A Reservist's Tale Of A Tour

What, Exactly, Are We Doing Here?

with 2 comments

A lot of Canadians don’t even seem particularly aware that there are still about 950 Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan these days. In part, it’s probably because there haven’t been casualty reports lately (save, unfortunately, for MCpl Bryon Greff, who was killed not all that far from where I’m sitting right now typing this). Most people thought the reporting that our mission in Kandahar has ended meant that our commitment to Afghanistan has ended, but it of course hasn’t. I’m interested to see what the Public Affairs folks here do to keep getting the word out, and unless my primary duties preclude it, I’m even considering offering to try to help in a more official way. We’ll see what happens.

So, what are we doing here? Well, in broad terms, we’re here as part of NATO Training Mission – Afghanistan, contributing to efforts to train and develop the Afghan National Security Forces. There are Canadians working at a number of ANA and ANP schools, helping them develop the ability to deliver their own training to their soldiers and police, so that they can build sustainable, professional security forces. There’s a massive number of military trades represented among us. Infanteers, Artillerymen, Signallers, Pilots, Intelligence folks, Logisticians, and so on. A chunk of the 950 or so is the National Command and Support Element, the people who keep us fed, paid, organized, led, and so on – but the majority are advisors, I think.

But still, that doesn’t really answer the question, so here’s what I can do. Here’s what a day in my life looks like right now.

I usually (and usually means “for the last few days”, since it’s pretty early…) get up around 6:30-7. I don’t usually go to the gym first thing in the morning, and there’s a twofold reason for that – I don’t like getting up early, and it’s usually busiest then, plus my day allows me to go later, particularly for the torturous but awesome circuit training that the Brits run most afternoons.

I walk to the office (which is not exactly far – maybe 150 metres?), drop off my laptop and whatever else, and head to the DFAC for breakfast and to fill my mug up – right now generally with tea, because the coffee here is terrible, and I have some amazing Hot Rod tea from World Tea House in Halifax with me (which reminds me, I need to get more sent over!). In theory, I’m supposed to be in the office at 8, but generally I meet my colleagues at breakfast, and we head back when we head back. Our ANA counterparts and interpreters usually arrive around the same time.

Where I work is one of those schools, and my job is part of what’s called the Validation Team, part of the Mentoring Cell which aims to improve the Afghans’ ability to deliver training to their soldiers. Right now, we’re between courses, so the ANA have undertaken a sort of  self-validation/professional development project with their instructors. This is real progress, something that the Coalition has been trying to get them to do for a long time, and they’ve now embraced it (and framed it as their initiative, which is fine). What they’re doing is what we call teaching mutuals – that is, the instructors are teaching classes to each other, allowing them to essentially rehearse in a safe environment. They critique each other, and we are there to also provide some critique. It’s interesting sitting watching the lessons and having a Dari interpreter translate for me – though they’re generally very familiar with the material (they could probably teach it effectively!), so what we’ve been doing is asking them to come up with points where they didn’t explain things well etc so we can target them with questions.

My first few of these I didn’t have an interpreter for all of, but I still was able to provide some good feedback on general teaching styles. One of the instructors has the same problem I do – he talks really, really fast – gets excited and loses people. I was able to take him aside and tell him some strategies I use to deal with that, and this morning he taught again, a much better performance overall. That’s tangible progress.

Once those are done for the day, I’ll usually retire to the office, check email and see what’s going on in the world, we have meetings about upcoming events, that sort of mundane stuff, and then the gym or whatever. The letter of the law says we are “on the clock” and have to be in uniform until 8pm (though gym time is included – PT kit is, after all, a uniform). Back to my room or the office to watch movies, check Facebook, write blog posts, Skype with my wife or my parents, and that sort of thing, and up and at it again the next day.

When courses are running, we do the same sort of thing – monitoring lessons, but we don’t say anything, there’s no critique during the class. One of our goals is to get the Afghans to discover a process we use called AARs – After Action Reviews – a debrief of what was done during the day, essentially. That will allow them to learn from what they’ve done. We’ve also got advisors here to help them get better with logistics, planning, and administration so the school will function better. That’s the milestone we want to hit before we go. Things do take time here, but what I’m seeing – even in a short period of time – is that there’s progress being made. The Afghans we work with are genuinely invested in taking responsibility for their country and serving it loyally – and that’s what this place will need to have what we’re trying to build endure. I’m generally an optimist, but I really do think we can pull this off.

Written by Nick

March 7, 2012 at 1:29 pm

2 Responses

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  1. I look forward to way more information coming out of the CF Info-Machine on the mission. I’ve already written off mainstream media – if the training mission was as sexy as the combat mission, the stories would be in the media every day. And NOT just the ones based on phone interviews from Ottawa….

    Stay safe!


    March 10, 2012 at 9:07 pm

    • Well, I’m considering finding a way to contribute to the info machine based on being on the ground – if they want me to, anyhow…


      March 11, 2012 at 11:46 am

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