A Reservist's Tale Of A Tour

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Culminating Points

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The challenge of being on the final rotation through an organization is trying to make sure that you ensure that all the of the mandated milestones are hit, and that what you leave is sustainable, organized, and set for someone to take over. Ideally, every rotation should involve such a process, but in the real world it doesn’t always work that way. So the closing shift gets the job of trying to cover off all of those handover requirements in one shot.

Over the years that our schoolhouse has been in existence, it’s been staffed by a large number of people, all of whom brought their own takes on the subject matter, their teaching styles, and their ideas to the table. When training the coalition was a major part of the effort, the instructors all added to and changed around lesson plans and materials to suit their taste.

What that leaves us with is a tremendous number of PowerPoint slide decks, lessons, multimedia materials, and so on. Thousands of files. And that’s what we’re sorting through, cleaning up, updating, writing speakers notes (as close as I’ll get to doing lesson plans), and so on.

To make transition successful we’re having to work on an archive of products – the best of the lot – a full set of lessons in English, Dari, and Pashtu, as well as all the multimedia that’s useful. We have, to augment that, videos of some of the classes being taught here that are getting Dari and Pashtu voiceovers. All this will stay with the higher levels of the ANSF’s training system, while the Centre of Excellence will have the material they need to teach courses here, and we think that in the regions we’ve made a pretty good effort. What our predecessors did well was create training that was scalable – everything from the video/PowerPoint based lectures that western armies are only too used to, do simple skits that actually very effectively display the basics of the material, that you can use to instruct soldiers in the field without electricity or any other “luxuries”. This stuff works. There’s nothing more amazing I’ve experienced than seeing when students “get” material, and I’ve seen that happen. My first experience watching the ANA COIN instructors training their own (which seems like forever and a day ago…), I saw this – they grasped the concepts being taught, and more importantly, they were able to contextualize them in their own experience, religion, and culture. That means they really were getting it. That’s all we need – to get them all to think about how they conduct themselves, how they interact with the populace, how they represent the government to the people, how they win people’s support.

We know, thus, that we’ve got some good instructors on the ANA side. Several that I’ve accompanied to training events have really impressed me, though often they’re apt to make controversial statements that brew into full-bore heated arguments. That said, while one such argument was going on, my counterpart and I, with our interpreter trying to keep up with everything being said, realized that the argument was actually showing that not only were the students paying attention, but they were set to challenge the instructor. That’s something I was told generally didn’t happen in Afghan culture! That is progress! The following day, as the argument came pretty much at the end of the day’s training, the “belligerents” had a more thoughtful discussion over tea, and all was well.

The emphasis then for us is three-fold. First, we have to work on getting those products for the archive standardized which provides continuity for the place – a repository of “the knowlege”. Second, we need to keep working with our partners on instructor development – both working with them on their rehearsal process for courses, and by encouraging them to send their instructors on to further training. One of the options there is the Master Skills Instructor Course (MSIC, pronounced “missic” – I think that’s what the acronym is, anyhow!), a longer course that actually awards a badge that those who complete it can wear on their uniform, and allegedly some sort of specialist pay. However, we’re trying to understand why they’re not making full use of their access to the course, that might change when one runs closer to their workplace this fall though. The other option is what we call teaching mutuals, where one instructor teaches a class to the other instructors who can then provide a peer critique, while the senior instructor gives a more formal assessment. This is part of their official instructor validation process (and it’s the same process we use for certifying instructors on the CF side), and it works well, though it’s not really happened lately, we plan to reinvigorate it before Ramadan arrives. Third thing is getting the staff side of the schoolhouse worked out – the staff officers they have seem to be pretty smart and willing to work, so if we can use advisors along the chain to help them forge the links they need, then they should have an easier time doing the job.

All these are things we can accomplish.

Written by Nick

July 3, 2012 at 3:02 am

Happy Canada Day!

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July 1st was a beautiful day in Kabul.

The Canadian contingent at my office (of which I’m nominally in charge of, as the senior mentor is on leave) and I booked the day off for, ahem, “nationally mandated training”, which was actually a sports day.

The morning started with a ball hockey tournament on the helipad. There were scheduled flights coming in, but none appeared during the tournament. Actually, it as a little unfortunate, because we were all looking forward to yelling “chopper” and clearing off when the bird landed, and “game on!” after it was done… In the afternoon we played beach volleyball (very Top Gun-esque) and had a tug-of-war competition, which greatly amused a large group of ANP (Afghan National Police) who were leaving after some training on our camp. Tragically, my team didn’t win a single thing… but good times were had by all.

The piece de resistance of the day, however, was a massive feed of barbecued lamb, grilled tomatoes, and naan prepared by the LCA (language and cultural advisor) from the largest Canadian organization on camp. And an issue of two cans of Molson Canadian for all Canadians on camp. Probably tied for best meal I’ve had in Afghanistan with the kebabs we got a few weeks ago while out on a MTT, which our interpreter picked up for us out in the city.

Fun thing: sun + lots of physical exertion + two beer = pretty much set to pass out shortly after. I did, however, manage to watch a movie with one of the Americans I worked with before I shut ‘er down for the night. I’m also now experiencing the fun of sunburn, which I normally never get, and it’s my own fault for rather arrogantly dismissing offers of sunscreen because I don’t normally need it. Self-inflicted misery, I suppose, though it isn’t actually that bad at all.

I’m now realizing I’m “over the hump” of this deployment, not that I can suggest it’s anywhere near a stressful experience – but I’m now past the projected half-way point. Before much longer I’ll be on leave (which consumes almost a month of my remaining time), and when I get back we’ll basically be set on closing down shop and gliding toward the end. There’s still a lot of uncertainty to what will happen to the end, because of dates not lining up and such things, but I have as solid an idea of when I’m going home as ever, being gradually confirmed as we get info about the plans for redeployment.

As that date gets closer, though, there’s a whole lot things I have to start thinking about with respect to going home, actually. It’s not as simple as just going back as though nothing’s changed, of course. There’s the matter of having to actually decide what to do when I get back, and I expect there will be some shock of getting home as well. I have an idea of what I actually want to do fairly quickly after getting home (weather dependent) – which is a motorcycle trip from my home in Halifax to my parents’ winter home in Arizona, leaving the bike there for the winter for a return trip next spring on a different route. The thing is, after living and working in close quarters with the same people for eight months or so, I’d like some time away from everyone – after a few days with my wife of course, but I also know that it’ll be a disruptor for her, because she’s been used to having the run of the house for so long. We experienced that when I got back from workup training before I actually deployed.

I also have to then jump back into a career. This is an interesting variable for me – I’m on leave from my civilian employer and will return to them after my post-deployment leave period, but my challenge is to figure out what role I want, because I’m not sure I want to do the same thing as I was doing before – I have ideas of what I want to actually do – and have seen some internal job postings that tie into it well – but how it’ll all time I’m not really sure. It’s not something I worry about per se, but it’s something I have to start thinking about – eventually what I do here will come to an end and I have to have a plan for that…

Written by Nick

July 2, 2012 at 5:04 am

Spem Reduxit

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Hope restored – that’s actually the motto of the Royal New Brunswick Regiment, which I don’t actually have anything to do with, but it seemed a fitting title for today’s post. Things are looking up, actually. After the meeting we had the other day I wrote about, which went all sorts of wrong, we started working with various levels to try to figure out a way forward and to understand what happened and why, and it was productive. Various advisors conferred with various ANA personnel to discuss the situation and it appears to be somewhat resolved. We actually got what one advisor called “the closest thing to an apology you’re likely to get here, the closest he’s ever seen” for the way our meeting went. It turns out that there was some “lost in translation” and cultural disconnects in play. What the General who came was getting at was that in his view there was a long way to go before transition, and he wanted to make sure that we knew that he expected a lot from the ANA staff and from us to help make that happen. Or something like that.

So we’re going to just carry on as before. Mostly. We’ve also embarked on a good project to keep us going for a while, to review all the “final” course material to make sure it is good to go for transition. Part of the frustration that the Canadian team has found is that the Americans don’t do lesson plans like we do. Canadian military lesson plans are very detailed, to the point that theoretically someone who’s not even that well versed in a subject can read the plan over and be in a position to teach the material reasonably well. That, personally, annoys me because it does happen – people are pegged to teach stuff they don’t really know much about – but it’s worse when you get a “lesson plan” that consists of what the material to be taught is, and a PowerPoint slide deck that has some notes. That’s it, that’s all. It’s not something that you can easily pick up and study and be set to teach.

What we’re embarking on is a task to take all the “finalized” lessons and flesh out the speakers notes into much more detail to make it so instructors have a little more to go on. Afghans, we’re told, generally will get a lesson and master it by memorizing the material (including having people read it all to them repeatedly if they’re illiterate, which happens), but won’t always go the extra step to get the depth we’d like. Again, to be fair, we do this too sometimes! The point, however, is to make it so there’s a lot more knowledge built into the material they’re using so that they’ll have more to work with, which I think is good.

That gives me a bit of a renewed sense of purpose, because at times I was getting to wonder how I was going to keep busy with everything that happened last week.

Written by Nick

June 27, 2012 at 5:14 am

Hitting The Wall

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I’ve done my best, through some 85 posts or so, to tell a good story, and an accurate story. I’ve tried not to sound too cynical on days I do, but likewise, not to sound like I’m just churning out some feel-good propaganda either. I’d like to think I’ve kept a pretty good balance – because what matters more than anything else is telling the truth. And it’s not always rosy.

As is clear, and I’ve written about before, we’re not going to be staying here forever. There has to be a transition plan to hand over responsibility both for security and for the operations of the Afghan National Security Forces to the Afghans, and when NTM-A got going, there was a complex set of criteria established to measure their capabilities and establish milestones at which point advisory support could be withdrawn. Those have changed because of a lot of forces (a change in direction on how to do it – starting with sharp drawdowns of coalition advisors first, so that critical fracture points can be seen early and addressed for example), but in concept they’re good.

I’ve seen a lot of good acknowledgements from ISAF (which is why I’ll include them) that some things could have/should have been done better – there was so much early emphasis on churning out ANA triggerpullers (i.e. infantry soldiers who could be posted into kandaks and immediately deployed to restive areas in the south) that developing all the Combat Service Support structures for them was neglected, so the ANSF has a minimally functioning logistics system that is now being addressed. A good argument could be made that in hindsight, we should have built those structures first, and then started churning out combat arms soldiers.

We shifted out mindset from “Afghan Good Enough”, which could sound dismissive to “Afghan Right”, a term which better represents what we want to accomplish. What “Afghan Right” means is something that works for them. The structures, systems, processes that work for western militaries won’t work here (and working in a multinational environment we quickly learn that even amongst out NATO allies, there’s a number of different ways to do things we have had to learn and adapt to), but what we have sought to do is provide some ideas that our ANSF partners can use to develop their own systems. It’s made complicated by cultural issues – both remnants of a Soviet trained and organized military and Afghan culture in general, so we only try to offer ideas and then work to build the linkages they need to make the systems work.

Let me give you an example of what I mean. In the military, what’s called “the 4 shop” looks after logistics/supply issues. There are various letters that go with the numbers to denote all the staff positions, which I explain a little in the glossary. So, let’s make this simple: at the school where I advise, the S4 is the officer who deals with logistics and supply. He’s been having a hard time trying to get parts and maintenance for the vehicles that the ANA own on their Tashkil (basically the Table of Organization & Equipment), because when he sends the requests to the G4 (the next higher headquarters, the branch that “owns” them), they go nowhere. So, we look for where things break down by getting a copy of the paperwork and sent it to the advisors all up the chain to try to figure out where the breakdown is and to fix the linkages.

As we barrel toward our transition (the date of which has changed repeatedly, always getting closer), we’ve shifted from dealing with the training end of the business and more toward making sure that the school is functional. It’s kind of a complex situation now, because they’re sort of orphans – we’ve moved them from a coalition camp to an ANA compound down the road. They’re only there while their more permanent home is constructed as part of the Afghan National Defence University located just west of Kabul in Qargha. For now, it seems, no one really wants to support them.

There’s also some bizarre personal dynamics in play, and I can’t really get into them in any detail, save to say that we sometimes work uphill against people who aren’t so much interested in our mission as in other motivators. It’s because of this I titled the post “Hitting The Wall”.

Since I got back from Germany, I’ve been trying to find a way to get more busy with mentoring, which has become a little easier based on the fact that a few of our team have gone on leave and we’re juggling tasks around. I went to a cordial meeting with the school staff to learn about some of the issues they’ve been having to try and help sort them out, and they went well. The other day, I set off with the Chief of Training, another mentor, and one of our instructors who is also trying to get more involved in mentoring for a meeting to discuss what the ANA have on the go for their training events. When we all worked in the same place they’d give us copies of their schedules, and we would accompany them to some of the training sites to monitor the training and help develop their instructors. Since their move we haven’t gotten as much information on this – mainly because there’s less casual interaction.

So our meeting started off as usually, friendly, casual, and we got some info on some upcoming events, and discussed some more professional development we could run for ANA instructors, based on what we had done when I first arrived, having ANA teach classes to each other and then doing a feedback session afterward to help them learn from each other. All seemed well, until we went to leave and a huge group from their higher headquarters arrived and started asking us about what we’d accomplished, why there was such a small training staff, etc, etc… it was not a comfortable experience and we bailed as fast as we could.

So we’re left basically in a position where we have to pass this on to higher levels of authority to try and sort it out. The instructors we work with – who still have passed to come onto our camp and do so frequently to eat at our DFAC (which, according to a blogger at the New York Times, is the worst dining facility in Kabul, and we agree!) – still are friendly and we want to make sure they’re set for some measure of success, but we’ve gotten to a point where what was a pretty good relationship on the staff side is no longer so cordial. The driver seems to be that they want more “stuff” from us – carpets, furniture, computers, whatever – without realizing that we’ve equipped them with everything we have to give them, and the rest is supposed to come from the ANA supply system, with which we’re happy to help… it’s just gotten that petty.

For now, we’re feeling a little useless while we try to sort this situation out – Ramadan is coming as well when a lot of things will slow down (though I’ll be on leave for a large part of it), and there’s yet again pressure to move our end date to the left despite there being so much more we could do (both here, and with our regional teams which are basically being closed out when Ramadan starts), so the feeling of being unable to accomplish a lot is doubly frustrating with this recent turn of events.

Written by Nick

June 25, 2012 at 2:02 am

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

Back To Kabul – And Kabul Traffic

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While Helmand was an interesting trip, and it was good to see some different places, meet some different people, and catch up with some of the guys who were up here in Kabul with us before being dispatched out to different parts of Afghanistan, it wasn’t that productive, really. Originally, we were supposed to be bringing down some of our ANA staff to RC(SW) to validate and certify instructors there, but then word came that they couldn’t travel. So we decided we’d go down, observe their training, and basically give them the info they need to validate them. By the time we were getting ready to go, it turned out that training wasn’t even going to be running, so we conducted more of a liaison/close out visit, with a vital secondary function of delivering luggage, which I think I mentioned already.

We did meet some of the ANA staff at their training centre, and got a tour of the facilities, which was good – it was a sort of “professional development” experience to see what is working in that region, which was of value. Part of the “lessons learned” in all this is that what works in one place will not work in another, and we’re coming to realize that decentralization is the key to making things work here, that is a constant challenge with some of the culturally institutionalized structures of the ANSF. Getting leaders to delegate to their subordinates in order to achieve more efficient results can be very, very hard. We are working on it in any way we can though. Whether it will succeed though is not totally clear. I’ve appreciated the candour of some senior people who will readily say that not everything is going perfectly, that priorities weren’t always right, but we learn, we adapt, and we carry on. Overall, I think there’s a foundation for things to work the most part. And that isn’t a “toe the party line” statement, it’s sincerely my impression.

That said, we know that things aren’t perfect. Coming back from the airport yesterday, we saw some ANP who had stopped a vehicle and were, according to our interpreter, most likely shaking the driver down a bit. As we waited to get by, the cop hauled off and punched the driver through the window. And that was the second such event I’d seen just on that ride – the first one was an ANP slugging a guy at a traffic circle, though it looked like they got into some friendly banter afterward, so I don’t really know what to make of it.

That leads me into driving here. I don’t think I’ve been able to convey enough how amazed I am by convoy teams and how well they manage to get around, because Kabul is an absolute nightmare to drive in, in ways that baffle me. Most intersections in the city are set up as traffic circles. Sure, they’re not common in North America (except perhaps in Nova Scotia, where they’re being used increasingly in all new road projects and retrofits), but the concept is simple enough for anyone to grasp. Traffic in the circle moves in one direction. Want to make a left hand turn? Enter the circle going to the right (counterclockwise) like everyone else is supposed to, then exit when you get to the road you want.

Or, in Kabul, just wait until the traffic police (who are pretty close to useless!) directs you to simply turn left as though the traffic circle is just some sort of obstacle. And they wonder, one supposes, why traffic is always such a mess.

They also love going the wrong way on divided roads, which are fairly common here, because it’s too much of a hassle to turn right and proceed to the nearest spot to turn around when you can just simply go the wrong way and everyone will get out of your way. Add to this pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists all going wherever they want, and you start to really wonder how they manage not to have accidents constantly. It boggles the mind. We discussed this while stuck in traffic yesterday though, and one of the drivers had a pretty good hypothesis. Western drivers, he posited, know the rules of the road which are fairly rigid, and when they are deviated from they don’t really know what to do. Their vigilance is reduced by a perception that no one would break the rules. Kabulis, however, understand that there are no rules, and you cannot possibly anticipate what will happen at any point, so driving requires a delicate balance of the aggression necessary to get through traffic to your destination, and vigilance to protect your vehicle.

Makes some sense to me.

Written by Nick

June 21, 2012 at 1:15 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

Watching Blog Stats

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WordPress has a couple of interesting features, not only does it tell me how many hits I get on the blog, and where they come from if they have direct referrers, but it tells me what search terms lead people to the blog (some are bizarre, I have to say), and also an idea of where readers come from. Most hits originate in Canada, which doesn’t surprise me, because virtuatlly everyone I’ve distributed the site info to is Canadian), but every now and then I will get weird one-offs, and sometimes, a whole bunch from one country – like the other day about 11 from Austria. Could all be the same person, know knows, but it was interesting to see that number of hits.

Today is a scorching hot Friday, though hot is a relative term, I’ve got a trip planned to southern Afghanistan where there is a whole lot more heat to contend with – and we’re headed to the range shortly for a mix of training and some good friendly competition in pistol and rifle shooting. Good way to spend a Friday afternoon, especially given that the power is off in the office while electricians do some work.

I did manage to sleep in today for the first time in a while, which was nice – my new room is pretty comfortable (if small) and there’s some luxury in no longer having a roommate – though even if I hadn’t moved, he’s gone on leave for three weeks anyhow – actually, with the way our leave process works it’ll be almost a month before I see him again. We’re busy working on pranks for when he returns.

Written by Nick

June 15, 2012 at 4:48 am

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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

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