Afghanistan-A-Go-Go

A Reservist's Tale Of A Tour

Posts Tagged ‘family

You Would Think It Would Be Easy, Wouldn’t You?

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Someone once quipped, “You never will see a motorcycle parked in front of a psychiatrist’s office”, and I have often through they’re right. There’s something I have always found about being on a bike that is deeply therapeutic, and other than yoga, it’s my go-to stress reliever to just jump on and ride. I don’t generally have a destination in mind, I usually just wander wherever, usually just the beautiful backroads of Nova Scotia, or along the coast. I tend to stop a fair bit to take photographs, to take in the scenery, and so on.

I put 4,000 km on my bike starting the day I got home until I finally put it into storage last weekend. That is rather telling. I was out just about every single day.

I returned home and had an interview the very next day for a posting with my civilian job that I thought went well but which wound up teaching me a valuable lesson: when they ask at the end of the interview if you have any questions, there’s one you should ask: “Is there anything I haven’t covered? Anything that leaves you doubting I am a fit for this role?” Asking that might have given me a positive outcome, because (and I’m not trying to blame being jet lagged) I didn’t give enough depth on one aspect of the position which wound up making me not the strongest candidate.

I got the call after a couple of weeks of anxious anticipation. I was out on my bike at the time, I had just stopped in the village of Sheet Harbour, Nova Scotia to fill up with gasoline, and was just finishing kicking myself for using a full serve pump and adding a trivial amount of extra cost to my fuel bill when I realized my phone (which I had only just gotten after a bit of a production over backorders and such) was buzzing. It was a great call, actually – I don’t think I have honestly ever gotten such great, candid feedback on an interview. In fact, most of the time, when you’re not the chosen candidate you just don’t hear anything. I guess I was a little excited when I answered the phone expecting it had to be positive.

But I had the bike. At least I had that. And a whole day to ride. It really is therapeutic. I probably actually could have taken the extra couple of hours I needed to finish the Marine Drive, one of Nova Scotia’s scenic routes, but I lingered too long over lunch in Sherbrooke and didn’t think I could make the last stretch of the route.

As you might expect, I had a few COAs (that’s “Courses Of Action” in army shorthand) with respect to returning to work. So COA 1 was out the window. COA 2 soon followed for reasons I’m not going to rant about here, because, well, I’m just not. We often joke that in training, we are supposed to develop three COAs during the estimate (planning process). Usually COA 3 is the “throwaway COA”, the plan that’s so ridiculous you only write it up in minimal detail because you know you’re not going to need it, and in all probability, it will never actually work anyhow. My last Company Commander, an extremely smart and knowledgeable officer, however, would always force us to really work through three COAs, and if you came to him when he assigned us “homework” with a true throwaway, he’d send you back to the proverbial drawing board.

My COA 3 was to return to the position I held previously. It wasn’t totally a throwaway, but one thing I realized being away is what I have what you might call a “passion” for – that is, what really interests, excites, gets me motivated and draws out the best work I can do. In fact, I knew this already, to a certain degree, from what I’d done being a normal Class A Reservist. I love training – I like teaching, I like taking material, turning it into lessons, lectures, exercises, and conveying the knowledge to others. I spent almost eight months in Afghanistan doing that most of the time – and it turns out that not only do I love it, I am apparently rather good at it. Going back to my old “day job” doesn’t harness that passion. That’s why I was looking for something else and why COA 1 was what I was really hoping for.

I had no idea how hard it’d be to try to get motivated to go back to that job I had, I really didn’t. I took a little time off but realized I had to get back as soon as possible because it’s a job that requires a long lead time for business to close, and without that, I don’t make any money. Worst still, to get things in order to get going has taken far longer than I expected. I had indicated a date I wanted to be back at it (assuming I had no other option), and it did not even come close to happening.

So, let’s recap. I came home with a plan for the road trip of a lifetime which was scuttled by Hurricane Sandy (there was no way I could get around the storm by the time my earliest possible leave date arrived), and had my career next steps not pan out the way I wanted to. And for all the excitement about coming home especially given how slow my last few weeks in theatre were, I cannot stop thinking about how much I want to go back. Suddenly that whole decompression thing makes a lot more sense. Reintegrating is not, in fact, anything like what I thought. You don’t just come back and suddenly everything makes sense, and in fact, for a Reservist, I’d argue it’s potentially even harder. Our Regular Force brethren come home, go on leave, and know when they’re going back to work and what’s going on. That isn’t to say they don’t have some upheaval, because many get new postings while they’re deployed and some have to move on short notice. One person on my chalk was hoping to get back to Canada in time for the birth of a child (I think his first) which was happening any day, after having moved his family to a new home because of a posting with immediate effect. For us, though, a lot of us come back to complete uncertainty, despite whatever steps we can take to mitigate it. It’s something I’m working through, but it isn’t anywhere near as easy as I thought it was going to be.

However, things do have a way of working out. Turns out today there was a job posting internally for another position much like the “dream job” I mentioned. So I’ve applied to that. That is giving me some lift. I’ve got my UAB back now, and I’ve packed up my desert kit to be returned so as to close that chapter. I wish I had a video of trying to jam them into my VW Tiguan, which, despite being an “SUV” doesn’t have a whole lot of space, and was already full of assorted motorcycle paraphernalia. It would be a video best run at fast forward with “Yakety Sax” playing until I got them in. I’ve finally moved some of my kit into the storage locker I keep it in after letting it explode in my dining room too long. These are small victories in a way. But they’re something.

I don’t know if I’ll add to this blog again after this post, I think it too needs to be ended as a chapter in an ongoing story, a way of moving forward. I think this might be where this story should end.

Written by Nick

December 5, 2012 at 9:36 pm

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

Four Feet Of F*** All

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I decided not to use the full word in the title here, I’m not sure why because while I’m pretty good about moderating my idioms (doesn’t that sound smarter?), sometimes the slip out. It’s sort of the nature of the beast, I guess. The title is written on the “current operations” board in our S3 (Operations) shop, I think it’s a naval term as it’s a US Navy guy who put it there. He just started his journey home, as did our S2 (Intelligence)/Movement Operations/Public Affairs/Signals/IT officer, who also in response to a sexist comment by me about sandwiches and her being the only female here, made me an absolutely wonderful sandwich with a nice note. She played along with my sense of humour, and did a fantastic job here on everything. It was particularly cool because she’s a US Navy Surface Warfare Officer, someone who’s normally on a warship, and she volunteered to come here, learned the language, got stuck right into the culture, and lamented on Facebook as she was leaving about leaving a city she has grown to love. She certainly spent a lot of time exploring it on convoys, and her efforts to build relationship with the locals were amazing. She’ll be missed.

That’s the way things are going here, though – the cast is dwindling, and it’s a bit sad as voices your used to hearing in the office gradually go silent. There’s no one new coming, we’re all headed out of here over the next few months.

A few days into Ramazan things are very quiet for the most part. We had a brief period where we couldn’t go down to see our ANA partners so things really slowed down. They did run a very successful course with a substantially larger number of students than normal, though it was a bit hectic for me. When we first got here, we had the tailors make us some “Catherder” morale patches, and I felt like replacing my unit patch with it for a while, to see if anyone noticed, and because it was apt. It took literally the entire staff here to manage getting the students on to camp for lunch and then back off, but it seems my diplomacy skills both with them and with our security people (who are generally a great bunch of people) helped.

Normally the students are from the Kabul area so we didn’t think there’d be much demand for them to stay at the school while they were on course, but a few of them came from further afield – one from Kunduz, one from Mazar-e Sharif, one from Baghlan, and one from Parwan. We had arranged transient accommodation inside our camp for them, but then learned that having an ANA escort for them wasn’t enough – we had to have a coalition person escort them everywhere and monitor them even overnight. So I put my diplomacy skills to work to persuade them to sleep on the ANA side, and with blankets and pillows they eventually agreed to do so. And were actually happier to do it since it meant they could go up the road in the morning to get naan and so on.

I did have to bring them to supper each night, but it was an interesting experience, and my basic Dari (aided by a little dictionary I picked up at Camp Phoenix before I went to Germany) and their rudimentary English went a long way. Generally conversations with Afghans revolve around where you are from, your family, and what you think of Afghanistan. They can conceive of Canada as a country far away somewhere but really that’s all they know. They tend to think it’s some part of America (which I guess, in the sense of North America, is true). They are eager to know where in Afghanistan you’ve been what you think of the place. My universal response is listing off some of the places I’ve gone and I always tell them that I am eager to return some day as a tourist, to actually see the rest of the country – hell, I’d like to just be able to explore more of Kabul, other than through the windows of a vehicle.

They’ll always ask if I’m married, and I learned that the concept of a wedding ring doesn’t make sense to them (in fact, they’ll often ask what the ring is), and of course, how many sons I have. Being married for as long as I have been and not having kids isn’t an acceptable answer particularly, so I’ve learned to a) understate how long I’ve been married and b) dodge the question with one of the great catch-all phrases in Islamic cultures – mashallah. It basically means “God’s will be done” – more specifically, it can mean “because that’s the way it is.” Very useful. Similarly, just about any commitment can be ducked with “inshallah” – “if God wills it”. It’s the best “maybe” ever.

Walking back to the gate one night, one of the students said, “You should come to Kunduz to visit it. You will stay with my family in my home, and I will show you my part of this country.” These offers are common. And they’re actually quite serious. In fact, we were all invited to one of the ANA instructors’ homes for dinner one night. When we said we regrettably weren’t allowed to go, he lamented that it was too bad, but he understood. He then pointed out that the Russians did that all the time and didn’t see why were so cautious. The reality is, most of us would love to accept such hospitality, but we are barred from levels well above us.

I was pretty happy that the course feedback was good, though the ANA wanted us to help them with the practical exercises which we use on coalition courses so they can adapt them. The school director in our last meeting jokingly said “You’re lucky it’s Ramazan and I’m obligated to be well-behaved, because otherwise I might want to fight you” over not running this training previously, which we had talked about. I realized he was clearly joking so I didn’t get wound up over it. I explained that while we were happy to help, they needed to plan the training and we’d help make it happen, so all was well. We did hash out a plan to run some advanced training for their instructors before I go on leave, which started today. Basically, our products are modularized in three levels – Mod 1 and 2 are the basis of all ANSF training, and realistically, almost all coalition/NATO training. Mod 3 is fairly advanced set of classes which the ANSF aren’t ever going to need to teach, however, it seemed that there would be some value in giving them exposure to the concepts so they could improve their depth of knowledge. It’s good to be able to do that to deal with what we call “sharpshooters”, people who ask more difficult, on-the-spot questions requiring more knowledge. We know that the ANSF know the lectures they teach inside-out but rarely go beyond that.

This morning I met them at the gate and brought them in to the office while we set up, and as usual you have to go through the barrage of questions, how are you, how’s your family, how’s your health, how is work, how are your spirits, etc. I say “barrage”, but don’t get the idea that it’s in any way inconvenient or unpleasant. It’s how Afghans are, and it’s part of any meeting. In fact, it’ll probably rub off on me quite a bit, just as the custom of placing my right hand over my heart after saying hello to people is now something of a reflex we do even amongst the coalition folks here. We set up the lecture and I started to teach. Normally, I keep either a coffee cup or a bottle of water close by, but as it’s Ramazan, I decided not to. I was mainly worried about my interpreter, Faisal, because I was making him talk a lot. He was fine however. Halfway though the class, the senior instructor says, “why don’t you have some water?” I replied, “It’s Ramazan, I’m not going to drink in front of you!” They all laughed. “We know you’re not fasting, just us. We won’t be offended.” All I could say was, “Well, I may be an infidel, but I respect the custom and I will not do that. I appreciate your consideration, though.” This elicited more laughter, but aptly tied in to a concept I was in the middle of teaching, about how to get to understand and win the trust and respect of people. It worked brilliantly.

For now, I’m basically counting down the days until I go on leave, as it’ll be very quiet here for the next little while. I’ve got pretty much everything I need – some more camera accessories came the other day and I’ve been playing with them all and learning how to take better pictures. I did find out that I paid way too much for my camera (damn you, AAFES!), but realistically, the better deals I found couldn’t reasonably have been accessible – the vendors don’t ship to APO addresses or to Canada. So I can’t really whinge. I also got a nice huge box from Mountain Equipment Co-op – a backpack, clothes, and shoes – all stuff I’ll need for the trip that I didn’t have with me. I had to get one pair of pants hemmed here, for $4. It wasn’t the best job, but I don’t really care that much I guess.

I’ve also been patronizing the tailor here a bit – I’ve bought a new suit, a couple of sports jackets, and a tuxedo, all for ridiculously good prices, and the quality is pretty excellent. I think I will likely get myself a couple more suits before I go home, but it’s funny seeing how much some people are spending there. I was looking at carpets and jewelry as well. My colleague got himself a triple loop and other jewelers’ tools to evaluate the stones on offer and has decided they’re not worth much though. I do want some lapis lazuli though, it’s beautiful.

I got a massive care package (well, four of them) today from an organization back in Canada which has been awesome to me, it actually came in yesterday but I wasn’t around to collect it. The Canadians across the street saw the contents list and openly mused about simply “forgetting” to tell me about them and just helping themselves, but one of our drivers thwarted them. I did share the spoils though, I have enough junk food to last a while, and some school supplies and trinkets to hand out when we see kids around – which doesn’t happen as much now as it had previously – but we’re looking to find a school to take them, or the local nationals who work here as they all have children.

When I return from leave, there will be very little left to do other than the transition to Afghans – after that, I’ll still have quite a bit of time left here, and I don’t really know what I’ll wind up doing. One of the Canadians here has already been moved to another job, one more is likely to be moved shortly, and our leadership is actively seeking new jobs for us as we work ourselves out of where we are. I have no doubt that something will be found for me to round out my time. I have an idea of when I’m going home too, the first draft of our RIP (relief in place) plan is done, and I don’t think my position will change in it. I do think I’ll be in for a new job though before I leave – hopefully something interesting. I don’t want to have to move camps especially, but these things happen.

For now, I’ll just stay flexible, and see what I can do to help make our transition a success. Boredom is a real enemy, so I’m trying to find ways to fight it – to stay motivated. We’re working on studying for the LSAT as my colleague and I are both musing about going to law school and as such will need to sit the admissions test in December. That’s helping keep the boredom at bay when there aren’t things going on. We’re also working on cleaning up the office, packing up things we don’t need, and that sort of thing.

Written by Nick

July 25, 2012 at 12:01 pm

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

A Quick, Shameless Plug For A Good Cause

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My small cadre of fans, I have a favour to ask.

When I first joined the army, I lived in Peterborough, Ontario, and was a member of the Hastings & Prince Edward Regiment. The Hasty Ps, especially in Peterborough, were like big family, and over the years, that sense of family was tested and proven many times.

Also from Peterborough was a young boy named James Birrell, who suffered from a horrible brain cancer called neuroblastoma. James, in his very short life, touched a lot of lives. Including the Hasty Ps. It turns out that one of our soldiers rented a room in a house that belonged to James’ aunt (if I remember right), and from hearing the stories, a little inspiration was born. James loved green trains, you see. What looks a little like a green train? A bunch of soldiers on a ruck march. So some of the troops got an idea to do a ruck march through town to keep awareness of the James Fund (the charity created in his name) alive, to encourage physical fitness, to just do something good together.

I did a few of the Green Train Marches before moving on. It disappeared for a couple of years but has since restarted. It actually happened yesterday. I, being Over Here, couldn’t be a part, but I’ve decided to support them a bit, but more importantly, here’s what I’m asking of you.

1. Go to http://www.jamesfund.com and read a bit about James and his story, and be inspired by how brave kids can be.

2. Go to http://my.sickkidsdonations.com/personalPage.aspx?registrationID=1372041 and make a donation. Any donation. The fund is administered by Toronto’s outstanding Hospital For Sick Children. You get a tax receipt, and research goes on. Everyone feels good.

Seriously, go. Do it. I’ve gotten all sorts of offers from people to send care packages and such things here, but honestly, I don’t need anything. What I’d much rather those people who have that sense of generosity do is something like this.

Thanks!

“Ya can’t let cancer ruin your day.” Well said, kid.

Written by Nick

April 15, 2012 at 12:44 am

Mail Call

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I returned from a little trip to discover a huge amount of mail waiting for me – two unexpected boxes.

One came from the Halifax MFRC, a box with some Easter Candy and some other goodies, and a couple of cards from school kids in Nova Scotia, so I’m going to have to send a letter back to their school at some point soon. I almost wish I had a photo printer, but what I think I’ll do is add some pictures to flickr and send them a link to see them. Or something like that. They apparently send along a box every season, which is great. It had some copies of The Coast and some other stuff. They also apparently had Tourism Nova Scotia send another copy of the NS travel guide, because I got one already and had another arrive. It’s just nice to see pictures of home. And maybe entice some of my colleagues to plan a trip there.

I got an expected box from my folks with some beef jerky and some Mexican candy (Pulparindo – whoever combined tamarind and chili is a genius) that they get down in Arizona for me – and also a Toblerone that I’ve hidden away for a “rainy day”. I also got a package from my lovely wife including some awesome fudge and some other things I asked for from home. It actually arrived in pretty good time, though the box of pashminas and other goodies I sent here hasn’t made it there yet. I’m still also waiting on my Keurig replacement, which as of last week was in Kuwait or something, but who knows when it’ll turn up. It’s just going to go back into my MOB because we have a functioning machine.

The funniest package, however, came from a friend of mine who’s a brother officer and my most common partner in crime before he moved to Ottawa. On packages, you have to list on the outside what is in the box, and his list was hilarious.

In the CF, for some reason, we choose a bizarre way of labeling/describing items. For example, the tunic/shirt I usually wear is officially known as “Converged Coat, Combat, CADPAT AR.” On my feet, I wear “Boots, Hot Weather”. We stretch these descriptions to ridiculous ends at times. Things like “Pencil, Mechanical, 0.5mm, High Speed Low Drag Type”. To these descriptions on our EIS (Equipment Issue Scale) the number you get is added. So it’s “Converged Coat, Combat, CADPAT AR, 4 each”.

So, among the items listed were “Coffee, freeze dried, hipster, 16 ea.”, “Mix, drink, sports, assorted, 20 ea.” and “Book, Reference, 1 ea.”. Maybe it’s not so funny to the average flat-faced civvie, but it got a good chuckle from everyone here. He also sent along some spices I’ll need to figure out good uses for, but if I don’t they’ll serve me well at home anyhow.

The funny thing is I’ve gotten so many offers for getting things sent over, but in reality, there’s not much I really need – we have so much of almost everything available, and I’m pretty comfortably situated to get anything else. If the shops here don’t have something, I can just ask and they’ll find it. Even that’s not a big issue. I have an allowance for myself of spending money (based on what I have to keep here) and I don’t get anywhere near it normally.

Written by Nick

April 7, 2012 at 2:38 am

The Food… The Food!

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Our regular meals are provided for us by the DFAC – the local term for what Canadians often call the BARFF or just the mess. Most here are 24/7, at my particular camp they’re only open on set hours, but there’s not a big problem with getting access. Each meal time is about 2 hours long.

Last night, however, we had a little ceremony to welcome new arrivals (myself included) and wish farewell to those headed home. For those of you who laugh at how many medals and ribbons Americans sport, you’d have found it priceless. Almost everyone got some bling, including a Bronze Star. Following that we headed to the Afghan Restaurant here for dinner. What a feed. I think I’ll be going there with some regularity.

Dinner started with Bolani, a sort of stuffed flatbread that is sometimes referred to as “Afghan Pizza”, as well as naan/footbread and a spicy chutney. My dinner was qabili palauw, a sort of rice pilaf with carrots and raisins, which was excellent. It came served with some grilled beef as well. Following that, out came the mandatory chai, and much conversation followed, getting to know everyone, discussing leave plans, what people leaving are doing when they get home, etc. It reinforced the sort of family atmosphere that is part of making things work here.

Needless to say, I staggered back to my shacks absolutely stuffed.

Written by Nick

February 29, 2012 at 8:18 am

Things On My Mind Before I Go

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The day is getting so close now that I’m trying to review in my head all the things I need to get done, and it’s complicated. I wanted to get my tax return sorted out for the year before I left, and I managed to do that last night. I made a typo in my tax software that made me think I was getting back a pretty sizable return, but when I was going over everything I discovered the mistake. It turns out I owe this year – though nothing overwhelming. One of the tricks being a Reservist is that I have to try to get it so that the tax withheld on my army pay is enough to actually cover what I owe. I’ve gotten better at this over time, but it’s not perfect. I think I’ll just use a small RRSP loan to cover off the balance, and pay it off when I get over there, which shouldn’t be an issue.

I have the option to defer filing until after my tour, but I’m not going to do that for one simple reason: the nature of my civilian job is such that it’s much easier to file electronically, rather than assemble a massive tax package – being paid by commissions means you have a lot of deductions to submit receipts etc for. If I defer, I’ll miss the window on NetFile, and that’s more hassle than it’s worth. I have almost  everything I need now anyhow – just waiting on one last T4 slip to make sure I have all the numbers right, and I’m good to go.

The family dynamic is what’s really interesting, challenging. I have been in the army 11 years, all of them as a reservist. That means I’ve been away from home a fair bit, but usually in very short spurts – a weekend here, a week there, the odd longer stint doing courses and so on. The longest so far was about 14 weeks while I was on one my officer training courses at the Infantry School. Being three hours from my parents and able to talk to my wife whenever I felt like it more or less made that pretty simple. When I went back in January, I wasn’t home for three weeks, and that’s a first in a while, since 2008 actually. In the first stage of workup I was home every weekend as it’s a relatively short drive and I could always find someone to bring me here.

That seems like forever ago, incidentally – this whole process seems like it has been a whole lot longer than it actually has.

This is going to be different, and it won’t be easy I suspect. From when I leave to get on the plane in a few days, it’ll be something like seven months before I see my wife again, when we meet during my leave. That actually makes me think my dates might have to change, since they don’t match up with our projected RIP dates – must look into that… We haven’t yet decided where we’re going, we’ve discussed Greece, Turkey, the Czech Republic (and a Eurail Pass), Morocco (well, I have), Russia, so many ideas. I’ll see her for a couple of weeks, and then head back for the last little stretch beforee it’s time to come home.

There’s an interesting effect though, I’ve noticed. Being home actually creates disruption for now – she’s so used to the idea of me being gone that my being here disrupts the routines, the structures she’s gotten in place to be ready for the next little while. It’s not just me that’s got a lot to contend with – in fact, it’s families that do a lot more. I’ve always admired military families, I’ve always heard from senior leaders how important they are to the team’s effort, how vital they are to the CF being able to do anything, but it’s going from abstraction to reality.

They don’t do it alone, fortunately.

Unlike the last time I had my name in for a tour, we have something of a luxury in that we live in a military town. Halifax is the home port of the Royal Canadian Navy’s Atlantic Fleet, so there’s lots of people in uniform here, and a great Military Family Resource Centre, which provides all sorts of services to our families. My wife was out to a briefing on how everything works, everything from why you always answer the phone when call display comes up “Government of Canada” (bad news is never delivered by phone), to what actually does happen in the event of casualties. I remember during my infantry officer course that it was important to include in your plan and your orders what the medevac plan is, how you’ll deal with casualties, because those you lead need to know that there is a plan. So they got the same briefing we did, what the medical resources are there, what happens when the worst happens, and all that.

One of my peers – actually two of them – also took it upon themselves to make sure that my wife has people to call if she needs anything. We refer to the Army as being family, and it really is. We look out for each other, we look out for everyone’s family. It’s not something they have to tell us to do, it just happens. I’m glad to know that is the case. I know that if I’m not around and something does happen she’s got people to call on. That said, the marvels of modern technology mean that I’m going to be able to stay in touch pretty well – I don’t think we’ll be that out of touch. Between Skype, Facebook, satellite phones, my biggest worry is having something to talk about most of the time.

This is going to lead right into what I wanted to talk about. I hear so many people going on about “supporting the troops”. It’s become a political statement in some cases, a means of separating one group from another in debates, all sorts of things. I see all sorts of people with those little yellow ribbon stickers on cars, or making the statements, or whatever. But what does that actually mean? So you bought a ribbon from Wal-Mart and stuck it on your car. You’re supporting the business that makes them, in most case, but does that actually do anything for soldiers? Probably not. So, if you want to really “support the troops” more than making an increasingly empty statement, I’ve got some suggestions. I added some links to organizations you can donate to that make tangible efforts to improve the lives of military families and soldiers. I’m going to keep adding other organizations that do good in the world that hopefully will help us build a world where eventually soldiers are almost unnecessary. Our boss on this tour has charged us with the responsibility to work ourselves out of a job – if only to be handed another one – but imagine if that was what could be done for our communities on a grand scale?

I don’t want to sound ranty, but it’s important stuff. Canada’s elite Joint Task Force 2 has a motto that encapsulates it well: Facta non verba. Deeds, not words. Actions, not stickers. There’s nothing wrong with those stickers, by the way, if you buy them from an organization like CFPSA, where the proceeds go directly to programs for soldiers and their families. If I can impress anything upon anyone reading this though, it’s just go do something. Someone asked what she could do to support me, and I just said go do something that makes her community better. You can donate to organizations that do good work, but if that’s not something you can do, time is often as valuable, or more so. One of the things the unit I used to belong to did every year was help pack Christmas hampers for the local Salvation Army. All the donated money in the world doesn’t do that manual labour required, but we went out, worked hard for a few hours, and contributed to a lot of people in our community having a more enjoyable holiday. I got more of a sense of personal satisfaction out of that few hours of work than I have ever gotten from getting any gifts or anything else.

It’s something I have to get better at myself, even. It’s something I don’t think I can ever let myself think I’ve done well enough. In fact, it’s something I’m going to try to focus more on when I get home. If I’ve taken away anything from my friends who’ve deployed before me, it’s that you come back with a renewed appreciation for just how good things are here – how lucky we were to have been born in (or ended up in) a country like Canada. But it is the way it is because people put in effort to make it this way, and often it’s selfless effort, with no hope or thought of reward or personal gain. Everyone can do better, so if you want to do something to support me or anyone else in uniform, I’ve just told you a myriad of ways. Deeds. Not Words.

Written by Nick

February 11, 2012 at 12:49 pm