A Reservist's Tale Of A Tour

Posts Tagged ‘army life

Thirty Days

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Today is my thirtieth day in theatre. It’s a small milestone, a month here, but it’s still a great one – it feels as though I’ve been here longer in some ways, now that I’ve got routines established, social networks in place, and a pretty good idea of what it is I’m doing here. A lot of people who were here when we arrived have just ripped out, and we’ve got some new arrivals to get introduced to. What always amazes me with military people is that you become fast friends, and people I’ve known for only that month leave with just as much significance as people you’ve known longer.

In fact, one of the guys who left this morning to make his way back to his unit in Kuwait, and eventually back home to Minnesota, is planning an epic round the world type trip that includes plans to try to meet up with several of us that have just arrived when we go on our leaves. He’s collected all the dates to try to arrange an appropriate itinerary, and through the wonders of Facebook and so on it should actually have some degree of possibility.

I have been amusing myself in my spare time with planning out my leave in more detail, so that when the time comes that I can actually start having things booked I’ll have a solid idea of where to go, what to do, when to do it, and so on. If I don’t use up all my HLTA money on flights and railpasses, I think I’m going to rent myself a nice touring bike for a couple of days while I wait for my wife to arrive in Germany to meet me. Rentals are much cheaper in Germany than in Canada, and so I can get my mitts on a nice BMW tourer, or a Harley-Davidson, or something that will do the trick. I thought about trying to rent my proposed new bike, but nowhere in Frankfurt-am-Main seems to rent them.

I can’t wait to explore some new cities and some history with my wife – we’ve not had the chance to do all that much traveling together in the last few years, and so it’ll be a great experience to do it. The trick for her is to make sure she has the time off work, which has been something of an issue so far, but we’ll see how it works out. There are numerous ways to deal with such problems.

My month ahead looks somewhat interesting. I’m headed out to one of the regions as part of a Mobile Training Team, and we have a course starting here as well that I’ll be involved in. I’ve just been involved in the course we give to new arrivals, as we have some guys in replacing people getting ready to go home, and I’m starting to get the impression that there’s really a point to my being here. There were moments I wasn’t totally sure about that. I just basically tried in those moments to learn as much as I could about what’s going on around me and figure out how to make myself relevant. It’s easy to look at tasks here as impossibly large, but when you realize that incrementally there are loads of small things that make differences, it’s easier to handle. I guess that’s something that military service is good at getting you to understand – when you face a daunting problem, break it into smaller ones and attack each individually.

Things have seemed a little unsettled for the simple reason that the school I work at is in the middle of transitioning, we’re working at shifting responsibilities from us to the ANA – and so what the people we replaced did doesn’t match up directly with what we’re doing, and that’s fine. It’s just an adjustment to define what exactly we need to do going forward to meet our goals, because the school’s plan is to hand off increasing amounts of responsibility to the ANA over the next few months. They have some things to develop their capabilities on, and some things they do well, we just need to help them along.

So how’d I spend day thirty? Well, Friday is our “weekend”, we don’t start work until 1pm. I got up at 10:30 after a nice sleep in. Last night I was out to trivia with the Brits (and we didn’t win, sadly!) and was in the office fairly late doing travel research, so it was nice to not have to get up early. This afternoon we were up to the range to do some Quick Reaction Drill shooting – basically, you’re sitting at your desk and someone decides to turn green-on-blue on you – how to react. Of course, the odds of that are rare, but there was an incident at Kabul International Airport where an Afghan Air Force Colonel, who was apparently about to be busted for using ANSF aircraft to smuggle drugs, shot eight people dead before killing himself. The victims were all armed and failed to react effectively. One of them, apparently, had a pistol but instead had a cellphone in their hand.

It was good just to get out, enjoy the weather, and get some shooting in. It looked like rain for a while but it turned out okay in the end. The best part: at ranges at home, after shooting you have to pick up all the brass (spent casing). Not so in Afghanistan. Within seconds of our completing our shoot, a bunch of ANA soldiers descended from the hills beside the range and furiously collected all the brass in no time flat. It was something of a sight to see. I guess it’s because they can sell it for scrap. Whatever the case, it doesn’t bother anyone, and saves us doing it.

Written by Nick

March 23, 2012 at 11:32 am

What, Exactly, Are We Doing Here?

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A lot of Canadians don’t even seem particularly aware that there are still about 950 Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan these days. In part, it’s probably because there haven’t been casualty reports lately (save, unfortunately, for MCpl Bryon Greff, who was killed not all that far from where I’m sitting right now typing this). Most people thought the reporting that our mission in Kandahar has ended meant that our commitment to Afghanistan has ended, but it of course hasn’t. I’m interested to see what the Public Affairs folks here do to keep getting the word out, and unless my primary duties preclude it, I’m even considering offering to try to help in a more official way. We’ll see what happens.

So, what are we doing here? Well, in broad terms, we’re here as part of NATO Training Mission – Afghanistan, contributing to efforts to train and develop the Afghan National Security Forces. There are Canadians working at a number of ANA and ANP schools, helping them develop the ability to deliver their own training to their soldiers and police, so that they can build sustainable, professional security forces. There’s a massive number of military trades represented among us. Infanteers, Artillerymen, Signallers, Pilots, Intelligence folks, Logisticians, and so on. A chunk of the 950 or so is the National Command and Support Element, the people who keep us fed, paid, organized, led, and so on – but the majority are advisors, I think.

But still, that doesn’t really answer the question, so here’s what I can do. Here’s what a day in my life looks like right now.

I usually (and usually means “for the last few days”, since it’s pretty early…) get up around 6:30-7. I don’t usually go to the gym first thing in the morning, and there’s a twofold reason for that – I don’t like getting up early, and it’s usually busiest then, plus my day allows me to go later, particularly for the torturous but awesome circuit training that the Brits run most afternoons.

I walk to the office (which is not exactly far – maybe 150 metres?), drop off my laptop and whatever else, and head to the DFAC for breakfast and to fill my mug up – right now generally with tea, because the coffee here is terrible, and I have some amazing Hot Rod tea from World Tea House in Halifax with me (which reminds me, I need to get more sent over!). In theory, I’m supposed to be in the office at 8, but generally I meet my colleagues at breakfast, and we head back when we head back. Our ANA counterparts and interpreters usually arrive around the same time.

Where I work is one of those schools, and my job is part of what’s called the Validation Team, part of the Mentoring Cell which aims to improve the Afghans’ ability to deliver training to their soldiers. Right now, we’re between courses, so the ANA have undertaken a sort of  self-validation/professional development project with their instructors. This is real progress, something that the Coalition has been trying to get them to do for a long time, and they’ve now embraced it (and framed it as their initiative, which is fine). What they’re doing is what we call teaching mutuals – that is, the instructors are teaching classes to each other, allowing them to essentially rehearse in a safe environment. They critique each other, and we are there to also provide some critique. It’s interesting sitting watching the lessons and having a Dari interpreter translate for me – though they’re generally very familiar with the material (they could probably teach it effectively!), so what we’ve been doing is asking them to come up with points where they didn’t explain things well etc so we can target them with questions.

My first few of these I didn’t have an interpreter for all of, but I still was able to provide some good feedback on general teaching styles. One of the instructors has the same problem I do – he talks really, really fast – gets excited and loses people. I was able to take him aside and tell him some strategies I use to deal with that, and this morning he taught again, a much better performance overall. That’s tangible progress.

Once those are done for the day, I’ll usually retire to the office, check email and see what’s going on in the world, we have meetings about upcoming events, that sort of mundane stuff, and then the gym or whatever. The letter of the law says we are “on the clock” and have to be in uniform until 8pm (though gym time is included – PT kit is, after all, a uniform). Back to my room or the office to watch movies, check Facebook, write blog posts, Skype with my wife or my parents, and that sort of thing, and up and at it again the next day.

When courses are running, we do the same sort of thing – monitoring lessons, but we don’t say anything, there’s no critique during the class. One of our goals is to get the Afghans to discover a process we use called AARs – After Action Reviews – a debrief of what was done during the day, essentially. That will allow them to learn from what they’ve done. We’ve also got advisors here to help them get better with logistics, planning, and administration so the school will function better. That’s the milestone we want to hit before we go. Things do take time here, but what I’m seeing – even in a short period of time – is that there’s progress being made. The Afghans we work with are genuinely invested in taking responsibility for their country and serving it loyally – and that’s what this place will need to have what we’re trying to build endure. I’m generally an optimist, but I really do think we can pull this off.

Written by Nick

March 7, 2012 at 1:29 pm

How To Make Things More Tolerable

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One of the things that is vital to being able to live and work in close quarters with a fairly small number of people is a good sense of humour, and it seems that’s something we have in spades. The mix of nationalities seems to help, because it means we can cover a diverse array of styles of humour.

Being the new guy (though there are several new people in the organization and several getting ready to return home to various places) means getting to understand the history of the jokes, having to ask questions about some of the more bizarre things posted up around the office, and just trying to get a handle on what makes everyone tick. They do a good job of making you feel welcome quickly though.

One of the chief jokers is an American National Guardsman who will be leaving soon. I don’t actually see much of him because he’s running around closing out things before he heads home, but he’s left his mark. I learned of him primarily from walking into a hilarious late night conversation about his travel plans (including visiting the Canadian I’m taking over for), and his almost passable ability to sing the Stan Rogers classic Barrett’s Privateers, which he knows is somehow associated with Halifax.

One of his creations stemmed, as the story goes, from a conversation with someone senior about the mundane job of running a training centre. He was told “Well, it could be worse. You could be out doing foot patrols in the Korengal Valley.” Ever see the movie Restrepo? If you’re reading this, probably a good movie for you. There’s also a good PBS Frontline documentary about it. The Korengal Valley is located in Konar Province east of Kabul, and is a remote, lawless, dangerous area where Americans live in precarious combat outposts.

Anyhow, that’s what Wikipedia’s for. I’m getting away from the point, which is that a sign up sheet for “Dismounted Patrols In The Korengal Valley” went up in the office in short order. Beside it was his “Christmas email” sent to the entire camp, a hilarious riff on the Mayor’s Cell suggesting that conditions were ripe for insurgency within the camp, and the response from that office.

This is the kind of stuff you need to get by. By one of the 435784578 coffee makers located in our facility is a list of “Don’ts”, which describe series of offences that most people would be familiar with (leaving less than a cup in the pot, etc), all with verbs to describe them based on the names of the individuals notorious for the sins.

Additionally, I have an event to look forward to every week – trivia night run by the Brits. It’s a hilarious affair, seriously competitive with a grand weekly prize of nothing but bragging rights. My first night out was a roaring success, trouncing six other teams. More amusing was my introduction to “The White Rat” which is evidently some sort of naval tradition. Essentially, someone is secretly nominated each week to snoop around camp collecting gossip and embarrassing stories about the contingent, which are then delivered to the assembly in the form of a hilarious monologue which a prop “white rat” (which I think was some form of sock puppet) presents the dirt. It was brilliant. Their humour is also well used in their farewell traditions where departing soldiers are subject to a great roast, for which detailed notes are kept during the tour.

The latest development is that I finally have my permanent quarters. I don’t have my own room, I share it with another Captain, but it should work out okay. We piled all our stuff in as soon as we got the keys and spent a good couple of hours yesterday organizing things. To our good fortune, the previous occupants left lots of stuff behind of use – a kettle (two, actually, we gave one away), cleaning supplies, coat hangers, power bars, carpets, etc etc. The room’s nothing fancy – it’s maybe 10′ x 10′, with a couple of lockers, a couple of book cases, a bunk bed, and a desk (we would like another one, but it’ll be a tight fit). It’s comfortable, and once we got unpacked a bit it felt like progress. It also, unlike some accommodations, is in a building that has laundry and washrooms within it. Some quarters rely on trailers you’ve got to go outside to get to, which when it gets muddy in the spring won’t be so much fun. No complaints, really. We’ve got an option to buy a TV and DVD player as well from someone about to leave, and movies can either be borrowed from the morale and welfare folks or bought at the Afghan shops – the latest Chinese bootlegs for $2 each. Whatever works.

For now, though, things are going slowly. There’s a lot of stuff we’re working on, but it’s not really coming together due to circumstances presently beyond our control. I’m mainly getting ready to do some courses which will be interesting – reading the material in advance and such things. I’ve also done a little bit of monitoring of ANSF classes, sitting in the back with an interpreter and the Commandant who’s advising their chain of command on the quality of their instructors. It’s interesting seeing how their officers teach – I can’t comment on how well they cover the content (except that apparently with some variation it’s been pretty good), but they seem to have strong presentation skills and an interest in the material which makes their teaching more effective.

There’s lots swirling around, but for now, we’re just getting what we can done and waiting on what we can’t.

Written by Nick

March 4, 2012 at 6:42 am

Home Is Where…

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Camps in Afghanistan are interesting places. They’re essentially small cities, more or less entirely self-contained, and designed to provide space for residents to live, work, play, and generally enjoy a comfortable existence during their residency.

Camps are run by the Mayor’s Cell. There is an actual Mayor, though he’s appointed by virtue of his job, rather than elected. He employs a number of officers who look after everything from housing (billeting) to food services, to contracting services, to managing classroom/office space, to discipline on certain matters like water consumption. There’s a fire department, a post office, shops, a telephone exchange. There’s a small army of local nationals (Afghans) who do maintenance work, run the DFAC, and so on. It is a very busy place at times.

As far as water consumption goes, the hope I have is that the massive snowfall Afghanistan has “enjoyed” this winter will make sure that the aquifers are well replenished and hopefully we won’t have any issues with water supplies. Right now there are none, but with the summer coming and some movements into my camp on the horizon that may change. Problems have happened before, there are posters about rationing to be found in some places, for now mostly common sense prevails. Note that this is water for washing and so on. Drinking water is all bottled water, which is abundant. There are “kiosks” literally everywhere piled high with bottled water – mostly from Uzbekistan, some from a plant in Bagram that is as I understand it Afghan-owned.

That’s actually one of the interesting things in the DFAC – stuff comes from all over. Pepsi products from Germany. Coke from the UAE. Orange juice from Uzbekistan. Milk from Bahrain. It’s a little bizarre to think about how out supply chain works.

Of course, for all the cozy atmosphere here, and it really is, there is no escaping the reality of the place. The camp is ringed with Hesco Bastion walls, topped with barbed wire. Observation towers surround it. The entrance point has a complex system of controls for anyone entering, manned by armed guards with no sense of humour. Bunkers are situated around the camp in case of an indirect fire attack. This is, after all, a military encampment in the heart of a country with an active, dangerous insurgency.

Part of inclearance is a series of boring briefings – don’t play with feral animals lest you get rabies, reviews of ROEs and other policies, and even a trip to the clearing bay to prove you can safely handle

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Nick

March 2, 2012 at 4:09 am

Down To The Short Strokes

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I knew this week was going to be terrible. I don’t have a clerk working for me at the moment as he’s on a course that I’m sure will benefit us all when we leave. Thus, I had to very quickly learn how clerks work their magic in order to get my entire contingent’s files in order.

It’s a good thing I tend to be a quick study. Monday night, the S3 (Ops/Training Guy) and I “stayed after school” going through about 80 files making sure they were set to be turned in to the Orderly Room, where they then go up to be signed off by the CO to confirm the member is ready to deploy.

The file includes all sorts of different components, the key to which is the Personal Readiness Verification form, which all sorts of people have to sign off as being “Green”. If anything isn’t Green, then we can’t deploy the soldier. Turns out that a good chunk of the files aren’t all Green, and so we were trying to figure out who needed to be fixed, what they needed, and how we could go about getting it done. It was a long night, but a fairly successful one. We had our boss stop in for a while so he could sign off his component, and he made a point of commenting on how well we were working together. The mutual desire to get the hell out of there was probably the best motivator we had.

As of tonight, we’ve got most of them done and turned in, and tomorrow I’ll have the last of them done, or at least most. There’s some troops with some issues that have more complex fixes, but I’m going to sent them into the clerks with a proposed plan, and they should be good to go before the drop dead date, when the sole person who can do the final signoff gets on the plane. That should be enough time. Of course, part of the hold up was that some documents were missing and no one bothered to tell me that there was a file in the Orderly Room where they were also collecting outstanding items. A good chunk of the stuff we were waiting for was there.

My other trick is the collection of another, unrelated document. By its nature, it’s got to be handled in a specific manner, and that’s complicating things a bit. I’m done 90% of them now too, but the last few were on a memory stick that belongs to someone else, and now I’m trying to get it back from that person who’s been off on training. Should be sorted tomorrow, but it’s annoying. And normally, it’s not even the S1’s responsibility – “we” just “volunteered” because the Ops guys who normally responsible for it are working like rented mules right now trying to sort out the last of the training requirements.

Friday at 4pm I’m out of here. Friday. 4pm. The Barrack Warden will come by, make sure I cleaned my room, and kick me out. And it’ll be back to Halifax. With a stop at St-Hubert in Moncton for dinner – because I haven’t had it in a long time and it sounds really, really good. Serenity Now.

It’s not done yet, of course – so much to do. I started packing today. Problem is that I basically have the luggage I can take overseas here with me – but a lot more stuff than I will be taking and I have to try to fit it all in. I’m going to have to ask my wife to bring an extra bag with her when to finish packing. I have a system set up though – I’m trying to pack my carry on back exactly as it will be when I go (Less my Kindles. Yes, Kindles, plural. I have two.) and leave it as it. The amount of stuff that has to go in there is rather ridiculous. I was thinking I’d put my laptop in there. But it’s not going to fit, I don’t think. It’ll go in my barrack box.

I think it’ll all fit just fine – though it takes some planning. The key thing I have to take into account is that my battle rattle has to go in a duffel bag, and be packed in such a way as to ensure that when I get off the plane, I can get to it immediately and be able to throw it on for the ride to our first stop. Everything else I cram in that bag (clothes, most likely) has to go underneath my PPE so it comes out quick and easy.

I can’t tell you when I leave, exactly. Nor can I tell you how we’re getting there. I can tell you it’s going to take a long, long time traveling and that I don’t sleep well on planes so I plan to overdose on something that will knock me out until we get there. On arrival in Kabul we are heading to something of a reception centre where we’ll clear into ISAF/NTM-A and get our bearings before getting dispersed out to our actual “hometowns”. I’m not actually even sure I can say much about where, specifically, I’m going. You’ll have to forgive me for erring on the side of caution. However, I’ve got public affairs as one of my secondary duties, and I’ve already started asking about things like a social media strategy, and maybe that’ll change the way I go about this blog. ISAF does have a presence (@ISAFMedia), and they actually spar routinely with a couple of Taliban propaganda Twitter accounts. I swear, I’m not making that up. Check it out. The Taliban are @alemarahweb, and also @abalkhi. At the rate of casualties they claim, they would have had to have killed probably every single Canadian ever deployed there. It verges on the ridiculous – but the actual personal jabs are what are priceless, when they happen. In fact, it’s happening right now. See here, Taliban claims a great victory. ISAF mocks them here. Taliban jabs back here. ISAF’s telling the truth, of course. The Taliban would claim earthquakes were their doing without thinking anything of it. Welcome to modern war, ladies and gentlemen.

There’s actually a couple of guys “over there” whose job is solely to monitor social media to make sure there’s no OPSEC violations. And there have been some pretty insane ones. Some inadvertent, and some so categorically stupid I cannot believe that they happened. One of the things they just made a point of telling people about is geotagging in photos. Lots of people take pictures with smartphones blissfully unaware that the phones use their GPS to encode where exactly the photo was taken. I learned about this a few years ago after realizing I’d tweeted pictures of my home. The geotags would have made it exceptionally easy to find. I have, obviously, disabled that function on my iPhone, and most pictures you’ll see on here will come from a non-GPS equipped camera, so there’s no risk there. Why, as they said, do the enemy’s recce for him? I don’t plan to, so you’ll have to forgive any time I’m intentionally vague.

Anyhow, I can’t believe that work up is coming to an end – that I can see, as it were, the end of the tunnel. There’s a stack of DAG files between me and that end, but it’s dwindling.

Friday. 4pm. My own bed. Home cooked meals – my wife is a staggeringly awesome cook, you see. A few weeks to chase down some last minute admin and relax – I go on leave almost as soon as I get home.

A little housekeeping, by the way. I’m starting to build up some links on the sidebar for you. I’m also going to do up a “suggested reading list” for those interested in this blogs – books I’ve read and thought were of value. I’ll probably get that done during my leave.


The Wrap Up

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Finishing off the last week of training. It’s getting a little bit crazy around 2RCR because we’re now at the point where in addition to trying to meet all of our training requirements we are also trying to complete a lot of last minute administrative requirements. All those things covered in the DAG now have to get sorted out for the last time, and we’re also coming to grips with a lot of new things that have fallen out of the woodwork. For some of the contingents it’s made more complicated by the arrival of a whole lot more Reservists when we came back from Christmas leave. They have to be pushed through all the processes a lot faster than normal because of the shortened timeline. We’ve got only a couple of these guys, so it’s not so bad. That said, our camp clerk is away on course now and so I’m doing a lot of the work catching up on the paperwork – or at least getting people to do it. One of the specific things is a form we need completed for everyone which has a complicated, specific requirement, and to make it extra complicated, it is a Protected document, meaning it can’t be transmitted by email without encryption. So, I collected these all on a memory stick, and reviewed them. No good. Most of the troops hadn’t read the instructions on how to complete the last part, so I had to kick them back out to be redone.

While I’ve got all this to do, I have my own training to take care of. I’ve knocked off my first aid training, as I mentioned, and went on to Personnel Recovery, which I didn’t get to see all of because of the Unit Ethics Coordinator Course I started today. Go figure, in response to how the first serial of the PR course went it was condensed from two days into one. The UEC course is actually somewhat interesting, in no small part because I did a little bit of coursework on it in university, and one of the officers who profoundly influenced my career studied it more in detail. That would be LCol Ross Cossar, currently the Commanding Officer of the Hastings & Prince Edward Regiment. Then-Major Cossar was published in the Canadian Army Journal in Fall 2008, with an article worth reading entitled Unethical Leadership And Its Relationship To Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. If you have an interest in military psychology I strongly recommend reading this. Further, it cites some excellent sources, including the works of Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, specifically his books On Killing and On Combat, both of which are widely viewed as required reading for those in uniform.

Grappling with the impact of ethics on military service has had a profound effect on the Canadian Army. Most Canadians will be familiar with the Somalia Affair, the torture and murder of a Somali teenager by members of the Canadian Airborne Regiment during a deployment in that troubled country in 1993. While that event itself was horrible, it exposed a much more deep and troubling problem in the Canadian Forces, pervasive leadership flaws which directly impact our effectiveness as an organization. It was far from the only such incident, and they’re of course not confined to Canada, but it was probably the first, most profound such incident. It was the Somalia Affair that helped drive the interest in ethics that led me to sit in the classroom in which I found myself today.

Militaries have a unusual role in society. We are charged with the responsibility to defend the national interest, including with the right to use violence to do so. As such, you might expect that we have a specific contract with the nation with respect to that responsibility. For example, in Canada and any other democratic society, the military is controlled by civilian authorities, with an emphasis on separation of the two. Canadian Forces members are barred from standing in elections or holding public office while serving (there are apparently some exceptions, but they’re rare), or from engaging in political activities where they may be seen as speaking for the CF. We are expected to hold ourselves to a high standard, perhaps a higher standard than the average member of the public because of the role we have.

What happens when the opposite happens? When militaries fail to meet that standard? The repercussions are severe. In fact, in history, the cost of such developments can be mission failure. The Vietnam War wasn’t a military defeat by the North Vietnamese in the sense that their firepower and technology allowed them to defeat the US and their South Vietnamese allies (by the way, if you want to read an amazing account of that, I’d suggest Frank Snepp’s Decent Interval). Neither was the 40th Army driven out of Afghanistan by the mujahideen because of their strategic or tactical acumen. Rather, in both cases, the national will to keep spending blood and treasure there was destroyed. Media – social media, the internet, and the conventional media – can make that process very rapid indeed. Witness reactions to the video of Marines urinating on corpses. Or the Haditha Incident, where photos came out that made clear that what had actually happened (the murder of innocent bystanders, basically) had been covered up. We risk that same problem any time we deploy. The fact that everyone has camera phones these days, that things can be spread via the internet rapidly, underscores the idea that the whole world is watching all the time.

In most cases, the right thing to do is fairly simple. It’s obvious. There’s no debate or discussion. Sometimes, however, we face choices where there isn’t an obvious palatable option, and the role of ethical training is to help soldiers understand how to apply the ethos that we have developed – and to know where to go for help should they be unable to resolve a dilemma. Not that we’ll always have all the answers, but it’s a good start. And we’re also realizing and understanding that if mistakes do indeed happen, that it’s better to be transparent and address them head on rather than hoping they go away. That applies as well to the military as it does to any industry or to anyone’s personal life. Think about it: as a child, was it ultimately better to hide or lie about what you might have done, or to work to accept responsibility? It seems so simple, doesn’t it?

The course focus, though, is on how to convey these messages to our soldiers, to get them to understand and buy into the Army Ethics Program, to be able to lead them through good discussions about issues and cases that allow them to understand and apply the values we want them to embrace. How to be a better facilitator, as it were. I think it’s a great skill to build on – it’ll help me as an advisor, it’ll help me in my civilian career, it’ll be incredibly valuable. And part of the perk of doing what I do is that I get all this training for free. That’s something that a lot of people don’t realize about Reservists, but a fact to which more and more are starting to become attuned.

This is only the start of a bit of waxing poetic I think I might do – but I think it’s as important as just recounting what I’m actually doing. As always, let me know what you think.

Written by Nick

January 26, 2012 at 10:19 pm


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When I got back to Halifax after being dismissed from Gagetown for the holidays, I immediately set to trying to get my leave schedule as synchronized with my wife’s vacation days as possible. Thursday night when I got home she told me she’d found a last minute five-star all-inclusive trip to Cuba, leaving the following Tuesday.

I immediately started trying to negotiate for some leave schedule that would allow for it, but alas, nothing even after Christmas dinner. Monday, I breezed into the office and almost immediately into a conversation about training going on between Christmas and New Year’s Eve for a recruit course and our Mountain Operations Platoon.

Turned out that they needed more staff for the four days of planned training, and I immediately volunteered, getting a leave pass for the rest of the week and plane tickets to Cuba leaving the following day. We didn’t get the five star steal, but a nice four star, leaving from Toronto so we visited some old friends on the way there and back.

Had a great trip, nice to relax and enjoy some sun,  wander around Old Havana, and not really care about much of anything.

I came back expecting to spend those days between Christmas and New Year working. Specifically, they needed someone to help run rifle ranges, because the other officers who were to be there had other things to do. Not really a hard go. The problem, of course, is that I had left most of my cold weather kit in Gagetown. So I called a friend and asked her if I could borrow… well… everything.  And she hooked me up (and gave my wife a quick lesson on Afghan carpets, and pashminas). Off I went.

The CF all but shuts down over the holidays due to leave. Everything goes to minimum manning. When we arrived we were basically the only people at this camp, the Land Force Atlantic Area Training Centre Detachment at Camp Aldershot. Aldershot is about an hour from Halifax in the Annapolis Valley just outside Kentville, Nova Scotia.

We ordered all the necessary accommodations, meals, etc. All went well on arrival until we realized that the heat in the staff quarters was off. My room the first  night was a balmy 7°C. In the morning, it got more interesting. I was supposed to be running a PWT-3 range. The ammo techs first didn’t show up at their appointed time, then we found out that for whatever reason, there wasn’t enough ammunition to do the shooting that was planned. Some request didn’t get processed properly. Then it was decided to cancel the range altogether. The same day, the recruits were going to the gas hut, and the instructor running it and the Deputy Commanding Officer of my unit showed up. They said, “Well, you may as well go home.” (the subtext was “why did you even come?!”) So I packed up my kit and off I headed home for some nice relaxing days off. It worked out really nicely.

New Years Day I headed down to my parents’ winter home in Yuma, Arizona for a week – I’ve been enjoying myself here, riding around the desert in a dune buggy, visiting Mexico for shrimp tacos (while my mom got her prescriptions refilled), and so on – just enjoying some sun. I also visited the US Army’s Yuma Proving Ground, a massive sprawling training and research facility. I’ve been playing with the new Kindle Fire I bought, and just relaxing. My folks have been asking what I want them to send me “over there”, so I’ve sort of set up a standing order for things I’m interested in having in care packages.

I’ll be home next week to work at my home unit (which I don’t think will actually be anything!), and then after a week it’s back to Gagetown to bash on with the last stretch of training before we go. After a week of sunny days I’m not looking forward to seeing the snow.

Happy New Year everyone. 2012 is going to be interesting.

Written by Nick

January 6, 2012 at 10:31 pm

Regimental Birthdays

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Happy Birthday to The Royal Canadian Regiment and The Royal Canadian Dragoons, both of which turn 128 today. Much mirth will be had at the celebrations, but as I’m in Toronto on my way back from a great vacation in Cuba, I’ll only hear the stories.

Pro Patria! (For Country) Motto of The RCR

Audax Et Celer (Bold And Swift) Motto of the The RCD.

Written by Nick

December 21, 2011 at 3:02 pm

Posted in Musings On Army Life

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