Afghanistan-A-Go-Go

A Reservist's Tale Of A Tour

Posts Tagged ‘equipment

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

Deeper Thoughts On Training

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First aid training is done. Well, Standard First Aid, anyhow, Combat First Aid starts tomorrow. It’s going to be a relatively relaxed course I think though, being that it’s the weekend, and the idea is to actually learn as much as possible. Some of the kit we get for our own med pouches is stuff I haven’t really used, though, so it’ll be important to pay good attention, I have a lot to learn. I’m realizing as I think about the course that while I’ve set up my SORD rig in a way that I think is mostly functional, I have my med pouch in a place that is only accessible from one side – which might actually not be the best idea from the perspective of planning for its use. I think I’m going to move it.

I feel like such a snob going to ranges and so on with non-combat arms types using the SORD. The whole reason people started using this sort of hit is that the tactical vest we normally carry has a couple of significant flaws. The main one has to do with the placement and design of the ammunition pouches. The tac vest has four single magazine pouches that carry 30 round rifle magazines. They sit high on the vest, which makes them awkward to use. Back when it was designed, the idea of carrying five magazines when going out on an operation seemed reasonable. Afghanistan showed that wasn’t enough. Most people wound up carrying at least ten. The position, in addition to being inefficient for rapid reloads, didn’t bear the weight properly.

With a chest rig, you can carry your magazines lower and more accessibly. I have them low and mainly on my left side, because I’m right handed, allowing me to grab them with my left hand, and swing them up rapidly into what we call “the workspace”. It’s ergonomically superior to the awkward motion required with the tactical vest. I have the pouch that will hold my pistol magazines mounted higher, as the workspace for it is different, and I can do everything right in front of my face that way.

I will note that the other major problem with the TV – the “one size fits all” problem that wastes lots of space for those who carry a machine gun as a personal weapon – isn’t really solved by the SORD rig we have been issued, because as yet there’s no pouches suitable for machine gun ammunition. However, other than the force protection folks, people generally aren’t carrying anything but rifles or carbines anyhow during the normal course of business.

So, why do I feel like a snob? Simple. So many of these guys I see have the mag pouches mounted high, and the problem is in fact made worse by the design of the mag pouches, which have a larger foldover flap. This is a smart compromise, because they can be closed relatively easily. I just don’t think they get why they’ve been given the kit they have, and perhaps that the fault of some people who aren’t sharing the knowledge. Normally, even “customizable” kit comes with a pretty strict set of directions about how it will be used. We’re not getting that direction, instead we’re being left to the soldier’s favourite term – “personal preference”. When that preference doesn’t have knowledge to shape it, well, people just go with what they know. I’ve shared mine with some people, but when someone who’s barely handled a rifle in their entire career blows me off, well, what I can I do? I’m not an expert by any means, nor do I have any authority to tell them what to do. Some people just don’t want friendly advice I guess.

There’s a second problem that it seems we (the combat arms types) have to try to break people of. We have had for many years something of an obsession with rifle magazines. We have created a culture so obsessed with retaining those magazines that it leads people to do things in gun fights that are dangerous. Our experts will tell you that when you need to change magazines, you just dump the empty one, get the fresh one loaded, and keep getting rounds downrange. However, we’ve all been taught to make sure that magazine doesn’t get lost, and I don’t really know why. The best explanation I’ve gotten is that they’re prohibited items – to have one other than as a military/law enforcement person at work is illegal. It seems we’re worried that one lost in a training area might wind up in the wrong hands or something. It’s certainly not a cost issue, they’re about $7 each or something like that if you lose one (which I haven’t in a long time).

There is an old, and possibly apocryphal story about a police officer who was killed in the line of duty, in the process of reloading the revolver he was carrying. Someone highlighted that the spent casings from that revolver were found in his pocket – suggesting that during his reload he had fiddled around to get the casings into the pocket because he would have been conditioned to do so on ranges, rather than simply dumping the cases to reload quickly. We’re conditioning people to do the same thing, but it’s getting weeded out I guess. It’s like our need to restructure the way we train people on their service rifles, because combat arms folks rather quickly get told “what you learned on basic is wrong”. Because it is.

What got me thinking about that was a series of events today. This morning I read about a green-on-blue incident involving French soldiers in Kapisa Province, which is near Kabul. Four were killed by an Afghan National Army soldier who was in a unit being mentored by the French Army. That as a headline was awful enough, but then I read the whole story – that 15 French soldiers were wounded in the attack. One lone ANA traitor created 19 casualties. How did that happen? One source explained it: they were unarmed. That I couldn’t believe. The idea of being unarmed at any point there is to me simply ridiculous.

The attack has prompted the French to “reconsider” their role, and suspend operations for now, mainly because of domestic political pressure I’m guessing.

The problem, the concern that I’m developing is that lots of people deploying who perhaps aren’t taking enough opportunity to train on the skills that they hopefully won’t ever need, but should have. I’m going to be surrounded by almost all combat arms types, so we’ll be out honing skills constantly, but I guess I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t do that. I guess it’s just the way that even as a Reservist to think about those skills. There is, also, the fact that I shoot recreationally, and I probably know more about firearms than at least 2/3s of my colleagues. I take the stuff seriously, because it’s my job.

I also was struck by something that happened during the trip to convoy ranges. After drawing our weapons, we were loading up into MSVS trucks to go out to the training area. SOP for us is when you’re loading a vehicle, you unload and clear your weapons. There are of course exceptions, but this wasn’t remotely close to being one. Additionally, when you’re going to a range, weapons handling is particularly important, for reasons I shouldn’t need to explain even to non-soldiers.

So, we’re on the truck. I was last in on the left, and as I tend to, I started looking around. I spotted a loaded rifle in the hands of someone sitting across from me. Incidentally, in our terminology, loaded means that a magazine is mounted on the rifle. Whether it actually contains ammunition or not is not discernable by appearance. There was almost certainly no ammunition present, but that doesn’t matter. It’s still not done. So, I said, “Hey man, what’s with the loaded rifle?” and shot him a bit of a glare.

I didn’t realize he was a Major. But hey, that should have meant he knew better.

His answer? “So, when I catch you doing it, I can use the same tone?”

What tone? I didn’t use a “tone”. I did highlight a significant safety infraction. That’s all.

And you’ll never catch me doing the same thing. Because I’m a pro. And we don’t do stupid things like that.

Or we shouldn’t. I don’t.

It’s not that I have a lack of confidence in our training or my peers. I don’t. I know that they’ll be able to do what they need to do, and that we get some of the best training around. I’ll be interested to get a lot more experience seeing how ours stacks up against our allies while I’m away, but what I’ve seen in limited experience tells me we’re well ahead of most of them.

It’s just that I sometimes wonder if people just brush it off, even when there’s lots of people who’d happily coach them.

Written by Nick

January 20, 2012 at 10:50 pm

A Lot More Traffic!

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Well, today was the busiest day the blog’s ever had, thanks to the link my civilian employer added to its intranet site. I’m working to keep in touch with them while I’m gone, and quite a few people seemed to have an interest in what’s going on, so I wonder how many will keep following along having seen this. Kind of unfortunate that I didn’t have anything too interesting up. I’m going to work on that more. And on adding more pictures, but it’s been difficult to get many good ones during training, because training is of course my priority.

I have to commend our hosts from 2 RCR (mainly India Company, who are largely making up the Rear Party and running all the training for us). They’ve been running some of the most efficient ranges I’ve seen, which is important when you’re trying to get so many people through the process of getting all their qualifications without wasting too much time. They’re faced with an additional challenge in that the Task Force is composed of people from all arms and services, and all different levels of skill. They’ve handled the challenge incredibly well. Today was no exception, although I did start my day off with a fair bit of confusion about where to be and when. We also wound up drawing our rifles from lockup and it was totally unnecessary as we didn’t use them. Oh well. It meant they got a bit more cleaning, and it did give me a chance to experiment a bit with the set up of my SORD rig, which was good. With totally new gear we’re trying out all sorts of different configurations to see what works, and I think once I find spots for my radios I’ll have mine set. The trick, of course, is that I don’t know what radios I’ll be carrying, if any. My job “over there” probably doesn’t require any, but I’m looking beyond just the tour in the hopes that this is the kit we’ll be keeping, because it’s a pretty dramatic improvement over our current load carriage equipment.

In any case, by about 9:30 we had finally figured out what we were doing for the day and got started on training. First off was the grenade range, which starts off by throwing dummy grenades to ensure that everyone’s clear on the drills. That’s actually how all range training starts, with what we call TOETs, but with grenades it seems to be more important. We then jumped into the back of an MSVS (big army truck) for a ride out to Verdun Range. As an aside, all of Gagetown’s ranges are named for World War I battlefields, fittingly enough this fall as they’re all muddy mires. The ranges went pretty quickly until about halfway through the first relay (group of throwers) when we had a dud, tossed by the S3 of my camp. This meant we sat and waited 30 minutes to see what happened before calling EOD (explosive ordnance disposal – combat engineer specialists) to blow it up. As soon as that was done, however, it was back to business, and we were all done not long after noon. Everyone has to throw two grenades to get the IBTS “check”, and that’s generally pretty quick. No one had any issues, although some people get pretty nervous around grenades, “boob nervous” as the Sergeant running the show called it. I’m sure I don’t have to explain the meaning there.

We had lunch in the range shack quickly and jumped on another MSVS to get shuttled to Somme Range, to do some pistol shooting. The Infantry School’s Urban Operations Instructors came out to do some training, which was of great value. Most people in the CF rarely see, never mind shoot pistols, and the reality is that on this tour, if anything happens that will put us into a firefight, it’ll likely be the pistol that we’ll have at hand. It makes me think of an old, classic Steve Earle song called “The Devil’s Right Hand”:

About the time that Daddy left to fight the big war
I saw my first pistol in the general store
In the general store, when I was thirteen
Thought it was the finest thing I ever had seen
So l asked if I could have one someday when I grew up
Mama dropped a dozen eggs, she really blew up
She really blew up and I didn’t understand
Mama said the pistol is the devil’s right hand

The devil’s right hand, the devil’s right hand
Mama said the pistol is the devil’s right hand

My very first pistol was a cap and ball Colt
Shoot as fast as lightnin’ but it loads a mite slow
Loads a mite slow and soon I found out
It can get you into trouble but it can’t get you out
So then I went and bought myself a Colt 45
Called a peacemaker but I never knew why
Never knew why, I didn’t understand
Cause Mama said the pistol is the devil’s right hand

Well I get into a card game in a company town
Caught a miner cheating I shot the dog down
Shot the dog down, watched the man fall
Never touched his holster, never had a chance to draw
The trial was in the morning and they drug me out of bed
Asked me how I pleaded, not guilty I said
Not guilty I said, you’ve got the wrong man
Nothing touched the trigger but the devil’s right hand

We actually had a pretty successful shoot, a lot of people with little or no confidence with the tool were a lot better off. I was talking to one of the instructors, and we both observed how in recent years, we’ve gone to teaching a program called “Gunfighter” which is a more practical shooting program. It basically requires breaking people of bad habits, including most of what they were taught on basic training, because we still essentially teach them “wrong”. The thing we noticesd is that the people who identified themselves as having little or no experience tended to be among the best students because they were blank slates, and with good instruction we can turn almost anyone into a good shot. The biggest challenge I found, being a recreational shooter who uses what I can only describe as more modern pistols generally, is that our 9 millies have controls that are not exactly user-friendly, in particular the safety which is not hard to take off, but hard to get back on – I can’t actually do it with one hand as you should be able to. Many modern pistols don’t have mechanical safeties in the same style, which is my prefererence, but alas, I have to use what I have.

I was happy with my shooting, though, and even though it was raining by the time my relay was up, it was not bad. The only part that wasn’t much fun was the inevitable cleanup, picking up as many of the spent casings as we could in about 20 minutes before we shut down for the day. Back to the MSA to check my rifle in, off to supper (I went with spaghetti and meat sauce, and an excellent turkey soup, with a big salad), and now I’m back in my room, mulling over whether to do laundry now. I think I’ll wait until tomorrow, though, since it’s back to the range and more mud is inevitable. I have an OGrp tomorrow at 7:30 before PT so I think I’ll try to get to bed at a decent hour tonight, I didn’t manage to last night.

I’m also trying to think of what else to pack up in my UAB. I have the Keurig, and I think I’m going to go buy some new books. I figure I will have a fair bit of time off work with not a lot to do, and there has to be better things to do than play video games, and I can only spend so much time in the gym… frankly I’m not a gym junkie and while that might change, I have to have more to my plans than that. I might even look at more schooling by correspondence. I have a litany of these sorts of ridiculous ideas running through my head, actually, but for now they’re not gelling into anything so I just keep pondering. I think I’ll head to Costco on the weekend and stock up on some snack and treat items to send over, things to break the potential monotony of DFAC food and so on.

That’s my Monday. Lots of fun. Tomorrow we’re off to the rocket range, mainly to watch people shoot M72s, a light, 66mm anti-tank rocket. They’ve been “going out of the system” for years, but apparently in Afghanistan they were found to be quite useful, and so they’re still around. There’s only a small number available, and I’m pretty sure I’ll just be taking pictures. Wednesday we’re off to do jungle lanes, a fire-and-movement range, which should be a lot of fun, and rather practical. Thursday we have grenades on the schedule, but that’s rather pointless since we’re done, so we’ll be finding something else to do – language training or possibly some other IBTS training. Friday is “professional development” of some sort, whatever that means, and then back again to Halifax.  Two weeks until we cease training for Christmas and New Years, and I get to spend some quality time at home.

Written by Nick

November 28, 2011 at 7:12 pm

Kicking Off Week Three

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Last week ended alright – got some tear gas, got my rifle qualification done, and did a rather boring machine gun familiarization shoot which culminated in standing outside freezing waiting for a ride back to camp before I headed back to Halifax for a weekend that was quite enjoyable. Joy had been shopping for a lot of “home decor” stuff, and my friend Logan and I were set to work getting it all put up, which went well. It was slightly comical, as well. We tried to hang a mirror and couldn’t get it level despite using a laser level. It was only after drilling a few holes we realized that the problem was that the hanger points on the mirror itself weren’t level.

I also bought a Keurig K-Cup coffee machine to take with us. Our TAV folks told us our camp has terrible coffee so a few of us decided to bring our own kit for it. It’s going over in one of my MOBs.

This morning we again had some fantastic weather to start off the day. I started off the day with a little PT and headed over to sign out my rifle, which turned out to be a little bit pointless. Today’s range was a familiarization with the Canadian Forces’ Gunfighter program, a combat shooting program including a lot of close quarter and instinctive shooting. It’s a good program, the problem with it is that it’s a lot of stuff we should teach new soldiers from the outset rather than having to force people to “unlearn” all the bad habits they were taught. It was a 150 round shoot, nothing too exciting really, but a good bit of practice, since all shooting is good shooting. Anyhow, drawing my own rifle was pointless because the range had rifles set up with special slings and iron sights and we didn’t use our own. It did give me a chance to clean it a little, which it desperately needed. I have never signed for such a filthy rifle, most CQ’s I’ve seen would never have accepted it back into lockup in the condition it was in when I first brought it out.

We were done on the range around 2pm, so we headed back to Battalion, where I drew my SORD Modular Fighting Rig. For a while now, the CF has accepted that the Tactical Vest which came into service a few years ago was not adequate to meet the needs of soldiers deployed in places like Afghanistan, and they’ve been trialing several replacements. As I understand it, we’re the first group to trial this particular option formally, though it’s been a popular choice for soldiers as an off-the-shelf purchase, one that is evidently begrudgingly tolerated by the powers that be. We’re also getting some other new Gucci items we haven’t seen yet.

After dropping my rifle off I headed next to Clothing Stores to get fitted for a flak vest (body armour) and a new rucksack, and then to draw my new kit. Dragging two MOB boxes behind me I left with virtually everything I’ll need for overseas. In fact, that only things I’m missing are items that won’t be issued until I get there. It’s a lot of stuff.

All the stuff...

That was my day. I was planning to do all the kit issue stuff tomorrow, thinking I wouldn’t have the chance today, but now I’m a day ahead, which is good, because I think I’ll have a chance tomorrow to get some other personal administration stuff done, things like getting new orthotics, getting a haircut (which I desperately need), and going to figure out from the clerks why I haven’t been paid. I’m also going to take a fair bit of my stuff over to clothing stores to exchange – anything old, worn, damaged, obsolete – and there’s a fair bit of that kind of thing that I have here. I’m also going to get at least one MOB ready to close up to be delivered to the traffic techs to get shipped off.

We don’t really have anything else on the schedule until Friday, a BFT and BBQ – but there’s lots that will come up I’m sure.

Written by Nick

November 21, 2011 at 7:13 pm