Afghanistan-A-Go-Go

A Reservist's Tale Of A Tour

Archive for the ‘Cultures and Military Tourism’ Category

Brief Hiatus

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It’ll be quiet for a couple weeks or so, I’m presently on leave and exploring Europe with my wife. My first couple of days before she got here were a lot of driving going to some WW1 sites of note, the Menin Gate and Vimy Ridge chief among them, also Tyne Cot, Hooghe Crater, Hill 62, Passchendaele, Beaumont-Hamel, Thiepval, Courcelette, Cambrai…

I met my wonderful Missus in Frankfurt a couple of days ago for a couple weeks together toward the end of my tour, so my attention will be focused elsewhere for a little while.

Written by Nick

August 3, 2012 at 3:49 am

The Afghans Take The Lead

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I’ve been busier than normal in the last few days. I’m actually quite happy with that, though it’s been a bit hectic, I’ve been pretty close to in the black a couple of times though!

Our ANA partners are currently running their main course, the Counterinsurgency Leaders Course. They run one iteration per month, and normally they have 15 candidates. This month, however, they got around 50! This is making out life a little bit crazy.

We moved the ANA from our camp onto the ANA Garrison a few weeks ago, but they haven’t had access to a DFAC of their own, nor to they have accommodations for students there. Fortunately, most of their students are from the Kabul area so they just go home at night.

Previously, we had duty interpreters with escort privileges who could look after all of the ANA students while they were on our camp, because they can’t go anywhere on their own for security reasons. Now, however, we’ve got a lot fewer interpreters, and only one can handle escort duties. So we’ve got three times the number of students who come onto our camp for lunch, and we’ve had three or four of us trying to control their movements to the DFAC to get lunch, a separate dining room we have for them, and then back off the camp afterward. More complicated, the first day we found that there were a few students from out of town who needed accommodations, we fortunately were able to give them enough supplies to be able to sleep on the ANA camp, sparing us trying to manage an overnight escort duty.

I’m running around trying to balance this and make sure that the Mayor doesn’t get worked up about the crowds. Some of our coalition friends feel the need to complain about the lines for lunch and the ANA being there, but it’s easy enough to tell them to go away. (I use a little firmer terminology) The DFAC is open for three hours for lunch, so I’ve got no sympathy over it being crowded for half an hour. And any other complaints simply require a reminder that training and supporting the ANA is our primary mission here, and so having them around isn’t an inconvenience, it’s why we are here in the first place.

At the end of this course, Ramazan (Ramadan is the Arabic work – Ramazan is the Persian) starts and the ANA will no longer have access passes for the camp – we’re basically finishing off the final handover to them and they will be a standalone organization. We will be here for a while longer to help with some final mentoring pieces, but we are more or less done in the next few weeks.

For the most part, I think it will work out. Their instructor staff are excellent, and they’ve got the ability to get the students here and teach them. There are some things that have to be sorted out – most specifically R&Q – rations and quarters – how the students are housed and fed, because this course is the last one that our camp facilities will be available, but that will be what we’ll try to help sort out over the next few weeks.

Ramazan will be an interesting time around here. If you’re not familiar with the concept, it basically is a month of fasting – Muslims fast totally between sunrise and sunset. No food, no water. How they do so in a desert environment is beyond me. They’ll wake up super early, have a huge breakfast and go to morning prayers, and then after evening prayers have a massive feast called iftar to break the fast. Still, even with the reduced working hours I can’t imagine how they manage to do it. I’m curious to try it for a day, we’ll see. I’m still trying to recover from being sick for a few days, which means I’m not optimally hydrated. We’ll see. No sooner than I got over the bug, a couple others at the office are now hit with it – just wonderful, I must say.

Written by Nick

July 17, 2012 at 7:12 am

It’s Always Sunny In Helmand

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I don’t actually know if the subject line is true, but I can tell you that where I am currently, at Camp Leatherneck, a massive United States Marine Corps base in Helmand Province in southwestern Afghanistan the sun is blazing and the heat is ridiculous. It was almost hotter last night after sunset than it is most of the time back “home” in Kabul.

I’m here with another guy on what was originally an instructor validation trip to have our ANA instructors come certify instructions at 215 Corps, but the ANA then couldn’t come, and when we got here we discovered the course wasn’t running anyhow because the instructors went on leave, or something like that, so essentially, our main accomplishment here has been delivering two sea bags to one of our staff who lives here but was storing stuff in Kabul, and seeing a new part of the country for us.

This place is massive, in the middle of the desert they can land a 747, and there is something like 30,000 troops here. We got a tour today of the ANA training facilities and met some of their staff for chai, and got a good handle on how they’ve been delivering material here. I’m impressed, because it looks like they’ve created something that’s “Afghan right” and most importantly sustainable. That is the idea, because as we are winding up our mission it seems like decentralizing as much training as possible is what will work.

I had fun getting here, by the way, on a Hercules. Not a bad flight until about halfway when I started feeling airsick and wound up taking my helmet off to hold in such a way as to deal with any misfortune. It was that awful cold sweat feeling, but fortunately we hit the ground before any disasters happened, and walking out onto the tarmac made me feel better, even if it was just to be blasted by insane heat, quite the change from cool rainy Kabul we left a couple hours before…

So I’m here for a few days, mainly playing tourist, seeing some new things, and when I get back I have a fair few ideas on what we can do better to try to sort out that sustainability issue, the toughest nut we have to crack here I think.

Written by Nick

June 19, 2012 at 5:09 am

Back To The Sandbox

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After a long night flight to Dubai (which I sort of managed to sleep on, but in such a way as to leave my neck aching severely afterward, and a six hour layover in the world’s most famous Fly-In Shopping Mall (which is what DXB basically is, and why Emirates offers lots of cheap flights all over the world that connect through it), I boarded my flight back to Kabul and made my way back to camp.

I spent the last few days in Germany obviously finishing off work on the course, and we managed to wrap up early after a really well done interactive demonstration of what we teach done by one of the British students who’s sort of their subject matter expert already and was just coming to deepen his knowledge. Had we known about his version of our “COIN Skit” we’d have done it earlier on. We wrapped up around lunch time and headed off to Munich to start the trip back.

First night in Munich we stayed west of the city and explored around a bit, next morning I used Hotwire to find somewhere a little more central and the remainder of my team dropped me off there and then headed to the airport. This gave me a chance to visit a camera shot and pick up a zoom lens for my new camera (a Nikon 1), and set off to explore Munich, which I did without a particularly detailed plan. I headed to Marienplatz and up the tower at the Neues Rathaus to get some pictures of the city, and then I just basically walked around until finally I got to the English Garden and decided I was tired and wanted to head back to find some dinner and sleep. Munich’s subway system, while looking a little dated, is pretty efficient once you figure out how the fares work, and it dropped me near my hotel and a convieniently located doner kebab joint.

In planning what else to do, I had been interested in visiting Dachau, which is basically a large museum. Part of the Rules of Engagement from 9D (my wife) about our trip when I go on leave is that she’s not too interested in much WW2 historical stuff – so I wanted to knock off some key points, and Munich was basically where Hitler got his start and the Nazis rose to power so what better place to do that? I decided to take a pair of tours with the fabulous Radius Tours, led by Steve, an ex-close protection guy, UK expat, and history buff.  First, we boarded a train to Dachau, the first Nazi concentration camp just outside Munich. It was a very fascinating and very sobering place to visit, and interestingly, a group of German soldiers (in uniform) were there as well. It leaves you wondering how exactly such things could ever have existed, and how, with such reminders of atrocity, human beings manage to keep visiting such horror upon others.

Three or four hours’ walking around does not really do the site justice, but it was enough to get an initial appreciation, and knowing a lot of the history already meant it was just adding to that knowledge and putting it into context. We headed back to the train station and I found some lunch before the second tour, the Third Reich walking tour. While I read up on some of the major sites in Munich, Steve actually helped me find some less known ones, and added more to the story – Hitler’s favourite nightclub, Das Kuenstlershaus, still stands on Karlsplatz. The fountain in the Botanical Gardens, a classic piece of Nazi artwork when you realize what it is, sits unassumingly behind the courthouse. And just behind it, I was amazed to see a Nazi Eagle still on a state building, its swastika removed. In fact, in Munich, you’ll notice a lot places where Nazi symbols have been removed from doorframes and buildings, once you see one, and that’s what Steve was so good at pointing out. We passed the hotel where the SA was formed, the beer hall (now closed) where Hitler often held court, and the top floor of the Hofbrauhaus, from which Hitler took control of the DAP and the Nazi Movement was born.

There’s several examples of Nazi neogothic architecture to be seen, like Haus Der Kunst, the House Of Art, a large museum that was designed by architect Paul Troost, who inspired Albert Speer’s designs for other Nazi buildings. Steve told us that when Hitler was laying the cornerstone, the hammer broke, which he perceived as a bad omen, and Troost died of pneumonia a year later, never seeing the building finished. Wouldn’t have known that without a good guide.

That, I guess, is the beauty of a good guide, you learn all the stories you’d miss walking around, even though I find it frustrating to be on someone else’s pace at times. Guides like Steve are good because they just get stories from others and build them into their tours, which makes them more fascinating, particularly in the case of Dachau where he’s met so many survivors and their families, but also the families of some of the staff of the camp who have their own perspective.

So, I’m back in country – my longest stretch to spend here now over, because my upcoming leave breaks up the remainder of my stay into smaller chunks, and I can’t complain about that in the least. We’ve got some work to do over the next little while (including, for me, getting a handle on what the other Canadian Captain here does because he’s just headed off on leave and I’ll have to take care of his responsibilities) as we prepare to transition this place over to the ANA and go home. I’ve also got to get myself moved into my new room (if only I can get a hold of the keys!), and my camp finally has laundry service, so for the first time since being here I had the luxury of simply dropping off my laundry to be done for me. Kind of nice. Except I’m out of socks apparently – I have some buried in my rucksack while I’ll pull out today when I move, I guess.

That’s my life for the moment. Oddly enough, I’m kind of glad to be back here.

 

Written by Nick

June 12, 2012 at 2:52 am

Professional Development Interlude

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I’ve taken advantage of our schedule to see a little bit of Germany while I am here. German history has fascinated me for a long time. Watching the fall of the Berlin Wall is the first memory I have of starting to pay attention to news. I was 10 when that happened.

One of my friends happened to be in Germany on a task supporting a European exercise, and so I made arrangements to meet up with him. We spent an evening telling war stories over a great feed of Bavarian food.

On the way, I found myself in Nuremberg and visited the museum at the Palace Of Justice where the Nuremberg Trials happened. I can now say I’ve stood in Courtroom 600. The museum display was excellent. I also went to Dokumentationszentrum – the former Nazi Congress Hall, site of another museum about Albert Speer’s masterworks of Nazi architecture. I could have spent a long time in Nuremberg and will definitely need to go back at some point.

It was all a happy accident when I got off the Autobahn to figure out where I was.

The other museum I went to was OP Alpha and The House On The Border, which sits at the Fulda Gap, which was considered to be the most likely axis of advance for the Red Army in an invasion of Western Europe during the Cold War. OP (Observation Post) Alpha was a small US outpost that sat just 50 metres from the Inner German Border and is now preserved as a museum.

From there you can walk along the concrete brick road used by the East German Border Police to move along the fence. The path shows the evolution of border defences from simple roadblocks to single and then double barbed wire fences, to finally the expanded steel mesh fences and watchtowers, landmines, dogs and other methods used to divide the country. Quite a sight to see and take in.

I then made my way back down to Regensburg, winding around back roads and just generally enjoying the scenery. Part of the trip wound through the former East Germany, which 21 years after reunification blends mostly into the West, but I was impressed to recognize the Soviet style apartment blocks in one town, which were identical to those found in Kabul, where they are called Macrorayons.

The course is now winding down, and soon we’ll head “home”. Strange to think of it that way, but I do. For now, it is. It’s not as posh as a hotel, but comfortable and familiar.

Written by Nick

June 7, 2012 at 12:41 pm

Spreading The Message

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Day four of our course and things are going pretty well. I’m realizing – well, to be honest, I’ve always known that I love teaching. Especially when the topic is something that really interests me and that I can really dig deep into. That’s the kind of person I am, I’ll do loads of research and want to get as much insight into things as I can to convey it.

The course I’m teaching on as part of three-man Mobile Training Team has just shy of 100 students, the largest audience I’ve ever taught in front of by far. We are working in a nice theatre, three big projectors, and a ridiculous audio-visual suite. I’ve never taught with monitors before, so when I ask a question the cacophony coming back through the monitors makes it challenging.

The students are great. They range from junior NCOs to senior officers, from Canada, the USA, the UK, Estonia, Slovenia, Poland, Hungary, Belgium, and Spain.

I’ve been a little ambiguous about what I do in Afghanistan, but I think I can ease up on that. I work at the Counterinsurgency Training Center – Afghanistan as a COIN instructor, validation officer, and I’ll soon be taking on a staff mentor role as well. As we work on transitioning to ANA running the show, we are involved less and less in actual training. This is actually probably the last coalition training we will do, and we are basically here in Germany to train, validate, and certify counterinsurgency instructors who can then train their soldiers in preparation both to come to Afghanistan or to get involved in any sort or low intensity conflict or counterinsurgency operation. We are teaching some Afghan-specific stuff, but a lot of generic theory.

The other instructors I’m here with I haven’t taught with before but it’s working well, we have a pretty good rapport and our styles mesh well. We take lots of jabs at each other to keep the atmosphere light and encourage students to jump in – we want them to challenge us, debate us. We aren’t all-knowing experts, after all.

Being in Germany has an element of surrealism to it after being in Afghanistan three months. I rented a car and driving after three months of almost never doing it is a strange feeling indeed. I’ve not yet been out onto the Autobahn but that’s coming in a couple of days.

Being on a US base requires me to get a “ration card” to be able to shop at the PX or Commissary (supermarket) on base. It’s actually a stamp on my NATO Travel Order, which allows me to buy four cartons of cigarettes, four bottles of spirits, and 1.25 pounds of coffee (or 5 ounces of instant coffee). Quite an allowance for two weeks, none of which I have any use for. The rations restrictions are in place because these goods are tax exempt, but apparently controls on many goods exist because there’s a chance soldiers might get the idea to resell stuff into the black market – these are remnants of occupation rules really.

Last night we visited the “German Kantine” on post to mingle a bit, from the Germans I got travel advice for Berlin, from Canadians some good war stories, and there’s a British Captain who has a lot of background dealing with ANA and told some stories about defusing some of the problems we have dealing with religion – he’s a Muslim and didn’t let ten get away with shirking work to pray as I’ve seen happen. “Great, it’s prayer time. I’ll pray with you. We’ll do it tactically! Half provide security, half pray and switch.” “But we need water for wudu (ritual ablutions)!”. “No you don’t. Use dust, that’s allowed!”. This was a brilliant way to disarm them – something most of us can’t do.

As a demonstration of “Good COIN”, he offered to drive me back to my hotel in Regensburg so my colleagues could head back to the hotel early. Perfect.

We have some sightseeing planned on the little bit of downtime we have, and when that’s all done we head back. By coincidence a good friend of mine from home isn’t far away on another NATO tasking, I haven’t seen him in months, so it’ll be great to catch up when we get together on our off day.

Written by Nick

June 7, 2012 at 12:40 pm

Culture Shock

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Today, after three months in Kabul, I headed to the airport early in the morning to catch a plane. I mentioned in a previous post about how I was getting a chance to teach at a training centre in Germany, and today was the big day.

For the first time since getting here, I walked around outside a camp or other secure compound, and did so without wearing body armour. I wore civilian clothes for the first time in months, a pair of jeans that are significantly too large for me. I couldn’t fit my boots in my suitcase, so I had to go with wearing them rather than Sketchers, but nevertheless it was a weird feeling.

Security at Kabul International Airport, the civilian side, is pretty tight indeed. My bags were x-rayed on the way into the area. Then again before I checked in, where I got frisked in more detail than I think I’ve ever been. I then checked in without incident, and sat in the terminal. Most passengers leaving for Dubai were westerners – contractors, diplomats, NGO workers including a Finnish woman and her two sons. She’s live in Kabul for twelve years, it’s the only home her kids have know. I have to admire the dedication of someone who’d commit to trying to help such a place so long. She laughed at my frustration at not being able to walk out in the city, to meet and talk to people, but that’s the reality of my job.

Two and a half hour’s flying brought us to Dubai, and what I can only describe as an overwhelming culture shock. I’m not used to so many people, so much… normalcy? Though I’d hardly call DXB normal! So much luxury, it’s a giant mall. But a Starbucks coffee and sushi for lunch was a welcome change from DFAC “food”.

We expected we could get into one of the lounges, because the team lead is one of those ultra platinum frequent flyers, but no such luck. The expected reciprocal privileges were not offered. Such is life, however.

I’m starting this post from an Emirates Boeing 777 – probably the greatest flight I’ve ever been on, and waiting for lamb curry for dinner, watching as the screen shows us flying over Iraq toward Turkey, and onward to Germany. Tonight, I’ll sleep in a hotel, in a huge comfortable bed. I think I’ll take a ridiculously long shower – if available, a bath! Such simple pleasures after three months.

It’ll be a busy couple of weeks or so working on the course, and then it’ll be back to Kabul for my next stretch – shorter than the last. In fact, I’ve completed the single longest stretch of time I’ll spend in Afghanistan. It’s going to be two shorter spans – broken up by leave – and then home. To what, I’m not sure. More shocks, I’m sure. But good ones.

Written by Nick

May 29, 2012 at 11:20 am

Been A While

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It’s been over two weeks, apparently, since I put up a post – I can’t believe it’s been that long, because BAF still seems almost like yesterday – it’s been busy here, a bit of a blur. We’ve moved offices, which was a bit of a gong show, because it left us with no access to our computer networks for a couple of days (despite assurances it’d be nothing more than a couple of hours… yeah right!).

We’ve been busy working on transition plans, adjusting to surprises about manning, and some other things that have cropped up. One of the Australians here came back reporting that he had received a rather prestigious posting, which means his tour will be cut short, as his new battalion will be deploying to Tarin Kowt before too long – he’s got to go home, move his family to the new posting, and then get set to come back.

Funny story though. He’s a bit of a Diet Coke addict (or, Coca Cola Light as it’s called in most of the world outside North America!), and has been known to vociferously complain when the DFAC runs out. So when he left, we began to accumulate as much of it as we could – taking a couple of cans out of the DFAC a day and piling them up on his desk. We had 225 cans for him. Which we had to move when we moved offices. But it was a good laugh for all. He brought back some souvenirs from Australia (including stuffed koalas, for the joke he’s been poking at Canadians about travel), and I’m going to miss having him around.

That’s the bizarre part of being in the military in general  – and here especially. We become family. We call each other brother not to be trite, but because that’s really what it’s like. The Army became my second family when I signed up. In many cases, they were closer and more important at propping me up during some of the most difficult and darkest moments of my life. But we do it because we have to. During one of those experiences, when a close friend of mine was killed over here in 2008, it was my brothers that help me up – and I did the same. Even people newly posted in to my unit who I barely knew did their part. We had just gotten a new Sergeant Major. The day we got the news and converged at work, he came up to me, among others, and simply said “I’m sorry about your friend.” There was no pretense to it – no faking that he knew him, as he didn’t – but those words were just right. Later, a mutual friend I told about that put it even better: “The life we have chosen requires us to hold each other up in times of trouble.” I bolded it for a reason. It’s not an option.

We don’t really have much of that trouble here – we’re lucky. But we still have to keep an eye on each other, make sure morale stays high, crack jokes as needed, work to break the monotony. And when it’s time for people to rip out and go home, you have to wonder how that void will be filled. In our case, with transition, we’ll see more of it – we’re joking that the last one out has to remember to turn out the lights, and it will be a Canadian, we’ll be the last ones here.

We keep coming up with things to do. We’ve started a running club, which I’ve joined even though I despise running, which includes regular trips to a couple of grueling routes – one which is a 5km out and back – sounds simple right? Oh, wait: You climb about 500 ft over the 2.5km – actually, over a lot less than that, because the first kilometre is flat. But the view at the top of the hill is worth it. There’s another route up and down four hills – I haven’t tried it yet but might soon enough. And by the way, we’re 6000 ft above sea level. The air’s a little thin. I can’t wait to get down to somewhere low and see what it feels like.

Oh, and I’ll get to soon.

So, I have this nickname – Captain Good Go. I’ve earned it by getting to go on some pretty gucci trips – but one coming up is pretty much the gucciest of all.

Basically, I’m going to teach in Germany for a couple of weeks, as part of a three-man training team going to run some train-the-trainer courses. Pretty awesome, really. I’m honoured to have been selected to teach – the audience is comes from all across the NATO alliance.

It’s just a matter of sorting out how to get me there and back that has to be worked out – so I’m sure there are clerks all over the place cursing my name – but that’s fine. A wise man once said, “HATERS GON’ HATE”, after all. Let ’em. There’s also the small issue that I have basically no civilian clothes here – because my brilliant plan was to order some stuff online closer to my leave since I need new clothes anyhow – so I’ll be sporting some 5.11 stuff from the PX probably. Oh well, everyone will think I’m some kind of contractor. That’s their unofficial uniform. Or I’ll have to do a little shopping in Germany and look like some Eurotrash clown.

What else to include? A few days ago, I was up to Camp Phoenix on some personal business (that involved getting angry over pay issues, and sorting out details of my leave trip, which incidentally will be awesome), and our drivers decided to drop by the post office to see if we had any mail we could bring back to our camp. No small supply, but in it was three huge boxes of goodies from a group in Buckhorn, Ontario, who got my name and address from some friends. Awesome. Lots of good stuff – though we’re at the point of almost saying “we don’t really need anything else!”. I sent an email back to say thanks – pretty awesome that people do stuff like this, especially considering so many people don’t even know we’re here.

For now, all is well – my biggest frustration lately has been traffic – two and a half hours today to travel about 15km, but we went through a part of Kabul I’ve never seen before, which is kind of neat – at least I got to see something else new.

A Week’s Trip To Bagram

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I’ve had a busy week or so – it seems a lot longer, though – time sometimes moves in bizarre ways here.

The greatest part of the job I do is getting to be on mobile training teams, though they’re not all that common. It’s even better when they’re MTTs I actually get to teach on, which is exceedingly rare given that my organization’s focus is on building ANA training capability.

I’ve just come back from a few days at Bagram Airfield (BAF in common speak), doing some training for some coalition folks – from Colonels down to Sergeants. They were really interested in having us come and present material to them, even though it’s not totally relevant to their jobs, but we figure the more people we talk to about our part of the world, the better. Counterinsurgency theory sometimes talks about the “oil spot” strategy – concentrating your resources where they’ll have the most impact at first, but knowing that if things work right, it’ll spread from there – so anyone we can talk to is probably going to be an asset because they might just get talking to some other people and our little spot will spread out.

I’d been there twice, technically – on the way out to Khost – but I hadn’t really spent any time there except to quickly find the DFAC, the PX, and the Green Beans. This time we were sticking around a while.

BAF is a sprawling airfield complex. It’s the USA’s logistics and air movements hub. Interestingly, it was originally built by the Americans many years ago (in the 1950s) at the height of the Cold War. It was then a major base for the Soviets after they invaded in 1979. Pictures hung in one of the offices we were visiting of what BAF looked like in 2001, mostly ruins, but now it’s grown to a hive of activity. Along the apron on any given day site cargo aircraft of all descriptions, military and civilian, unloading supplies for the campaign here. There’s also a lot of warplanes and helicopters based there. It’s a loud, active airfield 24/7. Most Americans who serve in Afghanistan enter and leave through BAF as well, so there’s always people coming and going. Suffice it to say that it is a much busier place than anywhere I’m normally to be found.

BAF was captured early in the invasion by Royal Marines, my boss (who is, of course, a Royal Marine) likes to point out, just as a little trivia.

Our course ran three days – and we include a day on either end for travel, because it can be… well… unpredictable. We had bookings to fly up there by helicopter and fortunately, they went relatively according to plan. I say relatively because we got bumped off our first flight out and put on another one, and our flight back was delayed significantly – more to that though, but I’ll get to the end of the story at the end of the story.

We were met at the passenger terminal by a young Captain who brought us to our lodgings – bunk beds in a massive transient tent – where people come and go constantly. It was also, just for added luxury, about 200 metres from the flightline. And featured no lockable storage. We made the mistake in hindsight of traveling with our rifles, which we came to regret having to drag them everywhere and learning they were not allowed in the gym at all. And really, there was no need to have them with us at all.

Things did start on a bit of a high note, by chance I noticed a poster in the PX for a Toby Keith USO show. I’m not a huge fan of the guy, but he does have some pretty funny songs that one of my colleagues plays in the office a lot, and so off we went. My Royal Marine boss, having no exposure to this “cultural icon” was particularly entertaining throughout. We struck up a conversation with some folks in the line and had quite a good time standing out on the apron while Toby and his band jammed in a hangar. I have to say I have a fair bit of respect for people that will make the trip to do shows for the USO, for not a lot of money I’m sure. Canada doesn’t really have an equivalent to the USO, but fortunately they open their events to all. They’ve even got lounges in a lot of airports in the USA I’ve taken great advantage of. I can’t say enough good stuff about them or their volunteers from my experiences, suffice it to say.

We left the show on a high note, bid good night to our “hosts”, and headed for the tent. The first night was loud, hot, and not particularly comfortable, but we managed to get enough sleep to be ready to deliver our material the next morning, and the audience was excellent – attentive, asked good questions, and so on.

The following night we cunningly disabled the heating in the tent, thinking it’d make things more pleasant to sleep. Wrong. Instead, we froze. Well, I did anyhow. I just took my ranger blanket (a super light sleeping bag/poncho liner/blanket) and it wasn’t enough at all –  wound up even using my towel as a supplementary blanket to no avail. Once I realized it was no win with sleeping, I think I felt a little better – resigned, as it were, to my fate.

Training wrapped up a little early which was alright, we had some time to stroll around the camp bazaar (where I looked at some more carpets – especially Herati silk ones, and some other styles I like, I think I’ll come home with at least a couple of carpets), haggled for some pashminas for our wives (and daughters, in the boss’ case), and so on. Our hosts worked in the same building as the Red Cross, so they suggested we go there to relax, unwind, and watch some movies. Sounded good enough to us, so we did. They had one of those Sharper Image massage chairs there, the kind they sell in SkyMall books on planes, and so I gave it a go – not as good as a real massage (which I got later), but quite awesome – I might even think about getting one of those some day, but I think the cost is ridiculous.

While there, we got a visit from Captain Christine Beck and Major Timmy. Timmy is a combat stress therapy dog, Capt. Beck is an occupational therapist. I’ll let you read the article that talks more about therapy dogs, but we were impressed to learn the impact Timmy has. He’s soon going to be leaving Afghanistan to go back to the USA, and Capt. Beck is hoping he will wind up at her base stateside so they can keep working together. I can understand why Timmy has a lot of success getting soldiers to open up about their stresses and mental health issues. The big problem you might read about with people who suffer from PTSD/OSIs is that there’s a stigma against getting help. Dogs like Timmy are apparently incredibly effective at getting people to talk, which is the first step of getting them help.

We also learned of the attack on Green Village in Kabul, which we’d been unaware of because of being away from “home” – and that President Obama had passed through BAF while we were there, we had absolutely no idea. We expected this might cause some disruption to our return travel, and whether it was the cause of not, we don’t know. But here’s how things work sometimes. We got told to be at the terminal at 6am to get our helo back “home”. We called the night before to confirm everything was good, but during the night some things happened that changed stuff. 5am I woke up, packed my gear, and started the hike to the terminal (it’s not a short walk!), only to learn on arrival that showtime was pushed back to 9:30. So I dropped my stuff, found the rest of my party, and we decided at least we could go for breakfast, check out the MWR, get some Green Beans Coffee (I’d go broke if we had one at my camp!) and we’d carry on from there.

No big deal.

But 9:30 became 10:30 became noon before we finally got on a chopper. I spent most of the afternoon in bed trying to catch up on my sleep. And I slept about 12 hours last night too.

I’m glad I fly with a Kindle and an iPhone with Angry Birds on it.

ANZAC Day

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Today, April 25th, is ANZAC Day. It’s the 97th Anniversary of the landings at Gallipoli, where allies landed against ferocious Turkish defence, and took massive casualties. There was a “sort of” Canadian connection, because the Newfoundland Regiment was involved in that campaign as well. For Australians and New Zealanders, the former having major presence on my camp, today is their equivalent of Remembrance Day, and so this morning we formed up to pay tribute to their fallen, but also to all those who went before us as we do on Remembrance Day.

Probably my favourite part of the whole thing is the tribute paid by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk to those who fell after the war in 1934 – which if I remember right is actually inscribed on the ANZAC Monument:

“Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives, you are now lying in the soil of a friendly country, therefore rest in peace.

There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours.

You, the mothers who sent their sons from far away countries, wipe away your tears, your sons are now lying in our bosom and they are in peace.

After having lost their lives on this land, they have become our sons as well.”

Lest we forget.

Written by Nick

April 25, 2012 at 1:16 am