Afghanistan-A-Go-Go

A Reservist's Tale Of A Tour

Archive for the ‘The Beginning’ Category

…And So It Begins

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This week has been interesting. Did a bunch of last minute running around including a couple of lunch dates. Thursday night I was into the Armouries for the last time. During the CO’s OGrp at the end of the night, he went over various points, and then asked the Adjutant, “Was there something else I had to do tonight, Adjt?”

There was. And I was duly promoted to the rank of Captain, although they had been unable to find any rank insignia for me. Trusting I would be resourceful in this regard, they send me on my way, and I headed over to our home away from home, the Royal Artillery Park Officers Mess.

Traditionally in the CF, getting promoted requires the purchasing of a round of drinks in your Mess, and doing so is announced by the ringing of a bell at the bar. (We also often try to trick people – especially new guys – into ringing the bell for the same reason!) I took much joy in hammering away on the bell, and things went mostly downhill from there!

I poured myself into a cab about $150 poorer after several games of crud (poorly played) and other antics. I paid dearly for it in the morning, and was lucky to have my lovely wife drive me around to my various errands before I packed up. I managed, among other things, to come up with a good supply of Captain rank slip-ons, so I’m set there I think. I didn’t get everything I wanted to do done, but we got a nice dinner out before leaving at least.

Friday night I traveled with my Reserve unit to CFB Gagetown to help them out with a weekend exercise, live fire individual and pairs grenade assaults. I got to toss a few grenades while we proved the ranges, and everything went pretty smoothly overall. Last night I caught a ride with the CQ staff who were coming into the camp so they could be there to pick up breakfast in the morning, and they dropped me off at my shacks. Camp Gagetown just got two awesome new Single Quarters buildings, and I’m living in one of them. Nice place – big spacious room with a TV, private bath, fridge and a microwave. In fact, all I need is a kettle and I’m going to be quite happy with this. Weekends I expect to be home to Halifax so I’m not too worried about anything.

Tomorrow morning at 0800 everything starts. Task Force members have been drifting in all day and getting unpacked, tomorrow we head to the Headquarters building of 2RCR and start getting processed in. We apparently were supposed to have already drawn all our desert kit and haven’t, so I expect I’ll be headed to clothing stores fairly promptly to order everything. I’m sure the schedule will start to get clearer tomorrow.

Written by Nick

November 6, 2011 at 1:22 pm

Some of the Silliness

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The thing about being a Reserve augmentee to a Regular Force unit is that they tend not to think of where we come from. I realized that today when I got forwarded an email about all the “family” sessions that are being run for us. They’re all being run out of Gagetown, even though of course our families aren’t there. At least, this time around, I live in a military town which has a lot more support services.

We’ve also gotten asked to provide photos in uniform – apparently, our Brigade Headquarters has some sort of “wall of honour” they want pictures of all deployed personnel on. Fair enough, but it was kind of funny that a) they want the pictures in CADPAT(AR) (desert camo) which we haven’t been issued yet and b) we’re getting portraits done before we go. They’re sometimes referred to as “hero pics”, but they’re also called “dead guy pics” because the sole use of them is news handouts.

So I guess at some point I’m going to have to go to Formation Imagery and ask them to take a picture of me. Something, incidentally, that I hate.

Written by Nick

October 24, 2011 at 6:27 pm

Starting to get to the change…

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I spent this part weekend in Gagetown on an exercise with my unit, the last full one I’m going to be on for a year. I’m not part of the Rifle Company anymore, but I offered to help them run some ranges they need to get done for their training year. It was a little bit of a disaster, but it was a learning experience like every time I go out. It perhaps contained some good learnings that will serve me well when I leave on tour.

We use a process to get just about everything called “the estimate” which can range in detail from a very quick “combat estimate” about how to carry our something as simple as a hasty attack, to extremely detailed concepts like the Operation Planning Process which is done at much higher levels to plan things like a deployment of a force to a place like Afghanistan or really anywhere.

I got involved in the planning for this particular exercise fairly late, but even at that I probably didn’t pay enough attention, and didn’t do my own really estimate on what had to happen for my part of the show. So, I got more than a little caught off guard when certain things didn’t go anywhere near according to plan, and things weren’t as efficient as they could have been. I was running some small arms ranges that should have been done around 1pm, but we wound up running three hours late. That threw everything else off.

I don’t think I could really have intervened enough to actually prevent the major cause of the problems, but regardless, there were things I probably could have done had I really thought things through and done some more thorough checking on the prep work.

The OIC – the boss of the exercise – took me aside after the day ranges and ran me through a fairly constructive exercise about what went wrong and why, and what could have been done etc. In his customary style, though, he tied it into what I might be expecting on my tour, and some of his own experiences in Afghanistan. His time there was intense, to say the least.

So as I get two weeks from go time, I’ve got lots of food for thought on how to do things better, which are best considered during training exercises rather than “over there”.

Written by Nick

October 23, 2011 at 7:21 pm

Posted in The Beginning

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What Happens Next…

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Everything’s getting close now, and it’s really bizarre because I’m starting to wrap things up at work and I’m starting to wonder what will happen next. I have some idea of course, but it’s not completely something I’m an expert on.

I’ve got sort of a strange way to get down to work up training – my unit is running an exercise that weekend so I’m basically hitching a ride with them. I’m going to play some part in that exercise (probably running some kind of live fire range) and then head off to get checked in.

Monday morning should be a “sausage factory” sort of scenario (after morning PT – which I’ve heard will probably be intense to “set the tone”), standing in a bunch of lines seeing a horde of clerks of various types to get set up to join the mounting unit. In theory, I’ll be showing up with everything I need already done, but in true military style, it will all be scrutinized a second time, because no one trusts reserve units to actually administer their people properly.

We’ll probably then have to start ordering all the kit we need for the tour – arid pattern uniforms, all sorts of things like that.

And then the actual business of training gets going. Ranges will be a big part of it, I think, apparently things like convoy drills, some actual info on the mission, the organization, and I’ll actually meet the people in my “mission element”. We’re not deploying like a conventional battle group, because that wouldn’t make sense in the context of a training mission, so there’s a whole bunch of parts to the organization. Apparently, 2RCR’s plan is to have each of its companies organize the different parts so I’ll basically wind up in one of them. No idea which, but we’ll see. I’m sure, even though I’ve done my Battle Fitness Test for the year, that we’ll have the “opportunity” to do at least one more before we go.

Work up runs until the middle of December, at which point I get sent home for FIVE WEEKS – I have no idea what I’ll do for five weeks, to be honest, I guess some kind of volunteer work, and a lot of time at the gym and yoga – because staying home all day is not going to work.

When we get back to Gagetown in mid-January, it’ll be a few more weeks of the same kind of training stuff, then we are off for a few days of embarkation leave, and then off to Afghanistan and into the job.

I’ve managed to find lots of information about Camp Eggers, which is the headquarters of NTM-A, but it’s not where I’m working, so I don’t really know what to expect – I’m trying to get some more ideas, but I guess there is some merit to the element of surprise.

Written by Nick

October 19, 2011 at 8:31 pm

Posted in The Beginning

Small steps but so much to do…

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It’s amazing the number of things that keep cropping up that I need to make sure are looked after before I go “over there” – I realized that my firearms license expires next year, so I have to renew that early. My military ID also expires next year. I’ve got to get things organized for my tenants so that they have someone to call if anything goes wrong. It’s complicated enough owning a rental property halfway across the country, managing it from halfway around the world might be a little more complicated, but I’m sure it’ll be okay. I don’t think that they have any plans to move, so that’s good.

Today I took care of the military ID issue, and I swung into clothing stores at the the Dockyard and figured I’d see about getting my desert boots to start getting them broken in. I got a pair without any problem, but they’ve got to order another pair for for because I’m entitled to two pairs and they only had one pair in my size. They should be in in a week or two. Funny enough, when I got to the counter, the guy saw my name and said “just a moment” – he quickly returned with a huge bin full of CADPAT(AR) kit – desert camouflage. Turns out it was for another person who happens to have the same name and rank as me though, I was a little surprised at first since I hadn’t ordered anything else, I was told that’d be looked after when we get to Gagetown.

The biggest challenge now is wrapping things up with my day job. The nature of what I do means I can’t really start anything new, I’m just basically waiting for some deals in the works to close up and then I will head off to start work up training.

Written by Nick

October 11, 2011 at 6:45 pm

Posted in The Beginning

And finally, on the bus…

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After a torturous few weeks, I’ve got the final word. I’m all good to go. Whatever concerns there were about the particular role I’m going over to do are now gone. I’m completely DAG Green now, and other than some last minute administration everything is good. I’ve realized that some things are going to expire in 2012 that I need to renew – my firearms license, my military ID, and so on. I’m trying to create some kind of checklist of things to make sure are done. I have to get myself taken off car insurance on renewal (by then I’ll be gone), cancel my motorcycle insurance renewal for next year (I won’t need it, naturally), and deal with some professional credential issues as well, stuff I’ll need for my day job when I get home.

Fortunately for me, one of my best friends is an Afghan vet and is giving me lots of info on what to prepare for and expect as workup nears, and I a finding that very useful information indeed.

Work – the day job – is now basically winding up. I’m at the point where I can’t really do any more business. The sales cycle for what I do as a planner is such that I won’t be around to see the deals close, and that being the case, I don’t see any value in starting much new if I won’t reap the rewards. I’m going to help get the new guy installed and then step back. The Regiment actually has one last job they’d like me to do before I leave, so I may jump into a Class A gig for a few days before I make the jump to Gagetown the first weekend of November.

Written by Nick

October 8, 2011 at 2:58 pm

Posted in The Beginning

Toward Clarity

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So, last night was the first night back for my Regiment (sometimes called “Stand-To”), and my first opportunity to discuss tour issues face-to-face with the Commanding Officer. I feel a lot better about things on the basis of that conversation.

They’re working to find an alternate position for me and using some great connections to do it. So it may work out alright.

Written by Nick

September 9, 2011 at 10:42 am

Posted in The Beginning

On The Bus, Off The Bus…

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One of the common maxims in the Army is “on the bus, off the bus” – a reference to the sensation on gets of being constantly in some sort of holding pattern during periods of indecisiveness. For an organization that prides itself on a rigid command structure and associated efficiency, it seems like this happens a lot – or at least, we joke like it does.

That’s the sensation I have now. What’s happened isn’t totally simple to explain, but I’ll see how I can put it, at least what I understand. When my orderly room got the call that I could take a position on Op ATTENTION Roto 1, no one apparently told the Commanding Officer of my Regiment, who was on leave. I think that’s because they assumed that if a position came up, and my name was on the “standby list” of sorts, then all was well. But, that’s not quite the case it seems.

So, here’s how it works: when the Canadian Forces gets assigned a job, they build a structure for who and what is going, it’s called a TO&E (don’t ask, I don’t know what it means, just what it is – I think it’s Table of Organizations and Equipment), including all of the positions. From this, they can then create positions in something called the CFTPO, which is sort of a master list of positions. That’s how everything gets planned and accounted for – who (which organization) owns who and what. Once that’s done, the positions get sent to mounting units and every job position has to be filled. Each CFTPO position has a job title, a rank level, and a description of positions. Most of the positions I’d expect to have been considered for are ranked as Lieutenant/Captain – meaning that they can be filled with an officer of either rank. The position I’m filling is called a “Hard” Captain position – meaning that without a special waiver, only a Captain can fill the position. I’m presently a Lieutenant, but I’m eligible to be promoted to Captain now, and the process to do so has apparently been started already.

The implication of the difference is fairly simple to grasp – a hard Captain position would probably be expected to go to a more experienced person who’s been in the rank longer, suggesting that it is a more difficult position, one with higher responsibility level. When my OC and I were talking about the position, he seemed a little concerned by this, and I highlighted to him that I have a great network of mentors and resources willing to help me if I needed it, and that I have a lot of civilian career experience with which they aren’t really conversant. In short, I’m not really that worried about the challenge.

Then the CO came back from leave, and learned I had a position, because he hadn’t been informed, and during conversation the “hard Captain” issue came up. The concern that emerged, and it’s not unreasonable, is that I might be getting set up for failure. Not only would that look bad on me, but it’d look bad on the the entire unit, so he wasn’t exactly comfortable with the idea unless they could get more information, like the more formal job description. This, of course, is based upon a job title alone, which could have a variety of meanings, but now there are people busily trying to figure out what the job is, and what the incumbent, the person in the position on Roto 0, is doing. Until that comes in, or one of those “Lt-Capt” positions opens up, it turns out that I’m “off the bus”.

And of course, this happened after I told work, my family, my friends… It’s frustrating, but I understand. I just wish no one had told me about the position until it was all approved. But no one was trying to do me wrong, it’s just how it worked out.

Written by Nick

September 8, 2011 at 12:43 am

Posted in The Beginning

It Starts So Simply

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As happens with anyone serves in the Reserve, the opportunity to deploy has been put in front of me a couple of times. The first time in 2009, when TF 1-10 of Op ATHENA was mounted by LFCA, Canada’s Army in Ontario. I put my name forward and thought I was going to be headed off on work up training in September 2009, but at the last minute it all fell through, and I just carried on with life. Then, last summer, as Canada’s combat mission in Kandahar ended, we shifted to Op ATTENTION, a training mission based in Kabul, and LFAA, the Army of the Atlantic Provinces where I now live was tasked to put together a contingent for the second rotation (Roto 1, as it’s called – the first is always Roto 0) and again, I offered my name up as is expected.

This summer, the initial positions were allocated, and I got a call from my OC (Officer Commanding – my Company Commander) telling me that my unit was given two positions, and I was not one of the people chosen. I accepted that and figured that eventually my time would come, but not this time. I knew that there are always other positions that come up so I figured I’d see what happened.

A couple of weeks ago, I was having lunch when my phone rang. Not wanting to interrupt my delicious pho, and seeing it was a military number, I let it go to voicemail. When I checked the message, it was the Chief Clerk of my unit, calling to inform me that my Personal Readiness Verification checklist was ready to be picked up for my tour. I was a little shocked, since I didn’t know I was going anywhere, but apparently, a position had come through for me. I headed down and got the paperwork and started a process we call “the DAG”. DAG stands for “Departure Assistance Group”, and actually refers to the clerks one is shuffled through just before heading off on a deployment of some sort. As you’ll come to learn following this blog, we use a lot of acronyms in a lot of odd ways, and I’ll try to decode it all for you as best I can as we go along.

In order to deploy, you need to “DAG Green” – each item on the PRV checklist can be coded Red (i.e, you’re not going anywhere), Yellow (i.e., in process, or no info), or Green (i.e., good to go). To be deployable everything must be green, and when that’s done, you’re said to have “DAGged Green”. [grammatical sidenote: in addition to massive numbers of acronyms, we turn some of them into verbs] I’m green for most things, all I needed was a social worker appointment, a dentist appointment, a medical appointment, and a visit to the immunization clinic. Nothing difficult. First up was the social worker, who signed me off after a humourous discussion of about 20 minutes. Next up, the dentist, and after a series of X-rays and so on, he too signed me off, with a warning that I probably grind my teeth and should look into getting some kind of mouthguard. The medical is booked for next month (!!!), and I just have to drop in on the needle parade, which shouldn’t actually require much since I went through the process in 2009 and got all the shots and tests needed for a deployment to Afghanistan.

I also informed my civilian employer, and was very, very happy to get a positive, supportive response to my leave request. That’s certainly better than previous experiences I’ve had. I was more than a little nervous about informing them, but it really was nothing.

Now I just need to get confirmation everything’s good to go for sure, and come November I start work up training. But I can’t say I’m sure it’ll all be that simple.

So that’s how it started, what happens next we’ll just have to see.

Written by Nick

September 7, 2011 at 8:11 pm

Posted in The Beginning