Afghanistan-A-Go-Go

A Reservist's Tale Of A Tour

Archive for the ‘Workup Training’ Category

Slight insomnia

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Back from weekend leave and feeling kind of restless. This week should be interesting, we are actually going to be starting to really train. Tomorrow morning will find me in briefings in the morning (I think involving guys on the “reverse TAV” – people serving on Roto 0 back to share their knowledge), and the afternoon is a “free day” – which means probably some combination of PT and some other administration time. I do have some things I need to find time to do this week, like ordering all my desert kit that I was apparently supposed to get before coming to Gagetown. Tuesday is more of the same, but there’s nothing in any detail on my schedule, probably just a slew of briefings on money issues, MFRC, leave, and so on and so forth. Wednesday we’re off to the gas hut to get tear gassed and confirm our CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear) drills are good. I guess I’ll pay for forgetting my mask last week if it turns out mine doesn’t fit. Thursday and Friday are ranges, and I should be on leave and back to Halifax Friday night.

I started a bit more into my Dari course – the first modules are just getting familiar with the Persian alphabet and script – some simple stuff, so I’ve been doing some writing, copying out various words they have – a random assortment, but I figure that it’s a good idea to just get used to the feel of the language. Like Arabic, there aren’t really any written short vowels in Dari, it’s left to the reader to fill them in, something that a native speaker would do implicitly by context. That’s the tricky thing I think I’m going to find. If you don’t know what vowels go into a word, you can’t pronounce something just from really. I’m hoping that there’s a way to tackle this, but I think it’s rote memorization to a great extent – but again, I’m hoping by getting a jump on language courses I’ll have some ability to interact with Afghan when I get there.

Written by Nick

November 14, 2011 at 12:15 am

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Getting In The Loop

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I went to PT with the TF HQ folks this morning, a short run because the water was being turned off in our barracks and we had to get back in time to get showers and all that good stuff, it was a nice jaunt through the Lindsay Valley area of the Camp, probably about five kilometres, maybe a little more. I think I might start using RunKeeper or something like that to keep track. The blister wasn’t a problem, neither was my shoes being full of sand since Not Since Moses back in July. Did I mention I hate running and don’t do it much unless I have to?

The dispute about who I’m working for is now settled, I was in the right place all along as I suspected. Now that that is clear I can get on with the job, which is starting to take some shape. I thought I’d be into the meeting with the J1 (the guy who’s basically the next level up from my job) this afternoon, but it looks like they’ve got too much on the go, so we’ll probably meet after sports day tomorrow at the mess. We’re bumping the traditional TGIF festivities to TGIT because of Remembrance Day. I won’t stay too long though, because I’m going to be going back to Halifax tomorrow night for the weekend.

We had our first real OGrp this morning to get a lot more info, on how things are being structured. A few things are clearer now, including that this tour is going to be eight months, not nine – meaning only one leave trip for the duration, and when we should know when our RIP (deployment) dates are and when our leave is likely to be.  I had lunch with the boss today too, got to know him a bit which is always a good thing. It’s slow getting started but we’re getting there. Next week I know we’re going to be out to the pistol range for a couple of days, getting a lot of familiarization with our 9mms and a lot of really good practical shooting in. For me, shooting pistols is a hobby, so it’s not going to be too much, but at the same time, the pistols the CF uses and that we’ll be carrying aren’t the modern sort I tend to use – there’s more to learn with handling, and of course getting a feel for them. If we do get into any trouble, it’s the pistol that will get us out. It makes me think of the Steve Earle song Devil’s Right Hand – “My very first pistol was a cap-and-ball Colt, shoots as fast as lightning but she loads a-might slow – soon found out, it’ll get you into trouble but it can’t get you out…”

Part of the plan is to carry them loaded (with dummy rounds) everywhere to get used to it. That will be the routine over there, and most people never touch the damned things over here. Makes sense.

I got a CD of Dari MP3s to start learning – but I’m a visual learner, so I need to find some more stuff – I need to get into how the grammar works, how the language is structured, because I can’t just memorize phrases and really get anywhere that way. I’ve found some websites already, and I also am going to have access to some sort of awesome language lab that we got donated to us for research purposes by the developers. It’s sort of an interactive thing apparently, I haven’t seen it yet. Someone described it as a “first person talker” where you interact with Dari-speaking characters. Since I will be back from block leave a week ahead of the Reg F guys I’ll have a week to spend in the lab, and I plan to make full use of it.

It’s 2pm now, and I think I’ll head back over to the office to see what the plan for Sports Day tomorrow is – and well, if there’s nothing else to do at the time, I’ll get my leave pass autographed for the weekend, and head back here.

Written by Nick

November 9, 2011 at 2:03 pm

Slowly Taking Shape

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This morning started with our first PT session, which was supposed to be a 6.2km ruck march. It turned out to be a little longer due to a little navigation error on the part of our boss, who’s not familiar with Gagetown. Nothing serious though – although turning around a platoon marching on a single lane track is kind of fun. We got done in a little over an hour. The timing that we have to make on our battle fitness test is 13km in 2:26, so that pace was faster than necessary, and only modestly uncomfortable for me. I made the mistake of doing the march in my new, not broken in desert boots, and I’m left with a couple of little blisters. I think I’ll be sure to do the test in my much more comfortable Hi-Tec Magnums. I’ll be wanting them when eventually it gets cold and wet, for now we’ve had ridiculously good weather, that I’m sure I’ve now jinxed.

After PT we headed over to the weapons vault to pull out our C7s and carry on ToETs – I have no idea what the acronym stands for but it’s basically a handling test – shows that you can test a weapon for function, and carry out all the drills to operate it properly. My fellow staff officers laughed that 4 Master Corporals went with us to “run us through” as though we might have problems. I guess when you have so many Air Force and Navy people around, and people who don’t handle firearms often you need that. They were happy when we said we needed no refreshers and would just do the test as the rules require.

As soon as we were done we dropped the bangsticks back in the vault and headed off to lunch – I chose something erroneously labeled chicken shawarma, my fault for thinking it’d be any good. It wasn’t terrible though, it was just passable. I headed back to my room to start looking for ways to start learning Dari, a rather prescient decision.

Later in the afternoon, the entire Task Force was assembled in a drill hall so that the DCO and RSM could address us. I didn’t realize it but they were on PT with us this morning, nice guys. The DCO’s address was pretty good, he conveyed some pretty simple messages. First, that they’d just been over to Afghanistan and met with the Roto 0 leadership, and they passed on frank lessons learned – specifically about their workup training.

First thing – we are going to do a lot more intense weapons training – including a lot of quick reaction/close quarters shooting, especially pistol shooting. Two weeks ago, a “green-on-blue” incident saw three Australian Army mentors shot by an ANA soldier who “went rogue”. We’re going to get a lot of range time (and I saw the ammo allotments!) to be prepared for that. Second – to prevent these things, we’re getting a lot of cultural and language training, because most of these incidents can be attributed to ISAF conduct. We want to prevent that. The Roto 0 guys got some training in this regard, but nowhere near enough by the sounds of it, and they were also primarily educated in Pashtu, rather than Dari, the language mainly spoken in the north.

The call the DCO had was pretty simple and compelling: things are going to change a lot while we are there. The Americans are pulling 1/3 of their troops out of Afghanistan next year. We want to set up to be able to leave not later than 2014. So he wants us to work ourselves out of a job – to deliver training and mentoring so good that the Afghans won’t need us anymore. He wants nothing more than to be in a position to shut down certain position in order to redeploy his assets elsewhere until the job. Works for me.

One curious thing happened tonight though after I got back from dinner. I got a knock on my door, a woman in civvies said “You know you’re supposed to be working with the J3 as a duty officer, we haven’t seen you out yet.” I was immediately confused. I think I figured it out though – when she thought I was a Logistics officer. There’s another guy with the same last name as me here, and I think it’s him. See, when we were inclearing, all of our positions were confirmed as we went through, and I’ve not been notified of any changes, so, I’m pretty sure that I’m not who she thought I was. Problem is, I basically screwed my morning plans for not being sure, because now I’ve got to show up for PT with her cell while she confirms where I’m supposed to be, or something. I don’t have access to CFTPO to check, and don’t know anyone who does tonight.

All good fun, I suppose. I’m sure everything will come together fine tomorrow, and my boss has his OGrp tomorrow to sort out all the white space in our training plan, so we’ll be sitting around less and doing interesting stuff more. There’s lots I need – and want – to learn, so sitting in my room watching TV and playing Civilization V is not what I really want to be doing.

Written by Nick

November 8, 2011 at 9:15 pm

Day One

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We’re underway. This morning I walked into a massive mob of people at 2RCR’s massive headquarters building. It seemed like it was going to be a complete goat rodeo, but as the military is very capable of doing, it was very quickly organized into a pretty efficient process. Clerks looked over our document packages, confirmed our positions, and broke us down into each of the camp organizations. After about three hours of standing in lines of various descriptions, I was done, and introduced to some of the folks I will be working with for the next year or so. We parted company for lunch, and I returned to my (palatial) shacks for the afternoon until our standup parade at 3:30. Parade, incidentally, is essentially the term used for any reasonably formal assembly of soldiers, not what the civilian term implies.

That was a brief gathering, with all the folks I’m training with. We went over some macro points of the schedule, and with confirmation of what’s going on for PT tomorrow morning – a ruck march – we again went our separate ways.

I’m really bad with names, generally, but I’m going to have to get practiced at it – I’ve got a lot to learn over the next little while it seems like – at least the key people on the team I’m working with, and that’s coming together.

So far, so good.

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Written by Nick

November 7, 2011 at 9:32 pm

Day One

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We’re underway. This morning I walked into a massive mob of people at 2RCR’s massive headquarters building. It seemed like it was going to be a complete goat rodeo, but as the military is very capable of doing, it was very quickly organized into a pretty efficient process. Clerks looked over our document packages, confirmed our positions, and broke us down into each of the camp organizations. After about three hours of standing in lines of various descriptions, I was done, and introduced to some of the folks I will be working with for the next year or so. We parted company for lunch, and I returned to my (palatial) shacks for the afternoon until our standup parade at 3:30. Parade, incidentally, is essentially the term used for any reasonably formal assembly of soldiers, not what the civilian term implies.

That was a brief gathering, with all the folks I’m training with. We went over some macro points of the schedule, and with confirmation of what’s going on for PT tomorrow morning – a ruck march – we again went our separate ways.

I’m really bad with names, generally, but I’m going to have to get practiced at it – I’ve got a lot to learn over the next little while it seems like – at least the key people on the team I’m working with, and that’s coming together.

So far, so good.

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Written by Nick

November 7, 2011 at 9:32 pm

…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

The Day Job Comes To An End

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Yesterday was my last day of work in my civilian job, my leave of absence officially started. I spent the day cleaning up my office, getting some files organized, and saying a few goodbyes before I headed downtown to return my laptop, printer, and all that stuff. I walked out into a beautiful evening and what my father refers to as “gardening leave”, a few days off before I set off for Gagetown at some point this weekend, and the fun begins.

Today, though, I’m doing a video shoot for the company’s intranet that will be posted next week for Remembrance Day. Last year they did snippets on a bunch of employees with military connections and in the last few months they’ve started using video to feature different employees talking about all sorts of things relevant to the business, or our communities, or whatever. Kind of neat. Among other things they want me to talk about Remembrance Day and what it means to me. That’s an interesting question.

When I was growing up, it was about paying tribute to the fallen in wars long before my time, seeing older vets getting together to remember absent friends, and it was very vague. I understood why we did it, why it was important. I memorized In Flanders Fields even if I didn’t totally understand its message.

My first Remembrance Day in the uniform of Canada’s Army was in 2001. A new war was just beginning and it wasn’t clear what it meant. It was still a vague event, I went with fellow soldiers to tour the Legions and other service clubs, bought drinks for veterans and listened to their stories of WW2 and Korea.

By 2002 Canada had seen its first Afghan casualties and it suddenly had a different meaning. We actually were commemorating our generation. As each year went by, and more  names were added to the list of those fallen in the service of the country, we had more to remember. In 2006, for the first time, it was people I knew personally. By 2009, I was remembering and honouring a pretty close friend.

Each year, we gather at the cenotaph and pay homage to the fallen in broad, general terms. We stand in silence while Flowers of the Forest plays, we think of those lost, and when the parade is dismissed we head off to commiserate a bit over our absent friends. Each we honour in some unique way, each we feel the loss of anew, but we do this because it gives them an immortality that few will ever know.

Written by Nick

November 1, 2011 at 8:55 am