Afghanistan-A-Go-Go

A Reservist's Tale Of A Tour

Archive for February 2012

The Food… The Food!

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Our regular meals are provided for us by the DFAC – the local term for what Canadians often call the BARFF or just the mess. Most here are 24/7, at my particular camp they’re only open on set hours, but there’s not a big problem with getting access. Each meal time is about 2 hours long.

Last night, however, we had a little ceremony to welcome new arrivals (myself included) and wish farewell to those headed home. For those of you who laugh at how many medals and ribbons Americans sport, you’d have found it priceless. Almost everyone got some bling, including a Bronze Star. Following that we headed to the Afghan Restaurant here for dinner. What a feed. I think I’ll be going there with some regularity.

Dinner started with Bolani, a sort of stuffed flatbread that is sometimes referred to as “Afghan Pizza”, as well as naan/footbread and a spicy chutney. My dinner was qabili palauw, a sort of rice pilaf with carrots and raisins, which was excellent. It came served with some grilled beef as well. Following that, out came the mandatory chai, and much conversation followed, getting to know everyone, discussing leave plans, what people leaving are doing when they get home, etc. It reinforced the sort of family atmosphere that is part of making things work here.

Needless to say, I staggered back to my shacks absolutely stuffed.

Written by Nick

February 29, 2012 at 8:18 am

Telecommunications Technology Is Awesome…

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If you want to get a hold of me for whatever reason, and you have a GMail account, their “Chat and SMS” feature actually enables you to send messages that come straight to my Afghan cellphone for free – and my replies by text come back to GMail. Unlimited texts here are basically free, so that works well.

Comment if you want the number – but if I don’t know you reasonably well, I’m obviously not going to give it to you, and I’m not going to post it publicly on the blog.

Written by Nick

February 28, 2012 at 3:30 am

Settling In

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I’m getting settled into routines now that I’m here and have been a little while. After a couple of days at our reception centre, we headed out to our camps to meet the people we are replacing and get more permanently settled. In my case, things were a little complicated because of the change in position I found out about when I arrived to catch the plane, but the decision was to send me to where I was going originally as it was close to my new job, and then they’d figure it out.

One of the people who met us was an old friend of mine from the Infantry School (who has a familial connection to a former unit I was in as well) so we had a chat and got caught up. Most amusing was meeting the guys I trained up with who were sounding like grizzled vets based on their extra week or so on the ground. We sat down for some coffee and discussed plans, got rooms sorted out, a tour of the camp, and so on. I spent one night there in the transient room (which featured the same totally uncomfortable mattresses that our first stop had) before moving to my current home, where I was pleased to discover much more comfortable lodgings. My current home is still a transient room, but it’s got a much more comfortable mattress. Picture a big hall full of bunk beds. If you’ve seen Full Metal Jacket, you’ve got the idea, but subtract R. Lee Ermey screaming, and there’s only about six of us living there. It’ll do until we get permanent rooms which will happen as our counterparts head back to Canada. I have another week living there.

The other nice feature of my lodgings in contrast to my first to stops is that the showers/bathrooms are in the same building rather than a separate one, which is nice given the amount of snow and ice on the ground currently. The cold we’re experiencing is pretty unusual, so it’s got people off guard, and things like weatherstripping aren’t a major concern here, so there’s a lot of draft, the bathroom itself seems unheated, but it’s not like we spend much time there. My bedspace itself is just fine, I can sleep comfortably in my ranger blanket without anything else.

Also we’re away from the smog of the city, and even though I’m feeling the altitude, it’s not uncomfortable at all – the air seems a lot more pleasant than it did downtown. And the view… the view – the snow capped mountains, etc etc. I’ll get some pictures sent up at some point. I think I’ll just upload them to flickr, we’ll see.

Right now, I’m not really doing anything, waiting to start some courses I need to do to learn the basics of my job here. Until that happens I feel a little useless, but I’m getting acquainted with my colleagues, who come from a pretty broad base of backgrounds.

We’ve got a bit of entertainment learning all the different uniforms of ISAF countries, there’s so many different people here, and the grooming standards are a bit of a source of entertainment. The best I’ve seen so far was a couple of Slovakian officers sporting beards and long hair, and they weren’t even SOF types – just regular air force captains, apparently. Also loved the Bulgarian Army PT uniform that looks like the kids from the bad dojo in Karate Kid’s travel kit.

My shop is composed of Australians, Britons, Americans, and a smattering of others. I’m going to have to learn to speak Australian before long, in addition to Dari, which I’m working on as best I can. Our interpreters are only too happy to help with that, though, so I’m picking up a little here and there and mostly building confidence in what I do now. I’m going to make a point of using it as much as possible with them – though their concern is that they’re mainly doing written/reading work and need to “exercise” their spoken English, too.

I’ve been down to visit the Afghan shops – they proudly proclaim that they can get you just about anything in 24 hours – for a price. I’ve only picked up a SIM card for my phone and a power bar/converter so I can charge all my stuff. I have, however, been checking out more interesting souvenirs – carpets, pashminas, lapis lazuli, and stuff like that for gifts. I’m also kind of interested in getting a jezail as a wallhanger for a mancave in some future home. A jezail is an Afghan long-barreled musket. During the Anglo-Afghan Wars, they were a key advantage to the Afghans, greatly outranging the British muskets, wielded by horse-riding marksmen. A guy at one shop had some nice ones (adorned with carving and inlays as is traditional) that has a date stamp on the flintlock of 1785. That, of course, is probably nonsense, it was likely a reproduction made in the famous Khyber Pass gunshops. He wanted $250USD. Not a chance, but I’ll keep an eye out for others. I’m not planning on buying mountains of swag, but a few interesting things to remember the place I’ll definitely go for.

I do feel vindicated for buying all my consumables in Canada before coming, even if my UAB hasn’t been delivered to me yet. It’s in-country, but the deliveries aren’t going to start until all the Relief in Place is done, apparently. The shops here have all sorts of things, but I’m happier with stuff I know. We did get told, after all, that if you’re particularly finicky about brands for personal care type products (not that I am) to make sure you had a good stash, and a plan to get more sent. While the bigger camps have US PXs that sell everything, there were two American female MPs in the shops today, one looking very grim about being unable to get tampons here (and presumably with an immediate need!). Fortunately, one of our colleagues sorted her out for now. I don’t think she wanted to explain to the shopkeep what she wanted, even if their 24 hour promise was possible.

We did get one piece of bad news. Our departing colleagues apparently were a little overzealous using the US APO system to do a lot of shopping (including ordering all sorts of things to send home), and as a result of the burden placed on their delivery system, they’ve cut off foreigners from using it. Given that we’re hearing that Canadian mail takes a whole lot longer, it’s disappointing, but one of my American peers is going to let me use his address if needed. So I’m alright, I guess – and most Canadians will probably be able to do the same, which I suppose means that the problem won’t really be fixed anyhow!

So far so good, I feel I’m rambling again, so that’s enough for now.

Written by Nick

February 28, 2012 at 3:01 am

Welcome To Kabul

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After a long trip, I’ve arrived in Kabul. I was impressed that despite the long travel time, and the time change of 8.5 hours, I actually didn’t feel a great deal of jet lag.

Stepping of the plane at Kabul International Airport I was struck immediately by the sight of the snow-capped Hindu Kush mountains, which surround the city. Then I got my first few breaths of the air – thin at 5900ft above sea level, and not exactly fresh. But medics assure us that while winter air quality is poor, due to people burning just about anything for heat, the spring winds deal with it, and it’s not that bad according to testing.

KAIA is a busy place, and we were shepherded off quickly to start inclearance.

I managed to sleep on most of the flight, which probably helped. And every time we stopped along the way, we got fed, which coupled nicely with the NyQuil I was popping to make sure I slept.

Prior to leaving we’d heard that there was challenges with heat where we were sleeping, about long delays and not enough food along the way, all of which turned out to be false.

I’m still “in transit” to my final destination, but getting into the swing of things. The one problem we have is that so much is changing that everything I thought I knew about the next few months seems a little unclear. But that’s how things go. There’s a saying in the military: no plan survives contact. So I’m not surprised. I’ll just roll with it all.

Written by Nick

February 25, 2012 at 1:17 am

Heading Downrange

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As best I can tell, everything is ready to go other than a couple of things to throw in the mail that I’ll probably take care of today. I’m basically set to go, so this will be the last post I’m going to put up before I take off.

The only thing I’m really not looking forward to is the trip itself – it’s going to be a long, long couple of days to get from here to there, I think my best hope is to find some sort of sleep aid, knock myself out, and ideally wake up just enough to do what I have to do at the stops along the way. I’ll figure it out. I’m looking forward to getting there, not least because an old friend from my old unit is planning to meet me on arrival, and one of the people I’m taking over for is a coursemate from a few years ago as well, it’ll be good to catch up a bit before they head home.

This week, as is my custom, I’ve been doing a huge amount of reading. I figure I may as well put some miles on my Kindle before I leave. Customarily I prefer non-fiction stuff – history, science, that sort of thing. I’ve read all the major works of history on Afghanistan worth reading, so I finally decided to read Khaled Hosseini’s books, The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns. I understand the popularity at last. You can read a lot of different sources on Afghan history. I’ll in particular recommend Sir Martin Ewan’s Afghanistan: A Short History Of Its People & Politics and Stephen Tanner’s Afghanistan: A Military History From Alexander The Great To The War Against The Taliban as good starts. However, neither of these books can quite capture the human experience in the way Hosseini’s books do. I can’t, of course, vouch for the veracity/authenticity of the tales, but paired with the historical context of Afghanistan, they seem like they’d be a reasonable accounting.

If you’re particularly interested in the Soviet War in Afghanistan, I’d suggest Lester Grau’s two books: The Bear Went Over The Mountain and Other Side of the Mountain (which talks more about the mujahideen experience). They’re not easy to find, but worth it. I tracked the former down in a Toronto library, the latter I’ve only been able to see extracts of, but it’s very, very interesting.

Fiction, well written fiction, captures the human dimension that history texts don’t really want to reach. I’ve never really read books that do it so well, perhaps it’s a function of wanting to try to understand the people I’m going to interact with better. Imagine: the younger men who we’ll meet as ANA soldiers and officers will likely have grown up without ever having known real peace or modern society. Afghanistan plunged into civil war in 1978, after all. Prior to that, well, prior to the bloodless coup of 1973, it was a relatively modern country, at least in the cities. The population was educated, the sort of fundamentalist tyranny that would come later when the Taliban emerged was unheard of. You get the impression from A Thousand Splendid Suns that the Taliban, on appearing on the Afghan scene in 1992, were welcomed not so much because people thought they were great, but because there was for once, some semblance of stability. The older folks we’ll meet – the ANA’s senior officers, for example, will have had the experience of Afghanistan under Daoud Khan, and King Zahir Shah, when it was very different. I hope it might just be possible to learn about their history from them over many cups of tea.

It’s that stability that needs to be created again, but in a way that also brings some chance for economic prosperity and for everyone to participate. That will take away the incentive for anyone to become “Part Time Taliban” because they need the money. The solution to Afghanistan’s problems, as it were, has little to do with military force. It’s going to be built upon allowing a generation to grow up in relative peace, with education, and with an ability to take good jobs and provide for families. Security, however, is a precondition for that, and that’s the part we’re contributing to. It’s vital, but it isn’t the answer.

On top of all that, I’ve been working on Dari as hard as is reasonable. It’s not an easy language to learn, because it bears so little resemblance to  any language I’m familiar with. I speak pretty decent Spanish, passable French, and some German – but all three of those languages have some linguistic commonality with English, through the influence of Greek and Latin. Dari, a dialect of Farsi, has no such connection. I’m finding the verbs to be the most complicated, because they use so many different forms and I can’t figure a way out to make sense of them. I’ve put more of a focus on speaking and listening than reading and writing because it’ll be more practical. I will, of course, have a terp to help with my day-to-day interaction, but I’d like to be able to make some conversation and have a basis to learn more. The program I’m using is giving me some good basis to do that. I even now know how to refuse offers, something that is the way things are done there. Apparently, when Afghans offer hospitality, whether a meal or a cup of chai, the custom is to refuse politely at least once, ideally twice, before acquiescing. It sounds a little like Italians – and apparently, with meals it’s the same thing. Saying you don’t want anymore guarantees another full serving of whatever is on offer. Saying “just a little more” brings just that, enough to leave as a sign of being done.

Lots to learn, indeed. I’m also learning numbers which might just come in happy in my quest to acquire carpets, though I’m rather scared to have them out where our cats can get at them. We’ll see, I guess.

Anyhow, this will be it for a little while, until I actually get downrange, and even at that, I’ll warn you in advance that it may take a while before I get settled in and manage to get on with the story.

Written by Nick

February 17, 2012 at 1:00 pm

Things On My Mind Before I Go

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The day is getting so close now that I’m trying to review in my head all the things I need to get done, and it’s complicated. I wanted to get my tax return sorted out for the year before I left, and I managed to do that last night. I made a typo in my tax software that made me think I was getting back a pretty sizable return, but when I was going over everything I discovered the mistake. It turns out I owe this year – though nothing overwhelming. One of the tricks being a Reservist is that I have to try to get it so that the tax withheld on my army pay is enough to actually cover what I owe. I’ve gotten better at this over time, but it’s not perfect. I think I’ll just use a small RRSP loan to cover off the balance, and pay it off when I get over there, which shouldn’t be an issue.

I have the option to defer filing until after my tour, but I’m not going to do that for one simple reason: the nature of my civilian job is such that it’s much easier to file electronically, rather than assemble a massive tax package – being paid by commissions means you have a lot of deductions to submit receipts etc for. If I defer, I’ll miss the window on NetFile, and that’s more hassle than it’s worth. I have almost  everything I need now anyhow – just waiting on one last T4 slip to make sure I have all the numbers right, and I’m good to go.

The family dynamic is what’s really interesting, challenging. I have been in the army 11 years, all of them as a reservist. That means I’ve been away from home a fair bit, but usually in very short spurts – a weekend here, a week there, the odd longer stint doing courses and so on. The longest so far was about 14 weeks while I was on one my officer training courses at the Infantry School. Being three hours from my parents and able to talk to my wife whenever I felt like it more or less made that pretty simple. When I went back in January, I wasn’t home for three weeks, and that’s a first in a while, since 2008 actually. In the first stage of workup I was home every weekend as it’s a relatively short drive and I could always find someone to bring me here.

That seems like forever ago, incidentally – this whole process seems like it has been a whole lot longer than it actually has.

This is going to be different, and it won’t be easy I suspect. From when I leave to get on the plane in a few days, it’ll be something like seven months before I see my wife again, when we meet during my leave. That actually makes me think my dates might have to change, since they don’t match up with our projected RIP dates – must look into that… We haven’t yet decided where we’re going, we’ve discussed Greece, Turkey, the Czech Republic (and a Eurail Pass), Morocco (well, I have), Russia, so many ideas. I’ll see her for a couple of weeks, and then head back for the last little stretch beforee it’s time to come home.

There’s an interesting effect though, I’ve noticed. Being home actually creates disruption for now – she’s so used to the idea of me being gone that my being here disrupts the routines, the structures she’s gotten in place to be ready for the next little while. It’s not just me that’s got a lot to contend with – in fact, it’s families that do a lot more. I’ve always admired military families, I’ve always heard from senior leaders how important they are to the team’s effort, how vital they are to the CF being able to do anything, but it’s going from abstraction to reality.

They don’t do it alone, fortunately.

Unlike the last time I had my name in for a tour, we have something of a luxury in that we live in a military town. Halifax is the home port of the Royal Canadian Navy’s Atlantic Fleet, so there’s lots of people in uniform here, and a great Military Family Resource Centre, which provides all sorts of services to our families. My wife was out to a briefing on how everything works, everything from why you always answer the phone when call display comes up “Government of Canada” (bad news is never delivered by phone), to what actually does happen in the event of casualties. I remember during my infantry officer course that it was important to include in your plan and your orders what the medevac plan is, how you’ll deal with casualties, because those you lead need to know that there is a plan. So they got the same briefing we did, what the medical resources are there, what happens when the worst happens, and all that.

One of my peers – actually two of them – also took it upon themselves to make sure that my wife has people to call if she needs anything. We refer to the Army as being family, and it really is. We look out for each other, we look out for everyone’s family. It’s not something they have to tell us to do, it just happens. I’m glad to know that is the case. I know that if I’m not around and something does happen she’s got people to call on. That said, the marvels of modern technology mean that I’m going to be able to stay in touch pretty well – I don’t think we’ll be that out of touch. Between Skype, Facebook, satellite phones, my biggest worry is having something to talk about most of the time.

This is going to lead right into what I wanted to talk about. I hear so many people going on about “supporting the troops”. It’s become a political statement in some cases, a means of separating one group from another in debates, all sorts of things. I see all sorts of people with those little yellow ribbon stickers on cars, or making the statements, or whatever. But what does that actually mean? So you bought a ribbon from Wal-Mart and stuck it on your car. You’re supporting the business that makes them, in most case, but does that actually do anything for soldiers? Probably not. So, if you want to really “support the troops” more than making an increasingly empty statement, I’ve got some suggestions. I added some links to organizations you can donate to that make tangible efforts to improve the lives of military families and soldiers. I’m going to keep adding other organizations that do good in the world that hopefully will help us build a world where eventually soldiers are almost unnecessary. Our boss on this tour has charged us with the responsibility to work ourselves out of a job – if only to be handed another one – but imagine if that was what could be done for our communities on a grand scale?

I don’t want to sound ranty, but it’s important stuff. Canada’s elite Joint Task Force 2 has a motto that encapsulates it well: Facta non verba. Deeds, not words. Actions, not stickers. There’s nothing wrong with those stickers, by the way, if you buy them from an organization like CFPSA, where the proceeds go directly to programs for soldiers and their families. If I can impress anything upon anyone reading this though, it’s just go do something. Someone asked what she could do to support me, and I just said go do something that makes her community better. You can donate to organizations that do good work, but if that’s not something you can do, time is often as valuable, or more so. One of the things the unit I used to belong to did every year was help pack Christmas hampers for the local Salvation Army. All the donated money in the world doesn’t do that manual labour required, but we went out, worked hard for a few hours, and contributed to a lot of people in our community having a more enjoyable holiday. I got more of a sense of personal satisfaction out of that few hours of work than I have ever gotten from getting any gifts or anything else.

It’s something I have to get better at myself, even. It’s something I don’t think I can ever let myself think I’ve done well enough. In fact, it’s something I’m going to try to focus more on when I get home. If I’ve taken away anything from my friends who’ve deployed before me, it’s that you come back with a renewed appreciation for just how good things are here – how lucky we were to have been born in (or ended up in) a country like Canada. But it is the way it is because people put in effort to make it this way, and often it’s selfless effort, with no hope or thought of reward or personal gain. Everyone can do better, so if you want to do something to support me or anyone else in uniform, I’ve just told you a myriad of ways. Deeds. Not Words.

Written by Nick

February 11, 2012 at 12:49 pm

My Bags Are Packed, I’m Ready To Go…

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Being home from Gagetown has an element of frustration to it that doesn’t make a lot of sense on the surface. After a chaotic final week of making sure everything was set for us to be able to take off on our appointed days (my team will travel on ten separate flights while the relief in place is conducted), I finally left on Friday afternoon. As I did in December, I managed to leave my winter coat in my room when I cleared out, and so I had to send my clerk in to pick it up for me. I think I’ll survive with out it for a few days, so not really worried.

Being home has some comforts, of course – spending time with my wife, having decent homecooked meals (while army food at the BARFF is actually quite good, it’s not the same as being home), being able to cook when I’m so inclined, and so on, it’s also frustrating. She, of course, has been preparing for the idea of me being gone, and has basically had the place to herself for most of three months already. So my return is actually disruptive. It screws up her routines, her ways of doing things, and it makes it such that she’d rather in some ways that I be gone.

Sounds bizarre, doesn’t it?

I get it, though. It’s especially complicated because she works from home, and I’m on leave and don’t have anywhere to be, anywhere to go, anything to do really. I’ve gotten my stuff mostly packed up (in fact, about the only think left to pack is my shave kit and my all electronics, since I’m using them now). Everything’s stacked up in the corner, ready to go.

Remember the post in November about the new rucksack I got and how complicated it was to put together and how massive it is? Well, I’m amazed how much I was able to cram into it. All my clothes, my gucci gel pillow, my sheets, and some other miscellanea all got in there, and I managed to get it all closed up.

So I’m home. And somewhat bored, anxious, something like that. I had thought about a trip down to Toronto to visit some people there but decided not to, and now I’m kicking myself for it. Could be worse, though, I suppose, I have friends here who aren’t leaving until a couple of weeks after me, and they’re sitting around, no doubt with the same frustrations.

Written by Nick

February 9, 2012 at 3:32 pm

Down To The Short Strokes

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I knew this week was going to be terrible. I don’t have a clerk working for me at the moment as he’s on a course that I’m sure will benefit us all when we leave. Thus, I had to very quickly learn how clerks work their magic in order to get my entire contingent’s files in order.

It’s a good thing I tend to be a quick study. Monday night, the S3 (Ops/Training Guy) and I “stayed after school” going through about 80 files making sure they were set to be turned in to the Orderly Room, where they then go up to be signed off by the CO to confirm the member is ready to deploy.

The file includes all sorts of different components, the key to which is the Personal Readiness Verification form, which all sorts of people have to sign off as being “Green”. If anything isn’t Green, then we can’t deploy the soldier. Turns out that a good chunk of the files aren’t all Green, and so we were trying to figure out who needed to be fixed, what they needed, and how we could go about getting it done. It was a long night, but a fairly successful one. We had our boss stop in for a while so he could sign off his component, and he made a point of commenting on how well we were working together. The mutual desire to get the hell out of there was probably the best motivator we had.

As of tonight, we’ve got most of them done and turned in, and tomorrow I’ll have the last of them done, or at least most. There’s some troops with some issues that have more complex fixes, but I’m going to sent them into the clerks with a proposed plan, and they should be good to go before the drop dead date, when the sole person who can do the final signoff gets on the plane. That should be enough time. Of course, part of the hold up was that some documents were missing and no one bothered to tell me that there was a file in the Orderly Room where they were also collecting outstanding items. A good chunk of the stuff we were waiting for was there.

My other trick is the collection of another, unrelated document. By its nature, it’s got to be handled in a specific manner, and that’s complicating things a bit. I’m done 90% of them now too, but the last few were on a memory stick that belongs to someone else, and now I’m trying to get it back from that person who’s been off on training. Should be sorted tomorrow, but it’s annoying. And normally, it’s not even the S1’s responsibility – “we” just “volunteered” because the Ops guys who normally responsible for it are working like rented mules right now trying to sort out the last of the training requirements.

Friday at 4pm I’m out of here. Friday. 4pm. The Barrack Warden will come by, make sure I cleaned my room, and kick me out. And it’ll be back to Halifax. With a stop at St-Hubert in Moncton for dinner – because I haven’t had it in a long time and it sounds really, really good. Serenity Now.

It’s not done yet, of course – so much to do. I started packing today. Problem is that I basically have the luggage I can take overseas here with me – but a lot more stuff than I will be taking and I have to try to fit it all in. I’m going to have to ask my wife to bring an extra bag with her when to finish packing. I have a system set up though – I’m trying to pack my carry on back exactly as it will be when I go (Less my Kindles. Yes, Kindles, plural. I have two.) and leave it as it. The amount of stuff that has to go in there is rather ridiculous. I was thinking I’d put my laptop in there. But it’s not going to fit, I don’t think. It’ll go in my barrack box.

I think it’ll all fit just fine – though it takes some planning. The key thing I have to take into account is that my battle rattle has to go in a duffel bag, and be packed in such a way as to ensure that when I get off the plane, I can get to it immediately and be able to throw it on for the ride to our first stop. Everything else I cram in that bag (clothes, most likely) has to go underneath my PPE so it comes out quick and easy.

I can’t tell you when I leave, exactly. Nor can I tell you how we’re getting there. I can tell you it’s going to take a long, long time traveling and that I don’t sleep well on planes so I plan to overdose on something that will knock me out until we get there. On arrival in Kabul we are heading to something of a reception centre where we’ll clear into ISAF/NTM-A and get our bearings before getting dispersed out to our actual “hometowns”. I’m not actually even sure I can say much about where, specifically, I’m going. You’ll have to forgive me for erring on the side of caution. However, I’ve got public affairs as one of my secondary duties, and I’ve already started asking about things like a social media strategy, and maybe that’ll change the way I go about this blog. ISAF does have a presence (@ISAFMedia), and they actually spar routinely with a couple of Taliban propaganda Twitter accounts. I swear, I’m not making that up. Check it out. The Taliban are @alemarahweb, and also @abalkhi. At the rate of casualties they claim, they would have had to have killed probably every single Canadian ever deployed there. It verges on the ridiculous – but the actual personal jabs are what are priceless, when they happen. In fact, it’s happening right now. See here, Taliban claims a great victory. ISAF mocks them here. Taliban jabs back here. ISAF’s telling the truth, of course. The Taliban would claim earthquakes were their doing without thinking anything of it. Welcome to modern war, ladies and gentlemen.

There’s actually a couple of guys “over there” whose job is solely to monitor social media to make sure there’s no OPSEC violations. And there have been some pretty insane ones. Some inadvertent, and some so categorically stupid I cannot believe that they happened. One of the things they just made a point of telling people about is geotagging in photos. Lots of people take pictures with smartphones blissfully unaware that the phones use their GPS to encode where exactly the photo was taken. I learned about this a few years ago after realizing I’d tweeted pictures of my home. The geotags would have made it exceptionally easy to find. I have, obviously, disabled that function on my iPhone, and most pictures you’ll see on here will come from a non-GPS equipped camera, so there’s no risk there. Why, as they said, do the enemy’s recce for him? I don’t plan to, so you’ll have to forgive any time I’m intentionally vague.

Anyhow, I can’t believe that work up is coming to an end – that I can see, as it were, the end of the tunnel. There’s a stack of DAG files between me and that end, but it’s dwindling.

Friday. 4pm. My own bed. Home cooked meals – my wife is a staggeringly awesome cook, you see. A few weeks to chase down some last minute admin and relax – I go on leave almost as soon as I get home.

A little housekeeping, by the way. I’m starting to build up some links on the sidebar for you. I’m also going to do up a “suggested reading list” for those interested in this blogs – books I’ve read and thought were of value. I’ll probably get that done during my leave.