Afghanistan-A-Go-Go

A Reservist's Tale Of A Tour

Posts Tagged ‘Adjustments

2012 In Review And The End Of The Story. For Real, This Time

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The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 4,600 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 8 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

WordPress’ form letter of sorts about stats aside, it’s interesting to see the recap and how many unique hits this blog got. I’d like to think I told a reasonable story. It’s hard to make a job that often seemed mundane really interesting, but at the same time, I wanted to tell it like it is. Neither glamorous not awful, just a year in the life as it were. This recap WP did covered most of the period the blog did so it gives something of an idea of what was accomplished.

All I can hope is that anyone that read along found it interesting. That it gave them something new to think about. That it provided some perspective on a land far from home for most, but one full of potential, or beauty, of so many stories.

Though I mused about it in a previous post, today marks the end of the story. It’s January 4, 2013, and today marks the end of my post deployment leave, and the end of my Class C contract. My deployment experience is over, for this time around at least. Today, or rather, this morning, I’m oddly restless. It’s 1:48am and I don’t know why I’m awake. Maybe it’s my subconscious realizing that this chapter really is over.

I spent my holidays mostly quietly. I traveled to Ontario and reconnected with old friends. I picked up a job offer. I have the prospect of at least two more on the horizon. This weekend I’m working with my wife to start planning to move, because our fortunes seem to lie elsewhere. Later this morning I’ll close the book on several concurrent stories in my life and start on the next one. It will begin next week when I finally turn in all my desert kit. Then I travel to Ottawa, back into the warm embrace of the army for a few weeks while I wait and see how those other job leads turn out. Finally, in February, I will get to work on something new, what it will be I am not yet sure.

This, in a way, has been the story of my life for as long as I’ve paid attention, from one journey to the next. I always seem to land on my feet in the right place at the right time, which to me is a pretty good skill to have. Or maybe, it’s more of a knack than a skill. I don’t know, and I guess it probably doesn’t matter. What does matter is that I’m pretty happy that things seem to turn out right.

Thanks for reading.

Written by Nick

January 4, 2013 at 1:58 am

At Last, Home

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We landed Fredericton in the early evening on a bright, sunny day, with fall colours still very much in evidence, and started doing what we do best – hurrying up and waiting. Starting in line to pass through the customs. While it was a slow process standing around, it was a fairly smooth process. I somehow managed to actually pick up all my gear and drag it to waiting trucks which took us back to Gagetown and the LAV Barn where a well-organized DAG awaited us. The only thing they really did wrong was not having food and water laid on for us, though I think that was probably changed for the next chalk that came through. We then formed up and marched through the connecting hall into the Battalion building where families were awaiting their loved ones as soon as we were dismissed. I said goodbye to a number of people who were getting set to leave, and then we played Kit Tetris shoving four people’s gear into a van the came from Halifax to pick us up, and at 1am I was met by my wife and my unit Adjutant in Halifax… and headed straight to bed.

My first order of business Monday was heading to pick up my new motorcycle. My plan was to get it broken in and head straight to Arizona. I wasn’t quite so lucky, unfortunately, because Hurricane Sandy put quite a damper on things. But I’ll come to that later. Maybe.

Getting on a motorcycle again was probably the greatest feeling of getting home – besides, of course, the hug I got on seeing my wife for the first time in months, and sleeping in my own bed again. There’s something about it, and having such a wonderful day to be out, that made things perfect. We stopped on the way home at one of my favourite cafes for lunch as well. Monday night ended pretty early, I was exhausted by about 9pm and went to bed, only to wake up very early, which was good as I had an interview for a job on Tuesday. I took advantage of the time to ride out to Peggy’s Cove as the sun rose. I’d never been there in the fall that early in the morning and I can say that it’s absolutely breathtaking, so much that I got home much later than I planned and was forced to scramble a little to make the interview timing. It went well, though, and I’m waiting to hear but I think I know what I’m going to be doing as far as a civilian job now.

Tuesday I’d hoped to go play trivia at one of the pubs in town as I did before going away, but again, I pretty much collapsed in the early evening.

Wednesday to Friday were three half-days at the unit, basically, to get some of my claims paperwork finished, to get the lay of the land on what’s going on with the unit, to catch up with everyone, and to vent some war stories with people who actually understand them. The one thing that can happen to people coming back is having a bundle of stories to share but no one who cares to hear them – or worse, to want to talk but not be able to because they’re not for public consumption. It’s funny, one thing that came up constantly is “deployments are addictive”, and that’s actually quite true. The other truism was that it’s important to actually have some space before you go back to work… That said, I’m feeling pretty bored and frustrated waiting for clarity on my job situation and just having nothing really to do.

I went up to see my folks for dinner as well, before they left for their winter home. Nice to get some time with them before they leave.

I had planned to set off for Arizona Saturday, but with Sandy rolling in, it just wasn’t going to happen. Instead, I decided to ride to New Brunswick to meet some friends, and then to Prince Edward Island, a long weekend as it were. I didn’t even get that lucky, because the storm sped up and I had to hightail it back to Nova Scotia. I stashed my bike at my parents’ house in their garage, and I’ll either pull it out for some more rides, or grudgingly accept that winter is here and it’s got to get stored until next season. I guess we’ll see. I keep reworking plans to try to leave a week later, but of course, I can’t really seriously believe it will be possible.

Being home is strange – as expected. It’s a combination of feelings – of awkwardness, not fitting into things, of just not being sure what to do with myself – that’s going on now. All what I expected. If the trip had gone off, I think it probably would have helped, but that’s how things go, isn’t it? We’ll see over the coming weeks how things smooth out, but I expect they’ll be fine. In January I’ll be off leave and I’ll return to my unit, wearing a green uniform, and being a Class A Reservist again. And in a few weeks, I’ll be wearing a suit again and back to working like a regular civilian again.  We’ll see.

Oh, and in a positive development, it seems my wife’s cats like my Afghan carpet, and don’t have any inclination to scratch at it – which means, I think I’ll get a hold of my friends still over there and see about getting another one sent over. I was regretting not getting another one, might as well sort that out.

Written by Nick

October 31, 2012 at 8:01 pm

The Long Journey Home

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Another post from an aircraft. This time an RCAF CC-150 Polaris, or Airbus 310 in the rest of the world, our “strategic airlift”. The actual plane we are on is the one used by the Prime Minister for official travel, so it has a lounge and office area up front while us plebes are jammed in the back. It’s not uncomfortable though. We were up early this morning at the resort where we did our decompression to get cleared out and to the airport. Being the first group to leave it didn’t go totally smoothly, but we managed to leave almost on schedule, and the flight crew is over the opinion that between the stop on the way and good flying conditions they will still get us home at the planned time. This works for me.

The better news is that instead of staying overnight in Gagetown, we apparently will have transport laid on to take us to Halifax tonight, which means I will be in my own bed tonight, when I post this most likely unless the airport we stop at has wifi.

Decompression was excellent. I wanted to skip it and just go straight home, but it turns out that it was worth it. On landing in Cyprus we were whisked off by bus to the resort and ushered into a large reception hall to get the lowdown on how things worked, what the rules were and what was happening. It’s weird to get a brief where it’s stressed that the main role of the military police contingent is to keep you out of trouble rather than making it. They actually stayed downtown, and kept an eye on people, brining back those who’d had enough fun, and rounding up those who were in danger of straying into the many places in Cyprus that are best avoided. It was fitting for them, a proper interpretation of their radio arm identifier: Watchdog.

We started in on the mandatory mental health and reintegration briefings almost immediately, with just a bit of time to change clothes, shower, and grab lunch. Great plan, because we were thus done the morning of day two. The first night, we had a good dinner, and booze flowed liberally, helped in part by some €1400 ponied up by everyone from my camp who had been promoted during the tour. People got thrown in pools, there was some roughhousing and so on, but all under the watchful eye of the TLD staff. This was part of the process, after all. Better to have people vent and hit the bottle in a relatively controlled environment where you can figure out who needs more attention. I went to bed relatively early and other than a minor bit of trouble when my roommate finally came back, I slept well. I’ll spare you any details.

Day two, up early for an awesome breakfast and the second session we had to attend, then it was off to go karting, or as the hilarious women who worked with TLD called it, “drinking & driving”. My first heat was good, the second less so. Good times though. We had a whole range of options for things to do organized by PSP. When I came back I spent most of the afternoon in the pool.

Day three I took easy, just strolled around, read my book poolside, didn’t do much, as I probably needed a bit of a recovery. I did have an amazing dinner though with one of the other Captains, and our LCA, a hot stone grilling joint with all sorts of meats to cook up, finished with nice desserts, Cypriot coffee, and cigars.

Day four I went to Limassol, Kourion, and Omados, a little village in the mountains. Ate some food, drank some wine, took some pictures, slept on the bus back.

Our final day – an extra bonus due to something with Air Force schedules, I went to visit the Tombs Of The Kings, forgetting my extra camera batteries, and thus grateful I had my iPad with the guide to the site on it to get some pictures. When I got back, thoroughly sunfucked after being oblivious to the 38°C temperature and humidex much higher, I packed all my kit up and went off for Thai for dinner before an early night as we were up at 5 this morning to head out. Which brings me to the present.

So, what the hell am I going to do tomorrow? I’ll actually be home. It’ll be strange. Step one is arrange insurance for my motorcycle and go pick it up after taking a leisurely drive down the south shore of Nova Scotia I think. My wife wanted to know if I wanted anything special for dinner and I think was frustrated by me saying I didn’t, or couldn’t think of anything. Maybe some yoga, I’m anxious to see how bad my flexibility has suffered, even if I’m fitter than when I left generally.

The reality of it is, there isn’t anything special I want to do when I get home, other than just be there for a while and just relax. And unpack, I’ll have to do that. That will entail trying to get rid of as much of my operational kit as fast as I can, I have enough army stuff as it is around. I’ll need to find a green uniform to wear this week to work, because I have to go in for three half days before I go on leave.

I also have a job interview on Tuesday, an internal posting which interests me greatly. It’s some kind of panel interview via telepresence, so it could only run that day, I had to warn them off that I’ll likely be all sorts of jet lagged, hopefully it won’t be a negative impact! The job picks up on training and development skills I got from the army but have never really been able to leverage in my civilian job before now. Should be interesting. It requires a move, which is not ideal, but that is life.

I can only think of the adjustment period I had when I arrived in Kabul, I’m sure it’ll be more or less the same coming back. It wasn’t hard then, shouldn’t be now. I’m resolved not to stress much about anything that does not really matter, which is nearly everything. I think my wife’s actually more stressed out, which is normal – about having the place cleaned up, not having me turn up annoyed about anything like that, and so on. I can’t see that being a big problem, I doubt I’ll notice by the time I get in the door anyhow, I suspect it’ll be straight to bed as I figure I’ll have been mostly awake for 24 hours by the point I get home. And tomorrow, I’ll wake up just happy to be home.

Flying back we did the post-deployment overall survey. I can’t remember the name of it, HDO is the acronym, but we did one before leaving about how well prepared we felt, how suitable our work up training was, what we experienced in terms of stress, how we are feeling and so on. Part if it is assessing the job you did and how you felt about the mission. Hard to answer to be honest. Another part was mainly about leadership, my answers less relevant since my leaders weren’t Canadian once I got in theatre, except for the administrative connection back to Canada, and I can’t really assess that.

I’ll write more a post review later, but for now, I’ll say it was hard to answer. Like many surveys, they asked the question in numerous forms to try to get a more accurate assessment. I’m not even sure how my aggregate rating would read.

Written by Nick

October 21, 2012 at 9:05 pm

Posted in Homecoming

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Day 210. Really. And Not Counting Days To Go.

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I have to apologize for not really posting a lot of pictures. There’s a few reasons. OPSEC/PERSEC is the main one – and to be honest, I don’t have that many that are interesting. I can’t publish pictures of anyone here without their consent at the very least, and I’m just not that interested in pursuing it. But if you want to see pictures of anything, well, comment and ask and I’ll see what I can do. The other limiting factor used to be bandwidth – uploading pictures used to take forever, but it seems my ISP has upgraded speeds here quite a bit in the last little while.

It’s Friday, which means a pretty slow day. This is officially “the weekend”, so things slow down a little. I’ve spent a good chunk of it down at the shops on camp, at a little cafe run by a young Afghan named Sam. Fridays they usually have a special on for lunch and dinner, and so today I went to see what it was – today it was kofta qorma – meatballs in a qorma sauce. Simple and tasty, and a nice break from monotonous DFAC food. Sam wasn’t around when I got there, but he turned up a little while later and sat while we chatted over coffee and shisha about his future plans, about Afghan culture, about the world in general. He’s worked on our camp for about four years, and speaks excellent English, as well as some Spanish, and has taken a lot of time and initiative to learn about the culture of the people who come to the camp. He’s one of those Afghans who can tell other people in this country that we’re not what we are sometimes made out to be.

It was sitting there that I started contemplating what going home will mean. I’ve been here for about seven months now, the surroundings feel like home, there’s a community here. We play trivia together some nights. We watch movies together others. We have fitness training together. We live in pretty close confines and that doesn’t leave a lot of room to be unfriendly or not get along. Even people I didn’t especially like when we deployed here, I’ve gotten to know better and get along with a lot better. A while back, during workup training, I wrote about an exchange I had with someone on the way to the range who turned out to outrank me and who wasn’t amused by my comments to him. I then found out he was going to be on the same camp as me, and at first, he was an annoyance on a lot of issues. Fast forward a few months, and he’s one of my workout partners, turns out to be a really decent guy with a good sense of humour, you just have to get to know him a bit. That’s how things go.

In a few short weeks, I’ll have to pack everything I can (hopefully it’ll all fit – otherwise I’ll have to mail stuff) and start the process of going home. That means no more trivia nights at the Brit Club. No more movies with the contractors behind there shacks a couple of nights a week. Everything turns into Facebook contacts to try to keep in touch. I will say, though, that that works pretty well – a lot of the people I work with who’ve gone home do make a point of keeping in touch, and we’re even planning a sort of reunion trip next year.

What’s feeling really weird is that I’m now, technically, an “Afghanistan veteran”. Veteran of what I’m not really sure. I’ve always felt kind of uneasy with that term, even a few years ago when I started dealing with Veterans Affairs about an injury I got in training years ago that continues to cause me problems later in life. Anyhow, the significance of the date crossed my mind today because today I have officially been deployed 210 days, which means I will have earned a rotation bar to my General Campaign Star, the medal I will receive for this deployment.

Getting the GCS itself is a little contentious in some ways. It’s the same medal that is worn by those who were deployed to Kandahar on Op ATHENA. When we shifted to Op ATTENTION there were some who suggested a different medal should apply so “we” wouldn’t be confused with “them”, who were in the thick of the fighting in the south. However, it was dismissed, and with some good reason: most of those people weren’t out at the Sharp End either. And besides, everyone who’s been here knows what they did here, and shouldn’t feel any need to either prove it or justify it to anyone. The way I look at it, the relatively comfortable go we’ve had was made possible because of the work that those who came before us did. What “bling” I have on my uniform is mostly irrelevant.

Still, I expect in some ways it’ll feel awkward amongst friends of mine who were there. I never had to attend a ramp ceremony (on this side, anyhow – I’ve been at Trenton when a good friend was brought home to make the trip down the “Highway of Heroes” in December of 2008. I’ve been lucky here that none of the bad things that can happen have (knock on wood, I’m not gone yet). We’ve had some interesting close calls, but that’s about it. So despite the fact that there are “Afghan Vet” groups out there, I don’t think you’ll see me showing up to one – because I just don’t feel like it’s something I have much right to claim. I came, I did a job, it was nothing all that special I often think.

Written by Nick

September 21, 2012 at 9:57 am

More Scaling Down

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Before I write much else, it seems like someone is really desperate for info on Camp Clark because I get a lot of hits referred by search terms related to it. So let me answer a few of those – with the caveat that I was there for about a week several months ago.

1. It’s hot. Like most of Afghanistan. Not as hot as Helmand or Kandahar, but not as pleasant as Kabul. Look for weather reports from Khost City (sometimes spelled Khowst City), which is very close to it.

2. There is no PX there. At least, there wasn’t. There’s a couple of Afghan shops that should get you what you need, and I got the impression that it wasn’t hard to get to FOB Salerno, which had a pretty big one, though it was destroyed in an attack not long ago. I presume it’s been rebuilt though.

3. It takes a couple of days to get there from Bagram, because by the time you fly to Salerno you’ll have missed the flights for the day. Unless they’re expecting you, anyhow. But when I went, they were expecting us and we still had to wait. By the way, the transient quarters there are terrible, make sure a flashlight and earplugs are handy when you arrive, of course, they should be anyhow.
Hopefully that takes care of all the searchers.
More progress here. I’m now going over all the fun of taking over more of the staff duties since in a very short time I will be the last Coalition advisor at my school, and I’m basically completing the closeout work. Our ANA partners won’t move to their “permanent” home until sometime next year, so I’m trying to get everything in order for them to be able to function well after I’ve gone, which is essentially a matter of trying to ensure they have contacts to get what they need to keep functioning, and finding someone who’ll take a little bit of responsibility for maintaining contact with them. It’s not enough work to justify someone replacing me, but there’s still things that need to happen after I’m gone.

I’m feeling like I have little left to do, but that I’ve accomplished something while I’ve been here. One thing I dreaded the thought of was disrupting my “normal” life to spend time here only to find I was tilting at windmills. I knew that if I expected to change the world, I was in for an unpleasant dose of reality, but if someone was to ask me “did you make any difference over there?” I think I can probably say yes. How enduring it will be I don’t know, no one really knows what will happen here post-2014 when ISAF leaves and the ANSF and GIRoA are expected to go it alone.  Afghans tell us that everyone is getting prepared for what they view as some kind of inevitable fight and fracture of the country – but whether that will happen I’m not totally sure given that there are commitments to continue economic and military aid beyond then. When the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, they left a government that was stable with its support, it was only when they collapsed and that support withdrew abruptly that the power vacuum that lead to the civil war was formed.

I’m not at the point of counting days, though I could. I know now when (subject to change, which is the only constant in life!) I will leave camp. I know when I’ll get on the flight out of here. I know when my flight is expected to land at Fredericton Airport. I don’t know when or how I’m getting home from there yet, but I know when I should be back in Canada and have a rough idea of when I’ll actually be home. And if things are lined up right, I have a trip plan afterward (which I think I’ll probably use to conclude this blog, as the ideal epilogue).

It’s amazing to think that in an environment where random violence is such a possibility, that things you cannot predict or anticipate can happen and change the world in a split second, that the idea of going home actually is the largest stress factor for a lot of us. I think it particularly hits reservists hard, because we’re not just going back to a nice spot of leave and then back to work with the same unit. I’m going to have to pick up almost immediately where I left off with my day job potentially, and depending on how things settle, I won’t have the time to take any real sort of break, because I’ll need to get working on making deals that will continue my income once I get home and my Army pay stops. That to me is far more stressful than really anything here and it’s what I’ve only just started to have to deal with.

I have ideas in mind of what I’d like to do career-wise, and while I’ve been deployed, suitable jobs have come and gone, now I’m waiting to see what will appears, there’s a few prospects I’m looking at, and that’s something I’m putting a fair bit of time (and a lot of satellite phone minutes) toward as I wrap things up.

This weekend, I’m planning to pack all my gear, doing a substantial initial purge of things I don’t need that I’ve accumulated, just to see how much stuff I can fit and if I have enough room for everything – otherwise, I’m going to have to get some stuff packed up to mail. I’ve discovered that in packing my UAB I sent stuff home I wish I’d mailed, and also, I managed to send two pairs of uniform pants home instead of one shirt and one pair of pants, so I can mail the surplus shirt, and be happy that laundry service turns around quickly. I’ve got all the stuff I have to turn in before leaving that I don’t use regularly sequestered away to make things easier there, and I know what luggage items I’ll have access to when so I can plan that packing accordingly. Not only will this serve the useful purpose of forcing me to clean my room, it’ll actually let me know what is left to do.

And for the next month and a bit, I’ll ponder what on earth I’m going do when I get home.

 

What Are You Doing When You Get Home, Anyhow?

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That’s becoming a pretty common question around here as we all plan to go our separate ways – there’s a lot of organizations rotating or leaving over the coming months and everyone’s mind is inevitably turning toward home. For the Regular Force guys, it’s not that complicated. Go on leave (quite a lot of it, actually), then return to work. It’ll soon be posting season and they’re all waiting to see what will come next. Some will be going on career courses. Some will be taking new jobs within their units. Some are getting out of the military and moving on to other things. One of our drivers who recently left us got accepted to school to become a paramedic and will be starting that when he gets back and ends his military career. Reservists, regardless of what country, tend to have a different set of parameters. Some, like my friend Chris who I met up with in Prague, just decided to spend some time traveling and will then figure out what to do next. Some will go immediately back to the civilian job they had previously. Some have full-time Reserve jobs to go back to once their leave period is up.

As for me… well… I have a civilian job to go back to. I’m going to take some time off while I’m on my post-deployment leave, but I’ll reintegrate into what some people jokingly call the “real world”, but I’m looking to see what else is available within the organization I work for because I’m not sure what I was doing before is what I want to do next. To my good fortune, it’s a big company, and there should be some great opportunities. I think I have a better idea of what I want to do than I did before. We’ve also started making some plans for my wife to continue her education a bit – a worthy investment, I think. If I’m going to drop a bunch of money to buy a new motorcycle when I get home, I can’t really not spend some money on her career prospects, right?

So, the bike. That’s the first plan. With 9D’s permission (always critical), I’m planning to pick it up as soon as I return, and after a short stay at home, head south. My parents winter in Arizona and will likely have already left town so I’m going to go visit them. I’ve been planning out the route and number of riding days, along with some stops along the way to see some people. I can’t really cast anything in stone because it’s all going to depend on making a call about the weather. Late October/early November might not work. Last year I put my bike into storage on October 22 just before I left for Gagetown, and the ride to Mahone Bay was pretty chilly – though a week later it was nice and warm and bikes were still out everywhere. In fact, if I remember right, people were still riding on New Years Day in Halifax.

If it looks good, my plan is to get as far south as I can as fast as I can, to Washington DC for a day and then onto the Blue Ridge Parkway and into North Carolina where one of my colleagues here who’s since departed lives. From there I’ll head to the Tail Of The Dragon across the Great Smoky Mountains (if the weather is good), into the Knoxville area, and then on into Arkansas, Texas (with a day off in San Antonio, I’m going to need it by then I’m sure), New Mexico, and finally Arizona for a week or so before I fly home.

Here’s hoping I have the frequent flyer points for a ticket home. I’m going to leave the bike in Arizona for the winter and return for it in the spring to ride back along a different route.

I’m reading through the awesome blog North American Circle to get ideas on routes and see how he found it went. He did it as a fundraiser. I’d love to do something like that too – but it’s not really original now. I’m hoping, however, that I can couchsurf lots of places to stay so I won’t have much to pay for but fuel. And I also hope my VStrom is a little more reliable than his BMW apparently was! The blog is full of good stories though, of the people me met and how people helped along the way, the kind of stuff that lets you thing that indeed people are generally good and worthy, which gets hard at times. I’m finding that there are a lot of couchsurfers in some places along the way that should be a help and I’m already starting to get in touch with them. The detail obsessed part of me is looking through Google maps and plotting distances, time, and routes. For the early days it’ll be all business on major highways until I’m far enough south that I can slow down a little and not worry about weather as much. Early November will still be sketchy in a few places.

I’ll get back from that in late November and have to see what comes of the rest. I know there’s lots of opportunities and options and so on. It’s amazing to think, however, that I’m probably more anxious about going back to work outside the army than I have been about really anything here – even that first convoy ride when I had no idea what was going on.

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

Settling In

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I’m getting settled into routines now that I’m here and have been a little while. After a couple of days at our reception centre, we headed out to our camps to meet the people we are replacing and get more permanently settled. In my case, things were a little complicated because of the change in position I found out about when I arrived to catch the plane, but the decision was to send me to where I was going originally as it was close to my new job, and then they’d figure it out.

One of the people who met us was an old friend of mine from the Infantry School (who has a familial connection to a former unit I was in as well) so we had a chat and got caught up. Most amusing was meeting the guys I trained up with who were sounding like grizzled vets based on their extra week or so on the ground. We sat down for some coffee and discussed plans, got rooms sorted out, a tour of the camp, and so on. I spent one night there in the transient room (which featured the same totally uncomfortable mattresses that our first stop had) before moving to my current home, where I was pleased to discover much more comfortable lodgings. My current home is still a transient room, but it’s got a much more comfortable mattress. Picture a big hall full of bunk beds. If you’ve seen Full Metal Jacket, you’ve got the idea, but subtract R. Lee Ermey screaming, and there’s only about six of us living there. It’ll do until we get permanent rooms which will happen as our counterparts head back to Canada. I have another week living there.

The other nice feature of my lodgings in contrast to my first to stops is that the showers/bathrooms are in the same building rather than a separate one, which is nice given the amount of snow and ice on the ground currently. The cold we’re experiencing is pretty unusual, so it’s got people off guard, and things like weatherstripping aren’t a major concern here, so there’s a lot of draft, the bathroom itself seems unheated, but it’s not like we spend much time there. My bedspace itself is just fine, I can sleep comfortably in my ranger blanket without anything else.

Also we’re away from the smog of the city, and even though I’m feeling the altitude, it’s not uncomfortable at all – the air seems a lot more pleasant than it did downtown. And the view… the view – the snow capped mountains, etc etc. I’ll get some pictures sent up at some point. I think I’ll just upload them to flickr, we’ll see.

Right now, I’m not really doing anything, waiting to start some courses I need to do to learn the basics of my job here. Until that happens I feel a little useless, but I’m getting acquainted with my colleagues, who come from a pretty broad base of backgrounds.

We’ve got a bit of entertainment learning all the different uniforms of ISAF countries, there’s so many different people here, and the grooming standards are a bit of a source of entertainment. The best I’ve seen so far was a couple of Slovakian officers sporting beards and long hair, and they weren’t even SOF types – just regular air force captains, apparently. Also loved the Bulgarian Army PT uniform that looks like the kids from the bad dojo in Karate Kid’s travel kit.

My shop is composed of Australians, Britons, Americans, and a smattering of others. I’m going to have to learn to speak Australian before long, in addition to Dari, which I’m working on as best I can. Our interpreters are only too happy to help with that, though, so I’m picking up a little here and there and mostly building confidence in what I do now. I’m going to make a point of using it as much as possible with them – though their concern is that they’re mainly doing written/reading work and need to “exercise” their spoken English, too.

I’ve been down to visit the Afghan shops – they proudly proclaim that they can get you just about anything in 24 hours – for a price. I’ve only picked up a SIM card for my phone and a power bar/converter so I can charge all my stuff. I have, however, been checking out more interesting souvenirs – carpets, pashminas, lapis lazuli, and stuff like that for gifts. I’m also kind of interested in getting a jezail as a wallhanger for a mancave in some future home. A jezail is an Afghan long-barreled musket. During the Anglo-Afghan Wars, they were a key advantage to the Afghans, greatly outranging the British muskets, wielded by horse-riding marksmen. A guy at one shop had some nice ones (adorned with carving and inlays as is traditional) that has a date stamp on the flintlock of 1785. That, of course, is probably nonsense, it was likely a reproduction made in the famous Khyber Pass gunshops. He wanted $250USD. Not a chance, but I’ll keep an eye out for others. I’m not planning on buying mountains of swag, but a few interesting things to remember the place I’ll definitely go for.

I do feel vindicated for buying all my consumables in Canada before coming, even if my UAB hasn’t been delivered to me yet. It’s in-country, but the deliveries aren’t going to start until all the Relief in Place is done, apparently. The shops here have all sorts of things, but I’m happier with stuff I know. We did get told, after all, that if you’re particularly finicky about brands for personal care type products (not that I am) to make sure you had a good stash, and a plan to get more sent. While the bigger camps have US PXs that sell everything, there were two American female MPs in the shops today, one looking very grim about being unable to get tampons here (and presumably with an immediate need!). Fortunately, one of our colleagues sorted her out for now. I don’t think she wanted to explain to the shopkeep what she wanted, even if their 24 hour promise was possible.

We did get one piece of bad news. Our departing colleagues apparently were a little overzealous using the US APO system to do a lot of shopping (including ordering all sorts of things to send home), and as a result of the burden placed on their delivery system, they’ve cut off foreigners from using it. Given that we’re hearing that Canadian mail takes a whole lot longer, it’s disappointing, but one of my American peers is going to let me use his address if needed. So I’m alright, I guess – and most Canadians will probably be able to do the same, which I suppose means that the problem won’t really be fixed anyhow!

So far so good, I feel I’m rambling again, so that’s enough for now.

Written by Nick

February 28, 2012 at 3:01 am

Welcome To Kabul

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After a long trip, I’ve arrived in Kabul. I was impressed that despite the long travel time, and the time change of 8.5 hours, I actually didn’t feel a great deal of jet lag.

Stepping of the plane at Kabul International Airport I was struck immediately by the sight of the snow-capped Hindu Kush mountains, which surround the city. Then I got my first few breaths of the air – thin at 5900ft above sea level, and not exactly fresh. But medics assure us that while winter air quality is poor, due to people burning just about anything for heat, the spring winds deal with it, and it’s not that bad according to testing.

KAIA is a busy place, and we were shepherded off quickly to start inclearance.

I managed to sleep on most of the flight, which probably helped. And every time we stopped along the way, we got fed, which coupled nicely with the NyQuil I was popping to make sure I slept.

Prior to leaving we’d heard that there was challenges with heat where we were sleeping, about long delays and not enough food along the way, all of which turned out to be false.

I’m still “in transit” to my final destination, but getting into the swing of things. The one problem we have is that so much is changing that everything I thought I knew about the next few months seems a little unclear. But that’s how things go. There’s a saying in the military: no plan survives contact. So I’m not surprised. I’ll just roll with it all.

Written by Nick

February 25, 2012 at 1:17 am

Focusing In On The End State

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We’re getting toward the home stretch for sure. Combat first aid wound up well – a good, thorough, and frankly relevant and intense course was probably the best training I’ve seen so far here. Interestingly enough, one of the instructors was a young NCO I trained on his PLQ (primary leadership qualification) course a few years ago and had back the following year as an instructor. He’s doing alright for himself after leaving the Primary Reserve to join the Regular Force.

The course is taught over two days, the first day being mainly theory – the basics of paramedicine, essentially. It’s a crash course in anatomy and trauma management, essentially. It takes what you learn in Standard First Aid courses and rearranges the priorities to make dealing with trauma the primary emphasis, with the equipment that we carry. That equipment is pretty good and being constantly improved upon, but at the end of the day, like any tools, its effectiveness depends solely upon the skill of the users. We therefore got introduced to it all, and put into situations that were realistic enough to get us thinking.  With the limited time and huge audience we didn’t get the intense casualty simulation that often comes with the training, but when you’ve got people taking the material seriously, it’s going to give you the desired effect.

The only thing we cannot simulate is your own reactions to seeing first-hand the impacts of attacks. There’s a combat psychology aspect to this that we haven’t covered intensely in this workup but most people at least in the Army have either been formally introduced to in some aspect of training, or have learned about from their own study of our art. The key to dealing with this revolves around an expanded version the Cooper Colour Code – which was developed by a USMC Marine Colonel, Jeff Cooper, who is an expert on firearms training. The key is to keep yourself “out of the black” – a situation where the natural reaction to combat stress renders you unable to effectively perform anything. The great concern is that in the wake of an incident, those people who need to react and start rendering aid will be in Condition Black – heart racing, brain unable to process information properly, fine motor skills effective. We train on drills so that what you have to do is no longer a conscious thought process, but simple reactions.

Training done right will push you into the red, at which point your heart is racing, your breathing is laboured, you start to get tunnel vision on your objective, and your brain is struggling to process the information around you that you need to remain situationally aware. We train to understand this physiological reactions and to manage them. Studying this has led us to change the way we teach people to use their weapons, to teach them breathing techniques that will aid them, and so on. We don’t do that perfectly yet… and that’s a big, big pet peeve of mine, but I’m not doing this to rant about things I want to see changed. I know we’re getting there. But that’s a discussion for another time, and probably for another forum.

Today we’re working on cultural awareness training, which has been somewhat interesting, but at the same time for me it’s kind of boring, because I’ve read extensively on Afghan history and culture, and while I’m getting some insights from our advisors, the rest is kind of slow. I’ve got another day of that tomorrow, which I’m hoping will be better.

Tonight, however, was especially interesting. We got a visit from the Commander of Canadian Forces Expeditionary Command (CEFCOM), who had a lot to tell us about his insights into the mission we’re embarking on. It wasn’t a lot of blowing smoke up people’s arses. It was a realistic assessment of what we’re going to do, and that to me is good, because having a realistic context in which to work means that we’re going to have realistic objectives. Setting up to train Afghanistan’s security forces – or rather – to enable them to train and sustain themselves will make a difference there, and is what we haven’t done an effective job of for the last ten years. It seems like the overarching concept isn’t an unrealistic view.

We will face a lot of challenges. Afghans in the age bracket that the ANSF recruits from have a literacy rate of 14%. That means 86% of them are unable to read or write. These are things we take for granted in a country like Canada, but a country which has been devoid of an effective education system creates that sort of problem. Corruption is endemic, of course, and we will never eliminate it, to suppose we can is folly, so instead, we just have to try to work around it to focus on effectiveness. We have to hope that political will to support the Government of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan stays intact. The “green-on-blue” incident in which 4 French trainers were killed and 15 wounded the other day shook the French resolve. Comd CEFCOM put it best – the insurgency needs to work to break the bonds of trust that make ISAF work – between ISAF armies and their ANSF counterparts, between the Afghan civilization population and their police and army, and if that breaks the link between us, the deployed soldiers and the people at home then it is far easier to push us to give in.

I guess, then, in some way, I’m going to play a direct role in all aspects of that. My job is to help the ANA training system work better, by enabling them to do for themselves, rather than us doing for them. And more importantly, I’m going to tell you the story – the story of one contributor, but part of a broader Canadian story. The fact is, we’re not going to have the kind of media attention that operations in Kandahar ever did. When you really think about it, actually, the fact that Afghanistan isn’t splashed all over front page news right now is an indicator that something is going right, but it’s also creating a risk that the public won’t realize we are there. I want to counter that – I want people to know – to remember – that even though the intense fighting in Kandahar is over, even though hopefully we’re not going to see so many corteges traveling the Highway of Heroes, there are still 1000 Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan working to make sure that that country can stand on its own and that we won’t have to worry about the costs of a failed state. We’ve paid it for 10 years.

I hope it’ll be interesting. It’s getting close to the next chapter – to “go time”.