Afghanistan-A-Go-Go

A Reservist's Tale Of A Tour

Archive for the ‘Musings On Army Life’ Category

I Want to Believe

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Both the X-Files reference and the fact that friends of mine have died here in Afghanistan make me share this sentiment. I want to believe that we have made a difference somehow. I want to believe that somehow this is all going to work, that we haven’t just delayed more strife for a while.

I’ve been here long enough to have seen that there’s some glimmers of hope, to see how incredibly resilient Afghans are, and how I think most of them want to believe as well.

If you don’t follow El Snarkistani’s blog, you should, it’s pretty much that simple. If you’re interested in what I write and thus about what’s going on here, then you should find his take interesting as well.

I Want to Believe.

Written by Nick

June 22, 2012 at 6:36 am

So much for those plans!

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Our range day didn’t happen, because apparently there’s not quite a perfect system for coordinating when the range can be used. We used to go up onto the ANA garrison to use their range, but a range has been rebuilt closer to camp and just opened. Well, sort of. See, because we are in a fairly densely populated area, ranges aren’t just, as one of my Twitter mates said, “thataway…” – you can’t just shoot anywhere in a populated area. The new range is set up reasonably well, but there’s a road that runs behind it to one of the local “tourist attractions”, and it turns out that being a really nice day there was a lot of tourists out and about. So after waiting to try to account for everyone so we could go live, we got word to just shut it down.

Oh well. It was a good little hike to get there in full battle rattle, I’ll call it supplementary PT or something, and life goes on.

As we were there, getting a team picture taken, our Sergeant Major (not the one I’ve mentioned before, who’s just gone back to Australia in fact), says “So I found this interesting blog last night about CTC-A and about someone who works there traveling to Germany.” I laughed, because while I’ve not hidden this (obviously), I’ve also not publicized it particularly. And because I don’t know how people will react, for PERSEC reasons as well, I don’t mention anyone by name or really at all – I figure it’s just a better way to do things, after all. But it is an interesting cast of characters here, one that’s changed several times while I’ve been here as people come and go and the institution gets smaller. What’s amazing about the place is that we pretty much all get along well, which isn’t always the way things go in any workplace, and when thinking of your regular average job, add into that that we work longer hours, and we live in close quarters too. It’s not like you have a social life separate from your work life really – they basically merge, albeit it not perfectly. We work out on different schedules. Thursday nights I play trivia with Brits, most of the lads watch a movie in the office – it varies a bit. But we’re rarely far from each other, we eat most of our meals together, and so on. I guess we’d have to get along whether we want to or not, when you think about it.

Written by Nick

June 15, 2012 at 8:02 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

Alive Days

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An inevitability of living and working on close quarters with a relatively small group of people is that conversations get deeper and more involved. On this particular trip it is worse in many cases because there are just three of us on the training team, staying in the same hotel, planning our meals around each other, and so on. We do get along well so it’s not complicated. But the conversations get very deep.

Yesterday afternoon, we sat at a small sausage stand on the Danube, on a patio feasting on little bratwursts and sauerkraut, and we got into discussion about a lot of things, including absent friends. One of my colleagues had told me some of his stories, but never in depth. He wears a black bracelet that has become somewhat common amongst those who’ve lost friends in war. His bears the name of friend who was killed in a rocket attack on a base in Iraq, right in front of the PX. My friend had been invited to come along to the shops – something that’s common enough – and declined. Had he gone, he too would likely have been killed.

Military folks have a term for these: Alive Days. The day that they managed to avoid a grim fate. I neither have nor want an Alive Day – but I find the emergence of them to be something rather awesome. They complement the more solemn idea of remembrance of absent friends by celebrating survival as well.

They are sad days. My colleague recounted the last discussion he had with his KIA friend – about photographs he had received of his kids and his wife’s poor camera work. It laid bare for us just how real it is what we do, during the surreal experience of being in Germany instead of Afghanistan.

Written by Nick

May 30, 2012 at 5:06 pm

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.

Dealing With Bad Press And Perceptions

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I have to learn to stop reading comments to online news stories. And columnists who are armchair generals.

One thing I hoped keeping this blog would accomplish was educating people a bit about what Canadian soldiers, ISAF, NATO, all of us are actually doing in Afghanistan. I think it’s an important undertaking, because frankly, most average people on the street barely have any idea where Afghanistan is on a map, let alone understand what brought us here in the first place, what’s happening now, and what’s succeeding.

I don’t want to sound like a cheerleader giving the glossed-over story, but I’m sure most of you can understand why I have to be cautious about being too candid. The news, however, is generally pretty decent, without having to spin it.

One of the comments I’ve seen a lot goes something like this: “We’ve been there for ten years! How come we’re still needing to train these people?!” or something along that line. As one comment to a recent post mentioned, I might have been a little unclear about how long we’ve been training – efforts to build and train the Afghan National Army aren’t new – they’ve been going on since 2002 or so. That said, it’s not something that’s quick to accomplish.

Consider what we’re starting with. Afghanistan by 2001 had endured 23 years of almost ceaseless war – both the Soviet invasion, and the civil war that followed. Even from 1996 onward, there was still fighting against the Taliban. And prior to the Soviet invasion, starting with the Saur Revolution in 1973, there was fighting to various degrees throughout the country. As a result of that, a vast swath of the county’s population, especially its youth, are woefully undereducated, and illiteracy remains a massive problem throughout Afghanistan. In recent years, literally millions of children are now getting educated and learning basic literacy.

Militaries are composed of a few different groups of people. In most modern militaries, there’s three main groups – the Officers, the Non-Commissioned Officers and the Other Ranks. In Canada we call them NCM’s – Non-Commissioned Members. You can also see it commonly broken down into Officers and Enlisted Men. Training Officers isn’t particularly difficult, you want reasonably intelligent, reasonably well-educated people who can make sound plans and have leadership qualities. Training NCMs – your private soldiers, as it were, is also not particularly hard. In both cases, you need to have training institutions, actual course material and structures to train them with, and competent instructors to do that training. Now, where do you find those? In NCOs, generally. In the Canadian Army, both NCMs and Officer candidates receive the bulk of their training from NCOs – how to dress, how to do drill, how to read maps, use compasses, live and work in the field, and so on. Officers learn tactics from other officers, and tactics are their responsibility, but NCOs make Western militaries run. They handle what we often call “beans, bullets, benzene” – food, ammo, fuel, and so on. They are the backbone of our militaries because they can get all the administration done to make things work. A good NCO is priceless to an officer. From him (or her, of course), the officer will get counsel based on long experience, and will be freed of many of the menial tasks he might otherwise need to do so that he can focus on his job. As a platoon commander, my 2IC at times cooked meals for me, made sure I had coffee, and even a few times physically put me to ground (ie, to sleep) so that I’d have enough rest to be effective. They are priceless.

And they take a long time to train and develop. In days of old, the Soviet Union, and armies it developed/advised dispensed with a proper, professional NCO Corps, opting to pick recruits (often conscripts) who appeared a little fitter or smarter than others, and immediately promote them. They were largely ineffective because they didn’t have any real experience, and even if they did, it was assumed they didn’t, even the most mundane tasks still required the involvement of officers. Contrast that to the experience of many Western junior officers who will have the experience of being “steered away” from a lot of things by their NCOs, with a gentle admonishment that things are well in hand.

Afghanistan was built on that model. Even though the training system is aiming to develop a proper, professional NCO Corps, it’s hard to get buy in when you are still dealing with a lot of officers from the Soviet Era – what my interpreter refers to as the “Communist Army”. (He jokingly refers to the new ANA as the “Infidel Army”).

Developing those NCOs takes time. A Sergeant in the Canadian Army will normally have about eight years of experience under his belt in the Regular Force – a little less in the Reserves, but still quite a bit of experience, not only being trained to lead, but also training other soldiers. You cannot accelerate that development process here in Afghanistan. Or anywhere, for that matter. It’s something that even newer members of NATO (ex-Warsaw Pact countries) have difficulty with, as I understand it. Building that culture of solid, profession, empowered NCOs who are trusted by officers to do their jobs takes time. We do what we can, overall, to teach by example, to let our ANSF peers see how NCOs and Officers should work together, but getting the idea of delegation and division of tasks to make sense to them is not easy.

We are at the point now where those things are starting to work, but it’s slow going. Training structures like branch schools exist, instructor development programs and qualification training for instructors exists as well, so that competent NCO instructors can be actively involved in recruit training, for example. However, from what I’ve seen and heard in discussions with other mentors, things are not at the point where NCOs are being effectively used, and that’s probably a cultural issue that will take a long time to overcome – possibly, some muse, until all those “Communist Army” officers retire.

Delegation of authority is another complexity – because authority is conspicuous power, and while from my perspective coming from a Western professional army, delegation of authority to make decisions to the lowest possible level is makes everything work better, that concept doesn’t yet fully make sense in the ANSF. If you read any of the myriad of journal articles on OMLT experiences with Afghan units, you’ll see that good planning and rehearsals for operations is impeded by the failure to delegate. In the CF, we’re taught a process called Battle Procedure. BP can literally be used to accomplish anything – it’s actually something most people do subconsciously in their daily lives when planning to do anything. One of the keys to it is time management. On getting a task from a superior, one of the first steps is a quick time estimate – how long do I have to get it done – what timings to I have – and ideally, how do I give 2/3s of that time to my subordinates so they can get to work on their part of things. What a lot of the reports and articles I read suggested is that this doesn’t happen, meaning operations are hastily planned without effective use of time, or any of the processes we use to make sure that all the leaders involved are well-coordinated, which we do through extensive rehearsals and war-gaming wherever possible – and we always make it possible in some way.

The other common refrain I hear is “these guys know all about fighting, why are we training them”. Well, some do know how to operate a rifle, but military organizations require a lot more than that. You need clerks, cooks, medics, storemen, combat engineers, artillerymen, military police, and all sorts of other trades to make a force actually function. When you try to mesh that with that problem I mentioned above – illiteracy and innumeracy – it’s complicated. For example, training artillery units is difficult when you have a lot of soldiers who cannot read maps or do math required to effectively employ the guns. While the ANA has some pretty capable field artillery guns, they’re hobbled by the fact that their units cannot employ them to provide indirect fire effectively. Similarly, administration of a large force is a challenge with that illiteracy. Managing pay and leave in a country with a primitive banking system and rudimentary transportation infrastructure is hard. But progress is happening.

I won’t into the potential impact of corruption too much, but you can imagine what could be problems. Hoarding or theft of equipment and stores (fuel in particular as I understand it) could be a major problem. We joke in our army about how supply techs won’t give us stuff (“but if I give you this new rucksack, I won’t have one on my shelf!”), but here the power implicit in holding equipment is huge – even broken/non-serviceable stuff apparently, even when there’s a system in place to get rid of it or exchange it. I don’t know if this is a broad problem – it’s just something that is common in anecdotes about Warsaw Pact legacy armies. There are advisors heavily focused on developing the supply system, and on the surface it seems it’s generally working.

Lest I sound like I’m painting a bleak picture, though, let me be clear – things are working. I met an advisor from the Consolidated Fielding Center where newly-formed ANA Kandaks roll out the gate constantly to deploy to their garrisons, and what he told us is that he’d watch their prep and be staggered by how ridiculous it often seemed – BUT – they got out the door. I’ll remind you of that descriptor, Afghan Good, or Afghan Good Enough.

As transition moves forward and the supports of the advisory teams get withdrawn from the ANSF, they’ll find ways to deal with these challenges. They will have to. Remember how a lot of kids are taught to swim, being thrown abruptly into the water? We’re not quite going to see that happen, but what will happen is the ANSF will be forced through the transition process to find their own way – to solve their own problems. They will use some of the tools we’re giving them, and they’ll create and improvise their own ways of doing things. The final product won’t look like a modern Western professional military necessarily, just as in the broader sense there was never any illusions about turning Afghanistan into a western-style liberal democracy. It doesn’t fit the historical context – instead, Afghans will find the solutions they need to move forward, ideally – and we’ll have helped keep the wolves at bay long enough for their sheepdogs to get ready.

They proved that they can do that last week during the attacks on Kabul – they had some support from ISAF – some air support and some Special Forces support – but they did a lot of the work themselves, in a way that minimized collateral damage and repelled the assault, and life in Kabul got back to normal pretty quickly by most accounts. That’s the progress that needs to happen. But media doesn’t tell the story that way. Instead, they talk about things like the Tet Offensive, compare transition here to the largely ineffective “Vietnamization” process during that war. But it takes a lot of shoehorning and exaggeration to map Vietnam’s history (and mistakes) onto Afghanistan. It sells newspapers, though – and slow progress doesn’t.

So, the key message I have? Things are working here. It’s slow because there’s a lot of factors you won’t likely read about in most critiques, or understand if you don’t have a military background, so what I’m trying to do here is provide some of that context to complete the picture a bit. I won’t give you the rosy, all-singing, all-dancing soundbite, but a more broad perspective ideally. I hope it helps you understand why we are here and why it’s taking time to get it right.

Eight Weeks (And Then Some)

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Friday mornings are my “weekend”. We knock off work early Thursday and don’t have to be in the office until 1pm on Friday, giving me a morning to sleep in, and generally, we all meet for pancakes at the Afghan restaurant for brunch. It’s a nice little routine.

It’s now been eight weeks I’ve been here (actually a little more – I stepped off the plane onto the tarmac at Kabul International Airport on February 23) and I’m pretty well settled in. We’ve got a pattern of life mostly established, I work with a pretty awesome team of people, and we not only get our work done, we have a fair bit of fun doing it. There’s really no one in the cell I work in that I don’t get along with. Of course, we have extra incentive to get along, it’s not that easy to just move along.

Just like at home, we have training to get done, and we’ve now worked out a schedule to keep up on it. Things like ethics training are normal components of military life, and as one of the Canadian Unit Ethics Coordinators on the ground, I have a chore to run an hour refresher on a regular basis. We have first aid refreshers, ROE training refreshers, and of course range training.

Yesterday was a pretty rainy day in Kabul, and just as you might expect, it was also the day appointed for us to go to the range. There’s only a small contingent of Canadians where I work, but we’re close to another bunch, so we pool some of our training activities, so off we drove to the 100m range. It’s a rather unusual setting, more austere than a range at home, but that’s not shocking. The plan was to do some rifle zero confirmation (that is, making sure what you see through our optical sight matches where the bullets are hitting) for those who needed it, and then do some transition shooting. That means switching between rifle/carbine and pistol, which you might need to do if for some reason your rifle fails to fire and you need to get rounds down range.

Arriving at the range, which was a good test of the four wheel drive in the beat up Toyota Land Cruiser we had for the day, we discovered the rain had created a vast sea of sucking, heavy mud. Trudging around in it wasn’t much fun, and I found myself rather glad that I had jumped at a chance to do my zeroing already, because to do it right, you have to shoot from the prone, and laying in a mud pit wasn’t my idea of a good time. Transitions, on the other hand, weren’t so bad – but it went quickly, and I honestly can’t complain, because the wind, the rain, and the wet was just unpleasant, and I was happy to get back to camp and go to the gym to warm up. The range we went to faces into a mountain, but has lots of pasture land around, and several herds of goats and sheep could be seen, their tenders paying little attention to us.

On ranges in Canada, at the end of the day’s shooting, you have to pick up brass – all the spent casings. On courses, it’s common for staff to threaten some punishment for missing any – usually 10 pushups per casing. Here, before we could even imagine picking up any brass, the ANA tend to race down to take care of it. Brass is valuable, after all. The speed with which they work makes me think that they’re the closest thing to the mythical “brass magnet” that we suggest recruits should have brought with them.

One of the training/professional development events coming up will be a rather amusing fusion of my two careers – recently, a change to the retirement benefits Canadian soldiers get was announced. It’s similar to what was done for civilian defence employees last year, which kept me busy at my day job, so I’m going to run a little seminar for my colleagues who are impacted so I can help them understand what’s changing and the financial implications. Kind of funny to see my two professions collide, but I got enough requests that it only made sense.

Things are going well. Kabul is back to normal after last week’s attack, and I traveled through the city including past the site of one of the incidents shortly after and there was no real sign of anything having happened. Life has returned to normal, I think.

A bit about Kabul. I’ll try to get some pictures at some point, but it’s a bit of a crazy city. I’ve never seen traffic anything like it. Most intersections are traffic circles with police trying to direct traffic, but the reality is that they are trying to shoehorn chaos and it barely works. Add to this pandemonium seemingly aimless pedestrians everywhere, and you have a recipe for disaster, though it doesn’t seem like there’s that many real accidents. Most vehicles are Toyota Corollas imported from everywhere. Canadian ones are particularly prized apparently, and often have Canadian flag stickers on them. Where I used to live, in Oshawa, Ontario, an Afghan-Canadian who owned a pizza shop had a side business of buying used Corollas and sending them over – there were always several parked in front of his shop. There’s also a wide assortment of buses (often old German ones) and trucks (again, commonly German, with their original marking intact), and Toyota HiAce minivans, into which you can pack about 45 Afghans.. Often an Afghan license plate is simply put on top of the original German/European one. The other popular means of conveyance are motorcycles – generally Japanese or Chinese bikes, normally 150cc or so. They’re often adorned with all sorts of personalization – flags, stickers, tassels, and carpets on the seats. They make me miss bikes, but I’ve picked out my new one for when I get home.

Signs are everywhere advertising the latest technology – 3G phones are now available here, with Roshan and Etisalat rolling out their networks. Cell phone adds are most common, but you’ll see advertising for banks, insurance companies, and so on. Business is brisk, often in little shops, but new office/commercial buildings are everywhere as well, and there’s lots under construction (though it’s from buildings under construction that the most serious attacks have been launched). In addition to internet cafes and schools, you’ll see bakeries with footbread hanging on display (they generally sport fluorescent orange and yellow awnings, I’ve noticed), and butcher shops with meat just hanging out in the open – a little bit bizarre. Apparently, some of our guys saw a cow being slaughtered in the street in the city, locals didn’t seem to think anything of it. Not exactly what you’d expect at home.

What is most astounding is the sprawl, though. Kabul’s surrounded by steep mountains, and settlements are built all up them – little goat track-like roads lead up almost impossibly steep slopes to shanty towns which make me think of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas. They’re a sign of the real problem – Kabul was a city of about 500,000 until just a few years ago, now estimates place its population anywhere from 2-5 million – and the city doesn’t have adequate housing or services for them. That’s an issue they’ll have to tackle over time – but how, I’m not sure.

Written by Nick

April 20, 2012 at 1:11 pm

A Quick, Shameless Plug For A Good Cause

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My small cadre of fans, I have a favour to ask.

When I first joined the army, I lived in Peterborough, Ontario, and was a member of the Hastings & Prince Edward Regiment. The Hasty Ps, especially in Peterborough, were like big family, and over the years, that sense of family was tested and proven many times.

Also from Peterborough was a young boy named James Birrell, who suffered from a horrible brain cancer called neuroblastoma. James, in his very short life, touched a lot of lives. Including the Hasty Ps. It turns out that one of our soldiers rented a room in a house that belonged to James’ aunt (if I remember right), and from hearing the stories, a little inspiration was born. James loved green trains, you see. What looks a little like a green train? A bunch of soldiers on a ruck march. So some of the troops got an idea to do a ruck march through town to keep awareness of the James Fund (the charity created in his name) alive, to encourage physical fitness, to just do something good together.

I did a few of the Green Train Marches before moving on. It disappeared for a couple of years but has since restarted. It actually happened yesterday. I, being Over Here, couldn’t be a part, but I’ve decided to support them a bit, but more importantly, here’s what I’m asking of you.

1. Go to http://www.jamesfund.com and read a bit about James and his story, and be inspired by how brave kids can be.

2. Go to http://my.sickkidsdonations.com/personalPage.aspx?registrationID=1372041 and make a donation. Any donation. The fund is administered by Toronto’s outstanding Hospital For Sick Children. You get a tax receipt, and research goes on. Everyone feels good.

Seriously, go. Do it. I’ve gotten all sorts of offers from people to send care packages and such things here, but honestly, I don’t need anything. What I’d much rather those people who have that sense of generosity do is something like this.

Thanks!

“Ya can’t let cancer ruin your day.” Well said, kid.

Written by Nick

April 15, 2012 at 12:44 am

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An interesting piece. My experience with employers as a reservist varies wildly, even within organizations. Seems to be driven by a lot of management attitudes among other variables. Seeing more encouragement for employers to see the value of reservists is great.

Written by Nick

April 13, 2012 at 8:06 am

On Morale

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I can’t make any real complaints about how things are running over here. Morale is pretty good.

If you recall, I sent a Keurig machine and a lifetime supply of coffee over in my UAB which has yet to arrive, but we’ve been doing okay even without it. We have ourselves quite a nice little set up, actually, our own coffee bar.

 

Where there is no coffee, there is misery.

There’s a pretty staggering amount of stuff here, to the point that we’ve had to basically start getting rid of things. There’s been a ridiculous amount of “care packages” arrive here, which is awesome, but some really, really bizarre things show up in them too, apparently. We had a bunch of canned asparagus that has been here for so long no one can remember when it arrived. Canned asparagus. Really. I appreciate that people are amazing and want to support us, but I have to wonder who thinks “I bet those guys want them some canned asparagus…”

I actually keep getting offers of such packages, with “Tell me what you want/need, and I’ll send it over!”. I get constantly stumped when asked what people can send me, because in truth, I don’t really want for much of anything. I had a burning desire for PC Decadent Chocolate Chip Cookies the other day, but other than that, I can get basically anything I can normally think of wanting here, or I have it coming already. Most of what comes is junk food, and frankly, I’m trying to avoid that, because I want to get in better shape while I’m here, not be desk jockey gorging on junk food from various corners of the world sent by well meaning and awesome people.

Written by Nick

March 23, 2012 at 12:12 pm