Afghanistan-A-Go-Go

A Reservist's Tale Of A Tour

Posts Tagged ‘grinding

Happy Pachino Day

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Today is Pachino Day, the 69th anniversary of the invasion of Sicily. The first Canadian Army unit I joined, as well as The Royal Canadian Regiment I’m deployed with now, were both involved in Operation HUSKY. Without getting into a pedantic history lesson, The D-Day Dodgers as they were known were the first force to really start making inroads into Hitler’s Europe, a year before the D-Day Normandy Landings.

It is customarily celebrated with a feed of spaghetti and the cheapest, most vile Italian red wine that can be found. We had the pasta, no luck on the wine tonight though as usual.

Otherwise there’s not a whole lot of exciting things to write about right now. Relations with our ANA partners have improved greatly, after a tense meeting we’ve gotten back more or less to normal, and they’re getting ready to run their next course which will be the last one we support them directly for – so that’s been most of my workload, making sure they have the stuff they need for the course, arranging facilities and so on, and trying to figure out how to get them prepared to take over everything.

I also spent most of the last week with the dreaded “gastro” –  some awful stomach bug that basically laid me out flat for a few miserable days, but it’s moved along. A couple of us got it after a trip to one of the local restaurants. Unfortunate. But over now, and hopefully that’ll be my only such experience. It happens to pretty much everyone at some point, so I can’t get too worked up over it. Being up all night came in handy when I got some Facebook messages from my former roommate (turned next door neighbour) at 4am who missed his flight back into theatre from leave, having dropped his passport in the airport and being denied borrowing. I managed to make some phone calls to help him sort himself out. Silver linings or something like that. He’s actually the second person who I had to bail out of a jam with their leave – friend of mine from my home unit left town without his visa for his destination, a bunch of calls and text messages finally got someone able to email a scan of it to him, and that was enough to get him on his way.

As I said, not all that much to say, really – life ticks on, there’s plenty of stuff I’d love to bitch and moan about, but this just ain’t the place to do that – and even then, they’re all pretty petty, minor things anyhow. Life’s pretty alright overall.

Written by Nick

July 10, 2012 at 11:29 am

Hitting The Wall

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I’ve done my best, through some 85 posts or so, to tell a good story, and an accurate story. I’ve tried not to sound too cynical on days I do, but likewise, not to sound like I’m just churning out some feel-good propaganda either. I’d like to think I’ve kept a pretty good balance – because what matters more than anything else is telling the truth. And it’s not always rosy.

As is clear, and I’ve written about before, we’re not going to be staying here forever. There has to be a transition plan to hand over responsibility both for security and for the operations of the Afghan National Security Forces to the Afghans, and when NTM-A got going, there was a complex set of criteria established to measure their capabilities and establish milestones at which point advisory support could be withdrawn. Those have changed because of a lot of forces (a change in direction on how to do it – starting with sharp drawdowns of coalition advisors first, so that critical fracture points can be seen early and addressed for example), but in concept they’re good.

I’ve seen a lot of good acknowledgements from ISAF (which is why I’ll include them) that some things could have/should have been done better – there was so much early emphasis on churning out ANA triggerpullers (i.e. infantry soldiers who could be posted into kandaks and immediately deployed to restive areas in the south) that developing all the Combat Service Support structures for them was neglected, so the ANSF has a minimally functioning logistics system that is now being addressed. A good argument could be made that in hindsight, we should have built those structures first, and then started churning out combat arms soldiers.

We shifted out mindset from “Afghan Good Enough”, which could sound dismissive to “Afghan Right”, a term which better represents what we want to accomplish. What “Afghan Right” means is something that works for them. The structures, systems, processes that work for western militaries won’t work here (and working in a multinational environment we quickly learn that even amongst out NATO allies, there’s a number of different ways to do things we have had to learn and adapt to), but what we have sought to do is provide some ideas that our ANSF partners can use to develop their own systems. It’s made complicated by cultural issues – both remnants of a Soviet trained and organized military and Afghan culture in general, so we only try to offer ideas and then work to build the linkages they need to make the systems work.

Let me give you an example of what I mean. In the military, what’s called “the 4 shop” looks after logistics/supply issues. There are various letters that go with the numbers to denote all the staff positions, which I explain a little in the glossary. So, let’s make this simple: at the school where I advise, the S4 is the officer who deals with logistics and supply. He’s been having a hard time trying to get parts and maintenance for the vehicles that the ANA own on their Tashkil (basically the Table of Organization & Equipment), because when he sends the requests to the G4 (the next higher headquarters, the branch that “owns” them), they go nowhere. So, we look for where things break down by getting a copy of the paperwork and sent it to the advisors all up the chain to try to figure out where the breakdown is and to fix the linkages.

As we barrel toward our transition (the date of which has changed repeatedly, always getting closer), we’ve shifted from dealing with the training end of the business and more toward making sure that the school is functional. It’s kind of a complex situation now, because they’re sort of orphans – we’ve moved them from a coalition camp to an ANA compound down the road. They’re only there while their more permanent home is constructed as part of the Afghan National Defence University located just west of Kabul in Qargha. For now, it seems, no one really wants to support them.

There’s also some bizarre personal dynamics in play, and I can’t really get into them in any detail, save to say that we sometimes work uphill against people who aren’t so much interested in our mission as in other motivators. It’s because of this I titled the post “Hitting The Wall”.

Since I got back from Germany, I’ve been trying to find a way to get more busy with mentoring, which has become a little easier based on the fact that a few of our team have gone on leave and we’re juggling tasks around. I went to a cordial meeting with the school staff to learn about some of the issues they’ve been having to try and help sort them out, and they went well. The other day, I set off with the Chief of Training, another mentor, and one of our instructors who is also trying to get more involved in mentoring for a meeting to discuss what the ANA have on the go for their training events. When we all worked in the same place they’d give us copies of their schedules, and we would accompany them to some of the training sites to monitor the training and help develop their instructors. Since their move we haven’t gotten as much information on this – mainly because there’s less casual interaction.

So our meeting started off as usually, friendly, casual, and we got some info on some upcoming events, and discussed some more professional development we could run for ANA instructors, based on what we had done when I first arrived, having ANA teach classes to each other and then doing a feedback session afterward to help them learn from each other. All seemed well, until we went to leave and a huge group from their higher headquarters arrived and started asking us about what we’d accomplished, why there was such a small training staff, etc, etc… it was not a comfortable experience and we bailed as fast as we could.

So we’re left basically in a position where we have to pass this on to higher levels of authority to try and sort it out. The instructors we work with – who still have passed to come onto our camp and do so frequently to eat at our DFAC (which, according to a blogger at the New York Times, is the worst dining facility in Kabul, and we agree!) – still are friendly and we want to make sure they’re set for some measure of success, but we’ve gotten to a point where what was a pretty good relationship on the staff side is no longer so cordial. The driver seems to be that they want more “stuff” from us – carpets, furniture, computers, whatever – without realizing that we’ve equipped them with everything we have to give them, and the rest is supposed to come from the ANA supply system, with which we’re happy to help… it’s just gotten that petty.

For now, we’re feeling a little useless while we try to sort this situation out – Ramadan is coming as well when a lot of things will slow down (though I’ll be on leave for a large part of it), and there’s yet again pressure to move our end date to the left despite there being so much more we could do (both here, and with our regional teams which are basically being closed out when Ramadan starts), so the feeling of being unable to accomplish a lot is doubly frustrating with this recent turn of events.

Written by Nick

June 25, 2012 at 2:02 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.

 

Long Day

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I can’t shake the cold, it’s driving me nuts. Hopefully getting home this weekend to start Christmas leave and sleep in my own bed will help.

Today dragged on forever, because my only really critical thing to get done was my hero pic, and it was done by about 9:30. It looks alright, says I who hates being photographed, but I’m hoping it will never be needed, obviously. I also had a picture done for my ISAF ID card at the same time.

We did get some more information though on what the plans are for where we’re going and what’s happening there. Nothing certain, and nothing I can really talk about in detail anyhow. Again, it’s all max-flex and I’m not really staking plans on anything.

My UAB is now all sorted, catalogged, manifested, and ready to be turned in. I solved the excess of crap problem by pawning my suitcase off on the S3, who has literally nothing in the boxes, but will be partaking in the coffee machine’s labours. It was a pretty fair tit-for-tat. I still don’t have much for civilian clothes in there for my leave, but I figure I’ll just order stuff closer to my leave dates and that’ll work fine, particularly when we have a feel for delivery times and so on.

We got more detailed handover briefs from the people we’re replacing, and while I’m not going to say they paint a bleak picture, they’re basically confirming my own ideas about adult education in general, as it were, and the idea of building a professional army from the ground up. We are definitely going to have a lot to do, that’s for sure. We’re still working out some of the manning. It seems that there’s not much to do on the S1 (personnel administration) side for the camp I’m at in terms of administering the Canadian personnel there, and so the current guys have split that job with the S6 (communications/IT) job. We think that I might wind up working with the S4 (logistics) guy. I don’t have a background in that, but with a Canadian logistician there as the lead advisor I will still be able to help with things. And there’s a lot of work to be done in that department it looks like. We’ll see how it goes, I guess.

The S3 was busy today working out how to cover off all the training we’re missing before we go, with the cease training date they have in mind of February 3rd. We aren’t due back to Gagetown to start training again until January 16, which doesn’t leave a lot of time. The price, it seems, of the pretty slow pace early on is going to be a ridiculously busy few weeks before we leave on embarkation leave. We’ll be working weekends and evenings it looks like to get everything done – there’s a lot of checks in the box to be had for a lot of people, myself included, and we’re going to have to shoehorn it into a relatively small space. There’s a plan a foot, at least. We generally say “no plan survives first contact with the enemy”, but this one hopefully will.

We also got an idea of when we’re leaving town, and that means my draft leave plan should work, because it doesn’t have any issues with certain time restrictions. This too makes me quite happy.

Tomorrow, more death by PowerPoint for the morning, UAB turn in in the afternoon, and I have to finish packing up to leave for the holidays. That probably needs to include a thorough cleaning of my shacks, which requires a vacuum cleaner. Which I can only get between 9-4. I’m not sure how I’m going to work that one out. But I’ll figure something. I can’t leave the place a mess when I go home, I’ll only have more to contend with when I get back.

Written by Nick

December 7, 2011 at 12:34 am

Racing Through Week 3

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I can’t believe how quick this week is going, I actually thought today that it was Tuesday for most of the day until I realized it was Wednesday. It’s been productive, or at least it was until today. I’ve got all my desert kit, and also got my new SORD rig, which is now set up, at least for the first iteration. I’ve got to actually trial it on the range to see how it works out. I’ve got not much left to do, and I’ve actually been able to start doing the job I’m supposed to be doing. First up is the HLTA plan, I’ve got the blocks now and I’m starting to gather the preferences from my team so I can compile the plan and get it done. I’m thinking I’m going to push my leave as late as possible within reason so I’m coming back to a short stay.

Today the augmentees were supposed to start combat first aid, but when we showed up after PT (which was a 6km run broken up with pushups, squats, and burpees) they told us that if we didn’t have Standard First Aid done in Gagetown we weren’t supposed to be there. That’s two days of full schedules gone, and now the complexity of trying to fit that course in elsewhere. The ops folks weren’t too impressed with the development. I did, however, manage to make something of the day. I started the leave plan, worked on a presentation I’ll be delivering to our team about Afghanistan’s history and the history of NTM-A and ISAF, and got a lot of professional development readings done.

One of them was http://usacac.army.mil/CAC2/MilitaryReview/Archives/English/MilitaryReview_20110228_art014.pdf –  Multiplying By Zero, a rather pessimistic view of the prospects for NTM-A, based on the cultural differences that exist, and a tendency to set the bar too high in terms of expectations. It’s a good if slightly grim read, and sadly, it seems to jive with some of the information we have gotten from the group we’re going to be relieving on arrival. It couples with a lot of information that’s emerging, really, and this particular article explains in great detail a lot of things I’ve observed in my own research about Afghanistan. I worry we’re undertaking a Sisyphean task, but it does seem that we have to try, we can’t just give up.

Today was the onset of winter in New Brunswick, as well – and the trudging over to the BARFF for dinner sucked, but at least it was a pretty good meal, and a chance to chat with my clerk about his progress on organizing all of our DAG documentation so that by the time we take off for Christmas leave we’ll be done everything hopefully. There was something bizarre about slogging through the snow in my desert boots – you can tell all of the people here on workup because we’re sporting any number of different types of tan boots as opposed to the conventional black boots we normally wear. We’ll stand out more in January. To save on managing so much kit, we’ve been told to leave our green CADPAT at home and show up for work in arid pattern.

So, I have no idea what tomorrow will bring, I’m not sure what I’ll do for PT as it’s not going to be company PT, and we don’t have anything on the schedule yet. More language training if I can, I guess. We’re apparently getting an early dismissal to let people go over to the mess to watch football (and presumably spend money). Friday morning it’s up early for our “teambuilding” BFT that is just being done as a challenge since like most people here I have the “check in the box” already, and don’t need to actually do the test. It’ll just be a good 13km walk mostly, but the arrival of large quantities of snow might have ruined our route. We’ll see I guess. Then a BBQ. Then back home. This weekend I’ve got a party at home, and I’ll be out shopping for luggage for my HLTA so I can pack my MOBs up and they’ll be set to ship. They’re going to be going over mostly empty it seems! Without the Keurig machine, actually, one would likely be empty entirely. I’m sure I’ll find things to fill it with when I am heading back, though.

Written by Nick

November 23, 2011 at 10:49 pm

Some Real Training Gets Underway

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Things are getting underway, after a  slow start. Thursday morning I went was woken up pretty early by a bunch of people heading out for an early breakfast so they could go to the range. I got up and went out for a nice run through the Lindsay Valley, which is a trail system on base. Was a nice morning to watch the sunrise. The day’s agenda was pretty simple – CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear warfare) training, one of the IBTS checks in the box we have to get for whatever reason. In the morning we did some dry training, getting refreshed on how to use our kit – a “bunny suit”, overboots, and heavy rubber gloves, and of course our gas masks. I hadn’t used the one I have in a gas environment and forgot to bring it to Gagetown last week, so I didn’t get to do the Quantitative Fit Test, which confirms that the mask fits and seals properly before you actually get the gas. I was taking a bit of a chance, but it sealed alright during rehearsals so it wasn’t too bad.

Once we were done that we went off to lunch, and afterward headed out to N6, the gas hut. It’s a pretty simple one room building with a hot plate which disperses CS (tear gas). CS comes in capsules, just like you take medication in. You heat it up and the gas is formed almost immediately. So, first time you go on, you’re in Dress State Four – completely in the suit. It’s done to allow you to get familiar with the layout and get confidence in the kit – you do some exercises and moving around to see that it works. Then you head out. Next time you go in, you simulate being caught out in an attack – so you pull up a hood, cover your hands under your arms, and run for shelter – right into a room now well filled with gas. So you get a good feel for the effect, get all suited up, and then you change canisters. You take a huge breath, unscrew the canister, hand it to your buddy, and then reinstall it – which is a little tough when you don’t have peripheral vision. No issue. Last trip in, you do the full decontamination drill – using a fake version of RSDL – reactive skin decontaminating lotion – greasy, nasty stuff that gets all over you, but the real stuff works against pretty much any chemical agent.

Once we got done that, it was a done day, and a long hot shower to get all the RSDL shit off me, and we took off for wings, myself, the S3, and the S4 of my camp. We’re all around the same age so it seems a good idea to start hanging out a fair bit, we’re going to be living in close quarters for the next year or so anyhow. Good times were had by all, even me sweating away with the Thai chili sauce on the wings.

This morning was our day to get up early to go to the range, so I walked over to the MSA Warehouse where our weapons are stored to sign out my C7, and we jumped on a bus out to the training area, to the Amiens 600m rifle range. We were there to complete our PWT-3, personal weapons test level three, the infantry shooting standard. Here’s the fun part: because my camp is so small and has so few augmentees, we’re lumped in with another contingent, mostly health services people – among them dentists, orthopedic surgeons, an anesthetist, and so on.  Because they are deploying they have to shoot to the infantry standard (well, in theory, but I’ll get to that…). In fact, for this tour, they’re getting the CF’s Gunfighter supplement, which is a much more intensive course in close quarter and instinctive shooting. Should be a fun few days. I shot on the first relay, and despite a stoppage keeping me from being able to get all my rounds off I passed. Not as good as usual. My boss was one off perfect, though, pretty cool. There was a subtext to the scoring brief that 29 is a pass. And there were a few 29s, suggesting that some “miscounting” might have happened.

After cycling through the butts, we were done around 2:30 and went back into camp for a couple of hours until it got dark so we could do some shooting with Monocular Night Vision Goggles and PAQ-4C laser aiming devices. In the meantime I had my first meeting with the J1, the guy who basically I work for as part of the National Command & Support Element. Trying to explain how chains of command work on this mission is complicated, and probably boring. The 1 shop’s job is basically to look after all the people over there, and so the J1 is in charge of all of that for all the Canadians there, and S1s like me function as camp adjutants for Canadians, so I will be the CO of my camp’s aide on staff work and be looking after everything for the 40 or so Canadians there in terms of leave, adminstration, and so on.

The meeting wasn’t too detailed, just a chance to meet our peers and get an idea of what’s being worked on. There are three major things that are being dealt with – leave, performance assessments, and HLTA issues. All are a ways away from getting organized but at least we know where things are going.

I got out just in time to catch the ride back to the range for the night shoot, which went pretty quickly, and it started to rain just as we were giving the final ammunition declarations to get off the range. Buses took us back to the MSA to turn in the rifles (which we couldn’t clean because they haven’t bothered issuing us cleaning kits!) and now I’m back in the shacks. And pretty tired.

Tomorrow I’m going for a run with the S3 and S4 because we don’t have planned camp PT. The boss really doesn’t seem to have much concern about that, he just cares that we’re doing some form of PT, and it was his asking that prompted us to plan to do it together, so that was good. After that we’re back out to ranges (Vimy 600m range this time I think) for a familiarization shoot on the C6 general purpose machine gun (sometimes called “The Pig”), and the C9A2 light machine gun. Not really a big thing for me but it’ll be interesting to see the doctors with them. Should be fun. And that’s the week done, I’ll pick up my leave pass and figure out a way back to Halifax tomorrow night.

Next week, we do Gunfighter training and start combat first aid, and at some point I’ve got to get over to clothing stores to draw all of my desert pattern kit. In a bit of forward thinking, when we come back from Christmas leave, we can leave out green CADPAT at home, and tans become our dress of the day until we leave. Makes good sense.

Written by Nick

November 17, 2011 at 9:21 pm

Monday of Week 2

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If anyone has come up with a better way to kick off the week with lots of energy, I don’t know who it is – this morning I was over to the Base Theatre at 7:45am to sit through three and a half hours of briefings. Three and a half hours of Death By PowerPoint. There was, fortunately, a little levity in the process, delivered by the Padre while he waited to start his brief, but for the most part, it was the grinding nonsense that is part of the process of getting us out the door. It would have been a lot nicer to have had it at just about any other time, especially given that based on my insomnia last night, I timed my wake up to give me pretty much just enough time to roll out of bed into my uniform and walk down to the theatre. And while I was waiting to get in, it didn’t dawn on me to walk across the street to the Tim Hortons to get a source of caffeine. Oh well.

So the briefs… lots covered. First up was the Chief Clerk, giving the lowdown on all the allowances and benefits and so on that we get overseas – how things like HLTA, leave, and all that sort of thing work. Based on that I have pretty much an exact idea of how much I’ll be getting paid while I’m overseas, and the next step is to figure out how to divide it up. Some will stay in theatre, accruing in a pay account of sorts I can get paid out in cash for carpets and so on, the rest goes home and into the bank here.

Next up, the Deployment Support Centre – the folks who basically link our families to the military while we’re gone. I don’t expect that they’ll be necessary, but it’s good to know that they have a system in place for a lot of different contingencies. The DSC is based in Gagetown but they link in with resources everywhere so it doesn’t really that my wife is in Halifax, if something comes up they’ll help out. My home unit also has a “family rep” who is linked into the rear party and will keep in touch with her to make sure she’s doing alright.

Following them, a representative from Operational Stress Injuries Support Services spoke. Interestingly, it was Fred Doucette, who wrote a book called Empty Casing about his experiences serving in Sarajevo, and his subsequent struggles. I know two OSISS folks, both of them are basically “peer outreach” people, the other is Sgt. (Ret’d) John Tescione. Google his name, and you’ll see why dealing with OSIs is nothing foreign to him. The message from OSISS was simple, but important – a good chunk of people who deploy will experience some form of operational stress injuries – but they can be dealt with, and most people will recover completely as long as they seek the help they need. OSISS exists to try to persuade people that they can get help, and to break the stigma against seeking that help. It’s important, and the message is pretty credible when it comes from someone who suffered and took too long to get the help they needed. Fred’s book’s a great read, incidentally.

Next up: the padre (Chaplain) for the Task Force. I make no secret of being an unabashed atheist, but I generally speaking have a lot of time for Chaplains in the CF, and his rudimentary attempt at stand up comedy certainly broke the morning up a bit. Not much said there that people didn’t know – just that they’re there to listen to anyone, generally confidentially, and so on. They tend to be great for solving problems that soldiers face, they almost have a social worker function within the Forces. I don’t see why we pay clergy when we could have secular people do the job… but that’s a whole other matter I’m not going to delve into.

Then SISIP – the financial services and insurance folks, who were nice enough to point out that my insurance coverage should be reviewed, and that the limits on insurance we can get have been raised since I got mine and are going up again next fiscal year. They’re working out a way to make sure we max out. I, of course, hope that I have no need of that, but as a wise old Sergeant long ago told me, better to have and not need than need and not have. I got briefly excited at the fact that they can handle my taxes, until I realized that they won’t do mine because they’re far to complicated given the rental property I own, and the nature of my “day job” employment. I’m going to have to get everything organized before I go and get an accountant to finish it off… if it’s in my favour anyhow. If it looks like I owe, I’ll take advantage of the blanket extension we get.

Then a pretty dull discussion by the JAG about wills, powers of attorney, and so on. I have this basically looked after but not in detail so I think I’ll consult a lawyer over Christmas break just to make sure I’ve not overlooked anything. Having the background I do I’ve seen all sorts of nightmares and I don’t want to deal with that.

Last was the moment we were really waiting for – a “reverse TAV” briefing. I’m pretty sure that TAV is “theatre activation visit” – reversing it means that people from theatre came back to Canada to give us some pertinent information about what Roto 0 has experienced and learned. Most of the detail pertained to other camps, but there’s someone here from the camp I’m headed to and we plan to spend some more time with him with a list of questions it’s my job to compile. A lot of the generic information about NTM-A was interesting, not shocking really. Training the ANSF is a grinding, frustrating, slow process – and success doesn’t look like what we’d expect to see here. The lessons learned are simple: learn the language as best you can, use the interpreters wisely, prepare them well when you’re dealing with technical issues, expect that things like nepotism/tribalism/corruption will be a factor in all planning, and so on. One of the more interesting things is that the previous rotation too often “gave” them things, solved their problems for them, instead of actually forcing the Afghans to learn to do so for themselves. That’s also not productive, and it makes sense. it’s particularly important in the field of sustainment because that’s where we really need to focus on developing their capabilities by the sound of it.

After that, we briefly met with our boss, who hasn’t actually joined us on work up because he hasn’t been released from his current gig, and then dealt with some administrative issues, stuff that has to get organized and is starting to. My fellow staff officers and I fairly quickly realized there wasn’t much else we could do, so I headed back to the shacks to be more productive, and spent a couple of hours with my Dari instructional software. I got through a couple of modules, primarily focused on familiarization with Dari script (the Persian alphabet) and matching letters to sounds. A lot of it was filling in missing letters from words/phrases so that I learn to recognize phonemes. Most Dari sounds are fairly easily equated to English phonemes so it isn’t that hard. There are also exercises built around figuring out what words mean by reading the Dari script. They do this with city and country names, and loan words so that they’re somewhat familiar already. The trick to Dari is that the short values aren’t written, they’re just determined by context, so it’s hard to look at a word and get the sound unless you have some recognizable context. As I understand it, it gets easier as you start building a vocabulary. I have three months to get a foundation, and eight months to really develop it.

We’ll leave aside the question of what I’ll do with a knowledge of Dari after my tour… go on tour again, I guess? That’s not exactly the right answer, though.

Tomorrow is a big parade – lots of “WSE” (while so employed) promotions to be handed out, and things like that. Wednesday we’re off to the gas hut to get the CBRN check in the box, and Thursday and Friday I’ll be out to the ranges. Hopefully the weather cooperates all along.

That’s all for now, I suppose… more than I usually write, I think.

Written by Nick

November 14, 2011 at 10:27 pm