et Celer (Bold And Swift) Motto of the The RCD.

Written by Nick

December 21, 2011 at 3:02 pm

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Home For A Long Spell

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Friday was as low-load as expected. In fact, the only timing I had for the whole day was a briefing at 1300, our Rules of Engagement. We couldn’t get a large enough room to brief the entire camp at once, so we settled into the CO’s Conference Room with all the leaders who are now charged to brief their subordinates on the ROEs for the mission. These are the products of lots of staff work by the JAG to ensure that the rules about when we can use force, and what type of force, are appropriate for the mission, for our values, and reflect well on us. ROEs are secret, but suffice it to say that I’m quite satisfied that they’re very thorough and suitably robust. Our boss was in town for a couple of days to get the brief done, as he hasn’t yet been released from the current job. I like the guy, he seems to have a great sense of humour, and I think he’ll be good to work for. While we’d never met previously, as is commonly the case in the Army, we have lots of mutual friends.

I found myself sitting around the office afterward with nothing to do, so I went back to my room and finished cleaning and packing. All my green uniforms are going to get packed away here as I don’t need them anymore, and I brought home what I’ll need for the leave period, leaving a lot up there.

This morning (after a welcome period of sleeping in) I breezed into the office here in Halifax to turn in my travel claims, and talk to the powers that be about leave, because we found a really nice last minute five-star trip to Cuba leaving on Tuesday. Unfortunately, it looks like I can’t do it, because I don’t have enough leave days, which is frustrating because I’ll just be sitting around during embarkation leave with nothing to do, and this is the only time the wife has off… There’s one angle I can try which I’m going to check out tomorrow, but I’m not particularly optimistic, unfortunately.

Tomorrow is the Men’s Christmas Dinner, and a Regimental Sports Day for my home unit. The Men’s Dinner is a long-standing tradition in the Canadian Army (note, we use the word “Men’s” still out of tradition but it is of course the “soldiers'”, because we do have female soldiers after all. The dinner starts with a parade where the youngest soldier is promoted to Commanding Officer for the dinner, and the oldest Corporal is promoted to Regimental Sergeant Major. They then get to sit at the head table. The dinner itself is served by the Officers (who also do the dishes), and wine is poured by the NCOs. It’s an important role reversal, and it’s something that no one misses unless they absolutely have to.

Written by Nick

December 9, 2011 at 8:10 pm

Posted in Musings On Army Life

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And we’re just about done…

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Today started off with the chaos that is almost the norm here, the cynical side of me notes. I headed down to the Base Theatre this morning, arriving in excellent time to stand in the longest Tim Hortons line I’ve ever seen, albeit the fastest, to get a much needed extra large black. I began to settle in for some lectures collectively called ETHAR – which I think stands for Explosive Threat Hazards And Recognition. We used to call it Mine Awareness Training, but the spectrum of things that go boom in theatres like Afghanistan are much more broad than just good old-fashioned landmines (which, rest assured, are abundant there). After we sat around for a little while, we learned that the training had been moved to the LAV Barn, and so we figured out carpools to get there. Except it wasn’t actually there either, it was in a smaller vehicle hangar nearby. We did make it there.

ETHAR training is actually relatively interesting when taught by engineers with a lot of hands on experience, as our instructor had. He was a C-IED (counter-IED) specialist and EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) technician. He had a lot of stories to tell to add to the PowerPoint that we’ve all seen numerous times. It’s good to make sure we get the refreshers on the drills though, because they are important. All sorts of things that go boom exist in Afghanistan, and it’s good to stay current on how to avoid them, obviously.

At lunch I had to break from that to go deal with my UAB, which took a while to get done. Our boxes were inspected, tagged, weighed, and loaded into sea containers to start the journey to Afghanistan. Apparently, they’ll go by sea to Europe somewhere and then be flown into Kabul. We’ll see them at some point, but no one can guarantee when, meaning of course nothing that’s in there can be anything you can’t live without. I was amused to realize that one of my MOBs was slightly overweight (they didn’t worry much about it). It contains the coffee maker, coffee, and some other consumables. Declaring a coffee maker non-essential was tough, but had to be done.

Last minute running around capped the day, and tomorrow I have to finish the last thing, my passport application. It turns out the forms I had today were the wrong ones, and I had to find a guarantor for my pictures and so on, which I got done this evening. In the afternoon we get briefed on our Rules of Engagement for the tour, and then a final dismissal parade at 4pm. My ride to Halifax wants to load the car during lunchtime, and wants to be out the door not later than 4:30, as bad weather’s expected and he wants to get home before it. Fair enough!

This evening I took a look at some MilBlogs out there – official and unofficial ones, and it’s given me some ideas about how I’m going to overhaul the blog over the next few weeks (in theory!). I’m going to start using WordPress’ categories function to sort all the posts by stages of the process, and, amusingly drawn from one blog, by the attitude of the post – the good, the bad, the funny, the cynical, and so on. That’ll make things better for reading. I’m also going to try to learn about formatting and build something more interesting. Lastly, I do want to start trying to incorporate more pictures into the blog, as I’m trying to take as many as I can. It’s just a matter of making the effort to add them, instead of playing World Of Tanks or whatever else I distract myself with instead.

Things will be quiet over the holidays, because I’m planning to take a week down south next week if I can get my leave in order and find a good last minute deal, and I’ll be headed to Arizona in the new year to visit my parents for a few days. I won’t have much to say about tour plans during that time, so don’t worry, I’m not abandoning this just yet.

Long Day

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I can’t shake the cold, it’s driving me nuts. Hopefully getting home this weekend to start Christmas leave and sleep in my own bed will help.

Today dragged on forever, because my only really critical thing to get done was my hero pic, and it was done by about 9:30. It looks alright, says I who hates being photographed, but I’m hoping it will never be needed, obviously. I also had a picture done for my ISAF ID card at the same time.

We did get some more information though on what the plans are for where we’re going and what’s happening there. Nothing certain, and nothing I can really talk about in detail anyhow. Again, it’s all max-flex and I’m not really staking plans on anything.

My UAB is now all sorted, catalogged, manifested, and ready to be turned in. I solved the excess of crap problem by pawning my suitcase off on the S3, who has literally nothing in the boxes, but will be partaking in the coffee machine’s labours. It was a pretty fair tit-for-tat. I still don’t have much for civilian clothes in there for my leave, but I figure I’ll just order stuff closer to my leave dates and that’ll work fine, particularly when we have a feel for delivery times and so on.

We got more detailed handover briefs from the people we’re replacing, and while I’m not going to say they paint a bleak picture, they’re basically confirming my own ideas about adult education in general, as it were, and the idea of building a professional army from the ground up. We are definitely going to have a lot to do, that’s for sure. We’re still working out some of the manning. It seems that there’s not much to do on the S1 (personnel administration) side for the camp I’m at in terms of administering the Canadian personnel there, and so the current guys have split that job with the S6 (communications/IT) job. We think that I might wind up working with the S4 (logistics) guy. I don’t have a background in that, but with a Canadian logistician there as the lead advisor I will still be able to help with things. And there’s a lot of work to be done in that department it looks like. We’ll see how it goes, I guess.

The S3 was busy today working out how to cover off all the training we’re missing before we go, with the cease training date they have in mind of February 3rd. We aren’t due back to Gagetown to start training again until January 16, which doesn’t leave a lot of time. The price, it seems, of the pretty slow pace early on is going to be a ridiculously busy few weeks before we leave on embarkation leave. We’ll be working weekends and evenings it looks like to get everything done – there’s a lot of checks in the box to be had for a lot of people, myself included, and we’re going to have to shoehorn it into a relatively small space. There’s a plan a foot, at least. We generally say “no plan survives first contact with the enemy”, but this one hopefully will.

We also got an idea of when we’re leaving town, and that means my draft leave plan should work, because it doesn’t have any issues with certain time restrictions. This too makes me quite happy.

Tomorrow, more death by PowerPoint for the morning, UAB turn in in the afternoon, and I have to finish packing up to leave for the holidays. That probably needs to include a thorough cleaning of my shacks, which requires a vacuum cleaner. Which I can only get between 9-4. I’m not sure how I’m going to work that one out. But I’ll figure something. I can’t leave the place a mess when I go home, I’ll only have more to contend with when I get back.

Written by Nick

December 7, 2011 at 12:34 am

The Final Week…

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It’s been four weeks already of workup, and it feels like it’s raced along. This is the last week before we head back home for Christmas leave. In my case, I have to report in to my home unit for a few days before I can start burning some leave. This week is pretty light, a final DAG process, some lectures, and then the mundane administrative process of outclearance, getting off the base. That’s going to be pretty easy because we’re basically being treated like we’re staying, anyhow. I don’t have to clear out of my room, or anywhere else. I just have to pack. I’m trying to figure out how to rationalize all of the stuff I have here so that it’s easy to keep organized for when we leave. I’m going to take home a lot of stuff that will no longer be needed, ditch some kit I have that’s now obsolete, and start to adjust to living out of a barracks box for the most part.

This morning we welcomed back our boss who’s just returned from a “Tac Recce” visit to Kabul, gathering all sorts of information from our counterparts over there that will be turned into handover briefs for us. He had a lot of good information to share about how things are working there now, how they are anticipated to be working in the new year, and what impact the many changes happening in Afghanistan at the moment will have. With the Americans getting ready to pull about a third of their forces out of the country, NTM-A will certainly be doing some reorientation, and it will directly impact us. We’re not sure how just yet, though, and no one really wants to start rumours. They don’t help at all. We’re just sticking to a mantra I learned from a mentor of mine – Semper Gumby. Always flexible.

We spent the rest of the morning with the military police doing some training on detainee handling, personnel searches, and vehicle checkpoints. The likelihood of needing to know any of that stuff is relatively low, but all the same, it’s important. I hadn’t had a thorough review of it in a long time, and things have changed a lot anyhow, as they often do. The MP who taught it had lots of great stories to illustrate her points, and that made the process much better than some massive PowerPoint presentation as was the expectation.

Following that, as I’ve been tagged as a Unit Ethics Coordinator, I was tasked with delivering an ethics briefing. I had to condense a large package into something useful but brief, and I think it went pretty well, based on the feedback I got. It’s going to have to be revisited in more detail, but I don’t actually have the relevant course yet, so that will wait. I did introduce the concepts, and they are important. The CF has suffered from some failings in that area over the years, and the emphasis made on explaining why it matters is a valuable thing.

The briefing complete, I headed back to the office to catch up on email, and was prompted by the Company Sergeant Major (CSM) to go through the DAG process that was ongoing for the 2RCR folks. I was basically already DAG Green on the key points, but there were a few little things left to get checked off, so I’m now done them – and just have to get my green passport processed. Green passports are “Special” passports carried by officials of the Government of Canada, ie me when I deploy. I’ll enter Afghanistan on that passport, but keep my regular blue passport for my leave travel.

Somewhere in there, I found time to get over to the LAV barn and find my tan uniforms, which are now set to kill all manner of insects that might attempt to approach them. I have to take a combat shirt over to the office with me tomorrow for a “media handout photo”. I think I warned readers that we have a kind of bizarre, gallows humour kind of thing. The only time those photos are media handouts are when things go very, very bad. So we call them “hero pics” or more cynically, “dead guy pics”. That said, my parent brigade is making a display of all their deployed personnel that those pics will adorn, so that’s a little better use. I hate being photographed though, and blink/squint in photos constantly, so I’m not really looking forward to it. It took about ten tries to get my passport picture done this evening.

This evening – right – a trip to Costco, and $600 later, I’m back with a MOB box full of almost everything I’ll likely need for the tour in terms of consumable – everything but shampoo, to be specific, and enough coffee and tea to last… well… a couple of weeks anyhow. I picked up a nice set of fleece sheets as well, and a memory foam mattress pad, which I think I’m going to have to either persuade someone else to put in one of their MOBs, or just return. Since I have the camp coffee maker in my MOB, I think it’s only fair someone should bring the thing for me. I’ll try to sort that out tomorrow.

My UAB gets loaded into a sea container Wednesday night to start the long journey, and hopefully it’ll find me in Kabul fairly close to my arrival.

The day was busy enough that I almost forgot to observe a moment of quiet reflection for a sad anniversary. Today marked the third anniversary of the day an IED killed a good friend of mine in Senjaray, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. Cpl Mark MacLaren, MMV, was 24 and joined up not long after I did. The hit that killed him and his two OMLT colleagues was quite a loss, but through the life he led he enjoys a sort of immortality few will know. RIP Chinaman.

I’m not really sure what else will fill the rest of the week, because some of the planned training has been rescheduled. Rumours abound that we’ll be sent home early, which suits me – I could use the jump on settling some other business that needs to be looked after on the home front anyhow.

Written by Nick

December 6, 2011 at 12:07 am

Professional Development Day!

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When I was a kid in school, a “PD Day” was a Friday off. Not so in the Army. Today’s main thrust is an endless slew of briefings on a variety of subjects. Law Of Armed Conflict, Rules of Engagement, Media Awareness, Information Security, and Staff Procedures are the order of the day.

This week’s been productive. My staff duties are getting done ahead of most camps, and I now have all of my mission kit, having picked up my new rucksack yesterday.

A few years ago, the Army embarked on a project called Clothe The Soldier, which for a while was dubbed “Tease The Soldier” as a lot of stuff took a while to get fielded. The last major item I didn’t have was the rucksack. To design it, DND turned to a bunch of scientists, engineers, and generally smart people to design an incredibly sophisticated modern load carriage system. While it may be awesome, it’s easily the most complicated piece of kit I have ever been issued, so much of my evening went to assembling it, the most difficult part of which is custom bending the frame stays which are made of 1/8″ aluminum bar stock. Don’t think I damaged the furniture, and I think I got all the angles right.

How it’ll work on top of a flak vest with ballistic plates, I’m not sure. I don’t think they thought of that. I still have a lot of adjustments on it to play with. It’ll look good in the corner of my room since I doubt I’ll have any operational reason to have it on.

I got off to a rough start this morning though, my nagging cold of the last few days took a turn for the worse, and so I skipped PT this morning and headed to the MIR (medics) to get it sorted. Two hours after being hmmed and hawed over by a couple of Med Techs, I was sent back to work with a fistful of OTC meds, and probably don’t have a dreaded sinus infection.

The briefings haven’t been terrible, fortunately, because some of the presenters have been pretty good. The JAG Officer who did the RoE brief could have a second career as a comedian.

At lunch, we headed back to the LAV Barn for “the dip”, treating our uniforms with Permethrin, a potent (illegal for general use in Canada) pesticide to deal with mosquitoes. We’ll ignore that at Kabul’s altitude there are no mosquitoes, but the Army has SOPs and they haven’t been updated for this Op yet it seems. (Update: Permethrin is also effective against arthropods – spiders – and that’s why we are issued it.)

Part of the Media brief covered social media, and it was interesting. It’s a good thing to touch on here. While there is a particularly robust rule in place, it’s not really practical. I follow a pretty simple rule of thumb that you’ll see. Actually, it’s more like rules.

You won’t see me publish my full name. It’s not because I want to be aloof, it’s just a basic PERSEC thing. Most of you know who I am anyhow, but the random reader doesn’t need to know that to follow the story. Similarly I won’t disclose the identities of my coworkers to protect their information.

The nature of this mission is such that there won’t be thrilling stories of kinetic operations anyhow, but even if there was, I won’t have anything to say about them until long after the fact. Likewise, while I’ll tell you about what we are training on, I can’t and won’t get into specifics of TTP’s, the specifics of how we do things. Plenty of that stuff is readily available via various channels anyhow, lamentably, but I won’t add to it.

All I can really tell you about is my experiences, my knowledge, my story. I think it’ll be reasonably interesting even with colouring inside the lines.

All that is left today is to hang my Permethrin soaked uniforms to dry over the weekend, and then off home for the weekend where I’ll be spending some quality time at Costco filling my MOB boxes with tour goodies.

Written by Nick

December 2, 2011 at 1:46 pm