Afghanistan-A-Go-Go

A Reservist's Tale Of A Tour

Posts Tagged ‘history

Reminders

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Sometimes it’s easy to forget where we are.

Then something like this shows up on Facebook from a friend:

;

That’s a locker in a transient tent at an American base my friend was at recently for a course (one of the guys I went to Germany with, I mentioned the story about his friend who was killed in a rocket attack in Iraq I think).

While he was asleep ten feet from that locker, a mortar impacted and hit it. It was probably a Chinese or Russian 82mm. Had it detonated, it would have had a lethal blast radius of around 25 metres or 75 feet. Luckily for everyone in the tent, it didn’t. Either the fuze failed (which isn’t uncommon given that often the ammo is ancient and has been buried or otherwise poorly stored), or as sometimes happens, the idiots firing it forgot to pull the pin on the round. Regardless, that’s how random things can be, and how lucky.

And you know what he had to say? After they returned to the tent and saw the gaping hole? Referring to the brilliant cartoon series Archer we’re all fans of, he simply groaned “THIS IS HOW WE GET ANTS, PEOPLE.”

This kind of thing happens. A friend of mine deployed to Kandahar a few years ago forgot to pick up his laundry as he was returning to his shacks. He turned to return to the laundry facility and minutes later a Chinese 107mm rocket slammed into the building he lived in. Another rocket hit the bedspace of someone who’d gotten up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. It’s possible to get complacent, to forget where we are, to forget that things like this happen.

But as best as we can, we laugh about it. It’s kind of a warped gallows humour thing, but it takes the edge off.

Written by Nick

July 25, 2012 at 12:19 pm

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

Back To The Sandbox

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After a long night flight to Dubai (which I sort of managed to sleep on, but in such a way as to leave my neck aching severely afterward, and a six hour layover in the world’s most famous Fly-In Shopping Mall (which is what DXB basically is, and why Emirates offers lots of cheap flights all over the world that connect through it), I boarded my flight back to Kabul and made my way back to camp.

I spent the last few days in Germany obviously finishing off work on the course, and we managed to wrap up early after a really well done interactive demonstration of what we teach done by one of the British students who’s sort of their subject matter expert already and was just coming to deepen his knowledge. Had we known about his version of our “COIN Skit” we’d have done it earlier on. We wrapped up around lunch time and headed off to Munich to start the trip back.

First night in Munich we stayed west of the city and explored around a bit, next morning I used Hotwire to find somewhere a little more central and the remainder of my team dropped me off there and then headed to the airport. This gave me a chance to visit a camera shot and pick up a zoom lens for my new camera (a Nikon 1), and set off to explore Munich, which I did without a particularly detailed plan. I headed to Marienplatz and up the tower at the Neues Rathaus to get some pictures of the city, and then I just basically walked around until finally I got to the English Garden and decided I was tired and wanted to head back to find some dinner and sleep. Munich’s subway system, while looking a little dated, is pretty efficient once you figure out how the fares work, and it dropped me near my hotel and a convieniently located doner kebab joint.

In planning what else to do, I had been interested in visiting Dachau, which is basically a large museum. Part of the Rules of Engagement from 9D (my wife) about our trip when I go on leave is that she’s not too interested in much WW2 historical stuff – so I wanted to knock off some key points, and Munich was basically where Hitler got his start and the Nazis rose to power so what better place to do that? I decided to take a pair of tours with the fabulous Radius Tours, led by Steve, an ex-close protection guy, UK expat, and history buff.  First, we boarded a train to Dachau, the first Nazi concentration camp just outside Munich. It was a very fascinating and very sobering place to visit, and interestingly, a group of German soldiers (in uniform) were there as well. It leaves you wondering how exactly such things could ever have existed, and how, with such reminders of atrocity, human beings manage to keep visiting such horror upon others.

Three or four hours’ walking around does not really do the site justice, but it was enough to get an initial appreciation, and knowing a lot of the history already meant it was just adding to that knowledge and putting it into context. We headed back to the train station and I found some lunch before the second tour, the Third Reich walking tour. While I read up on some of the major sites in Munich, Steve actually helped me find some less known ones, and added more to the story – Hitler’s favourite nightclub, Das Kuenstlershaus, still stands on Karlsplatz. The fountain in the Botanical Gardens, a classic piece of Nazi artwork when you realize what it is, sits unassumingly behind the courthouse. And just behind it, I was amazed to see a Nazi Eagle still on a state building, its swastika removed. In fact, in Munich, you’ll notice a lot places where Nazi symbols have been removed from doorframes and buildings, once you see one, and that’s what Steve was so good at pointing out. We passed the hotel where the SA was formed, the beer hall (now closed) where Hitler often held court, and the top floor of the Hofbrauhaus, from which Hitler took control of the DAP and the Nazi Movement was born.

There’s several examples of Nazi neogothic architecture to be seen, like Haus Der Kunst, the House Of Art, a large museum that was designed by architect Paul Troost, who inspired Albert Speer’s designs for other Nazi buildings. Steve told us that when Hitler was laying the cornerstone, the hammer broke, which he perceived as a bad omen, and Troost died of pneumonia a year later, never seeing the building finished. Wouldn’t have known that without a good guide.

That, I guess, is the beauty of a good guide, you learn all the stories you’d miss walking around, even though I find it frustrating to be on someone else’s pace at times. Guides like Steve are good because they just get stories from others and build them into their tours, which makes them more fascinating, particularly in the case of Dachau where he’s met so many survivors and their families, but also the families of some of the staff of the camp who have their own perspective.

So, I’m back in country – my longest stretch to spend here now over, because my upcoming leave breaks up the remainder of my stay into smaller chunks, and I can’t complain about that in the least. We’ve got some work to do over the next little while (including, for me, getting a handle on what the other Canadian Captain here does because he’s just headed off on leave and I’ll have to take care of his responsibilities) as we prepare to transition this place over to the ANA and go home. I’ve also got to get myself moved into my new room (if only I can get a hold of the keys!), and my camp finally has laundry service, so for the first time since being here I had the luxury of simply dropping off my laundry to be done for me. Kind of nice. Except I’m out of socks apparently – I have some buried in my rucksack while I’ll pull out today when I move, I guess.

That’s my life for the moment. Oddly enough, I’m kind of glad to be back here.

 

Written by Nick

June 12, 2012 at 2:52 am

Professional Development Interlude

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I’ve taken advantage of our schedule to see a little bit of Germany while I am here. German history has fascinated me for a long time. Watching the fall of the Berlin Wall is the first memory I have of starting to pay attention to news. I was 10 when that happened.

One of my friends happened to be in Germany on a task supporting a European exercise, and so I made arrangements to meet up with him. We spent an evening telling war stories over a great feed of Bavarian food.

On the way, I found myself in Nuremberg and visited the museum at the Palace Of Justice where the Nuremberg Trials happened. I can now say I’ve stood in Courtroom 600. The museum display was excellent. I also went to Dokumentationszentrum – the former Nazi Congress Hall, site of another museum about Albert Speer’s masterworks of Nazi architecture. I could have spent a long time in Nuremberg and will definitely need to go back at some point.

It was all a happy accident when I got off the Autobahn to figure out where I was.

The other museum I went to was OP Alpha and The House On The Border, which sits at the Fulda Gap, which was considered to be the most likely axis of advance for the Red Army in an invasion of Western Europe during the Cold War. OP (Observation Post) Alpha was a small US outpost that sat just 50 metres from the Inner German Border and is now preserved as a museum.

From there you can walk along the concrete brick road used by the East German Border Police to move along the fence. The path shows the evolution of border defences from simple roadblocks to single and then double barbed wire fences, to finally the expanded steel mesh fences and watchtowers, landmines, dogs and other methods used to divide the country. Quite a sight to see and take in.

I then made my way back down to Regensburg, winding around back roads and just generally enjoying the scenery. Part of the trip wound through the former East Germany, which 21 years after reunification blends mostly into the West, but I was impressed to recognize the Soviet style apartment blocks in one town, which were identical to those found in Kabul, where they are called Macrorayons.

The course is now winding down, and soon we’ll head “home”. Strange to think of it that way, but I do. For now, it is. It’s not as posh as a hotel, but comfortable and familiar.

Written by Nick

June 7, 2012 at 12:41 pm

Dealing With Bad Press And Perceptions

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I have to learn to stop reading comments to online news stories. And columnists who are armchair generals.

One thing I hoped keeping this blog would accomplish was educating people a bit about what Canadian soldiers, ISAF, NATO, all of us are actually doing in Afghanistan. I think it’s an important undertaking, because frankly, most average people on the street barely have any idea where Afghanistan is on a map, let alone understand what brought us here in the first place, what’s happening now, and what’s succeeding.

I don’t want to sound like a cheerleader giving the glossed-over story, but I’m sure most of you can understand why I have to be cautious about being too candid. The news, however, is generally pretty decent, without having to spin it.

One of the comments I’ve seen a lot goes something like this: “We’ve been there for ten years! How come we’re still needing to train these people?!” or something along that line. As one comment to a recent post mentioned, I might have been a little unclear about how long we’ve been training – efforts to build and train the Afghan National Army aren’t new – they’ve been going on since 2002 or so. That said, it’s not something that’s quick to accomplish.

Consider what we’re starting with. Afghanistan by 2001 had endured 23 years of almost ceaseless war – both the Soviet invasion, and the civil war that followed. Even from 1996 onward, there was still fighting against the Taliban. And prior to the Soviet invasion, starting with the Saur Revolution in 1973, there was fighting to various degrees throughout the country. As a result of that, a vast swath of the county’s population, especially its youth, are woefully undereducated, and illiteracy remains a massive problem throughout Afghanistan. In recent years, literally millions of children are now getting educated and learning basic literacy.

Militaries are composed of a few different groups of people. In most modern militaries, there’s three main groups – the Officers, the Non-Commissioned Officers and the Other Ranks. In Canada we call them NCM’s – Non-Commissioned Members. You can also see it commonly broken down into Officers and Enlisted Men. Training Officers isn’t particularly difficult, you want reasonably intelligent, reasonably well-educated people who can make sound plans and have leadership qualities. Training NCMs – your private soldiers, as it were, is also not particularly hard. In both cases, you need to have training institutions, actual course material and structures to train them with, and competent instructors to do that training. Now, where do you find those? In NCOs, generally. In the Canadian Army, both NCMs and Officer candidates receive the bulk of their training from NCOs – how to dress, how to do drill, how to read maps, use compasses, live and work in the field, and so on. Officers learn tactics from other officers, and tactics are their responsibility, but NCOs make Western militaries run. They handle what we often call “beans, bullets, benzene” – food, ammo, fuel, and so on. They are the backbone of our militaries because they can get all the administration done to make things work. A good NCO is priceless to an officer. From him (or her, of course), the officer will get counsel based on long experience, and will be freed of many of the menial tasks he might otherwise need to do so that he can focus on his job. As a platoon commander, my 2IC at times cooked meals for me, made sure I had coffee, and even a few times physically put me to ground (ie, to sleep) so that I’d have enough rest to be effective. They are priceless.

And they take a long time to train and develop. In days of old, the Soviet Union, and armies it developed/advised dispensed with a proper, professional NCO Corps, opting to pick recruits (often conscripts) who appeared a little fitter or smarter than others, and immediately promote them. They were largely ineffective because they didn’t have any real experience, and even if they did, it was assumed they didn’t, even the most mundane tasks still required the involvement of officers. Contrast that to the experience of many Western junior officers who will have the experience of being “steered away” from a lot of things by their NCOs, with a gentle admonishment that things are well in hand.

Afghanistan was built on that model. Even though the training system is aiming to develop a proper, professional NCO Corps, it’s hard to get buy in when you are still dealing with a lot of officers from the Soviet Era – what my interpreter refers to as the “Communist Army”. (He jokingly refers to the new ANA as the “Infidel Army”).

Developing those NCOs takes time. A Sergeant in the Canadian Army will normally have about eight years of experience under his belt in the Regular Force – a little less in the Reserves, but still quite a bit of experience, not only being trained to lead, but also training other soldiers. You cannot accelerate that development process here in Afghanistan. Or anywhere, for that matter. It’s something that even newer members of NATO (ex-Warsaw Pact countries) have difficulty with, as I understand it. Building that culture of solid, profession, empowered NCOs who are trusted by officers to do their jobs takes time. We do what we can, overall, to teach by example, to let our ANSF peers see how NCOs and Officers should work together, but getting the idea of delegation and division of tasks to make sense to them is not easy.

We are at the point now where those things are starting to work, but it’s slow going. Training structures like branch schools exist, instructor development programs and qualification training for instructors exists as well, so that competent NCO instructors can be actively involved in recruit training, for example. However, from what I’ve seen and heard in discussions with other mentors, things are not at the point where NCOs are being effectively used, and that’s probably a cultural issue that will take a long time to overcome – possibly, some muse, until all those “Communist Army” officers retire.

Delegation of authority is another complexity – because authority is conspicuous power, and while from my perspective coming from a Western professional army, delegation of authority to make decisions to the lowest possible level is makes everything work better, that concept doesn’t yet fully make sense in the ANSF. If you read any of the myriad of journal articles on OMLT experiences with Afghan units, you’ll see that good planning and rehearsals for operations is impeded by the failure to delegate. In the CF, we’re taught a process called Battle Procedure. BP can literally be used to accomplish anything – it’s actually something most people do subconsciously in their daily lives when planning to do anything. One of the keys to it is time management. On getting a task from a superior, one of the first steps is a quick time estimate – how long do I have to get it done – what timings to I have – and ideally, how do I give 2/3s of that time to my subordinates so they can get to work on their part of things. What a lot of the reports and articles I read suggested is that this doesn’t happen, meaning operations are hastily planned without effective use of time, or any of the processes we use to make sure that all the leaders involved are well-coordinated, which we do through extensive rehearsals and war-gaming wherever possible – and we always make it possible in some way.

The other common refrain I hear is “these guys know all about fighting, why are we training them”. Well, some do know how to operate a rifle, but military organizations require a lot more than that. You need clerks, cooks, medics, storemen, combat engineers, artillerymen, military police, and all sorts of other trades to make a force actually function. When you try to mesh that with that problem I mentioned above – illiteracy and innumeracy – it’s complicated. For example, training artillery units is difficult when you have a lot of soldiers who cannot read maps or do math required to effectively employ the guns. While the ANA has some pretty capable field artillery guns, they’re hobbled by the fact that their units cannot employ them to provide indirect fire effectively. Similarly, administration of a large force is a challenge with that illiteracy. Managing pay and leave in a country with a primitive banking system and rudimentary transportation infrastructure is hard. But progress is happening.

I won’t into the potential impact of corruption too much, but you can imagine what could be problems. Hoarding or theft of equipment and stores (fuel in particular as I understand it) could be a major problem. We joke in our army about how supply techs won’t give us stuff (“but if I give you this new rucksack, I won’t have one on my shelf!”), but here the power implicit in holding equipment is huge – even broken/non-serviceable stuff apparently, even when there’s a system in place to get rid of it or exchange it. I don’t know if this is a broad problem – it’s just something that is common in anecdotes about Warsaw Pact legacy armies. There are advisors heavily focused on developing the supply system, and on the surface it seems it’s generally working.

Lest I sound like I’m painting a bleak picture, though, let me be clear – things are working. I met an advisor from the Consolidated Fielding Center where newly-formed ANA Kandaks roll out the gate constantly to deploy to their garrisons, and what he told us is that he’d watch their prep and be staggered by how ridiculous it often seemed – BUT – they got out the door. I’ll remind you of that descriptor, Afghan Good, or Afghan Good Enough.

As transition moves forward and the supports of the advisory teams get withdrawn from the ANSF, they’ll find ways to deal with these challenges. They will have to. Remember how a lot of kids are taught to swim, being thrown abruptly into the water? We’re not quite going to see that happen, but what will happen is the ANSF will be forced through the transition process to find their own way – to solve their own problems. They will use some of the tools we’re giving them, and they’ll create and improvise their own ways of doing things. The final product won’t look like a modern Western professional military necessarily, just as in the broader sense there was never any illusions about turning Afghanistan into a western-style liberal democracy. It doesn’t fit the historical context – instead, Afghans will find the solutions they need to move forward, ideally – and we’ll have helped keep the wolves at bay long enough for their sheepdogs to get ready.

They proved that they can do that last week during the attacks on Kabul – they had some support from ISAF – some air support and some Special Forces support – but they did a lot of the work themselves, in a way that minimized collateral damage and repelled the assault, and life in Kabul got back to normal pretty quickly by most accounts. That’s the progress that needs to happen. But media doesn’t tell the story that way. Instead, they talk about things like the Tet Offensive, compare transition here to the largely ineffective “Vietnamization” process during that war. But it takes a lot of shoehorning and exaggeration to map Vietnam’s history (and mistakes) onto Afghanistan. It sells newspapers, though – and slow progress doesn’t.

So, the key message I have? Things are working here. It’s slow because there’s a lot of factors you won’t likely read about in most critiques, or understand if you don’t have a military background, so what I’m trying to do here is provide some of that context to complete the picture a bit. I won’t give you the rosy, all-singing, all-dancing soundbite, but a more broad perspective ideally. I hope it helps you understand why we are here and why it’s taking time to get it right.

ANZAC Day

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Today, April 25th, is ANZAC Day. It’s the 97th Anniversary of the landings at Gallipoli, where allies landed against ferocious Turkish defence, and took massive casualties. There was a “sort of” Canadian connection, because the Newfoundland Regiment was involved in that campaign as well. For Australians and New Zealanders, the former having major presence on my camp, today is their equivalent of Remembrance Day, and so this morning we formed up to pay tribute to their fallen, but also to all those who went before us as we do on Remembrance Day.

Probably my favourite part of the whole thing is the tribute paid by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk to those who fell after the war in 1934 – which if I remember right is actually inscribed on the ANZAC Monument:

“Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives, you are now lying in the soil of a friendly country, therefore rest in peace.

There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours.

You, the mothers who sent their sons from far away countries, wipe away your tears, your sons are now lying in our bosom and they are in peace.

After having lost their lives on this land, they have become our sons as well.”

Lest we forget.

Written by Nick

April 25, 2012 at 1:16 am

An Interesting Week

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April is shaping up to be a rather busy month, actually.

It’s been almost frustratingly slow here at times. I don’t know how often I find myself feeling like I’m far too idle, but there’s nothing I can really do in downtime, save, perhaps, for one rather large project I’m considering, but it’s not necessarily likely to be of a tremendous amount of value in the context of the future of the school I work at – but it’s still something I’m considering discussing with higher. So I break up my day with workouts, checking out news sites, checking out social media, and trying to keep in touch with the world outside of the place I live. It’s funny, if you give it too much thought it’s a bit like living in one of those “minimum security prisons”. We can stroll the grounds, but we don’t really have much ability to go outside the walls at all. Even when we do, it’s a direct vehicle convoy move to another walled in convoy, basically.

In any case, April should be a little more interesting, we have some courses to deliver – or rather, our counterparts do. ANA instructors teach the courses, we mentor them on all aspects of delivering them, from the administration and planning, to validating the course content and helping develop their instructor capabilities. They have several planned, so all of the coalition staff will have their work cut out for them, and that’s a good thing. I would rather be busy than sitting around the office.

I did have some interesting times this week though. We were out to the range on a nice afternoon, though it briefly looked like it was about to pour on us. We were out to fire our pistols, including practicing some Quick Reaction Drill shooting (think “quick draw”). Definitely a skill worth having in an environment like this and one that bears a lot of practicing to build muscle memory.

Fact is, going to work here is mostly just like going to work at home. I have a schedule, I have routines. I just don’t carry a briefcase, instead I carry a pistol, but I don’t really even notice that anymore, it’s just part of the uniform in a way. We’re in a pretty secure environment all things considered so I don’t really give it a second thought. We are going to have to integrate more practice into our schedule, and I still have to take my rifle up to confirm my sight zero. I can only imagine how it may have been banged around in transit.

Our next big shock was discovering a huge box of Tim Hortons coffee – almost full! It’s the packages that stores use, and we have no idea where it came from. A friend of mine hypothesized it might have been leftovers from the store at Kandahar Airfield, which is possible – it has the name of our camp written on it in big black marker, but no mailing info to suggest it came from Canada in a care package. Whatever the source, we’re not complaining. A couple of pots were brewed today to the delight of the assembled masses.

A Big Ass Box Of Tim's

Hello, My Pretties...

Lastly, I had a trip out to visit one of the most fascinating (and perhaps most sad) places in Kabul – Tap-e Tajbeg, Tajbeg Palace, or the Queen’s Palace. Built in the 1920s by the rather visionary King Amanullah, it sits on a large hill in Darulaman, southwest of Kabul city. He built another palace, Darulaman Palace, which lies a little to the north. King Amanullah’s time in power was fairly short-lived, in part because of his progressive views and wanting to modernize his country. His wife, Queen Soraya, was photographed unveiled as a symbol of a change in the role of women in Afghan society, and this helped touch off a revolt that ended his reign just a few years after his palaces were completed. They survived him, and the Soviet invasion (which began at Tap-e Tajbeg when Soviet commandos stormed the palace to kill President Hafizullah Amin) as well. The palace actually served as the Soviet 40th Army Headquarters during the war.

Unfortunately, after the Soviets left, the palaces became strongholds of the various factions fighting the civil war, and both were severely damaged. Darulaman Palace is in far worse shape, but both are just ruins.

Tajbeg Palace

Tap-e Tajbeg - The "Queen's Palace"

Darulaman Palace As Seen From Tajbeg Palace

Darulaman Palace, from the entrance to Tajbeg Palace

Our visit included drinking tea with the Afghan National Army soldiers who maintain an OP on the palace grounds, and a walk through the ruins of the majestic three story palace. In places the original marble is still in place, though long covered by dust and rubble. The palace had an elevator in it, and features a large atrium around a grand staircase at the entryway. To the east of it is a swimming pool crumbling away. On the third floor, you can see where rockets, artillery, and mortars pounded the structure into its current state. Many rooms are scarred by fire. There are safes in a few places, one wonders what they may have contained.

Another feature: the interior walls are heavily covered with graffiti – going back to the Soviet era, but all the way up to the present. One of our guides explained that there’s sort of a code about it – no one covers anyone else’s work. One of the more haunting pieces is this:

Russian Christmas Mural

A Reminder of Different Times

We found this on the second floor of the palace, painted over the last Christmas the Soviets would celebrate within the Palace.

There’s graffiti from the civil war, including some elaborate pencil sketches, various slogans, a lot of “so-and-so was here” markings, and so on. They stretch all the way up to the present day as a sort of public art project. There’s a few Canadian inscriptions. When Canada operated in Kabul from 2002-2005, their main base was Camp Julien, and the Palace was part of that complex, observation posts were maintained in the palace and on the grounds, as I understand it.

I’ve heard that there’s been some work to catalog all the markings – to what end, I don’t know. One of my friends who saw some of the pictures I put on Facebook commented, “Imagine if those walls could talk…” In a way, they can, so I wonder what will come of the efforts.

I asked my interpreter what he felt seeing the damage. “Anger at the people who did this.” I have to wonder, though there is some discussion of restoring the palaces for official use (at an immense cost, I’m sure), if they may well serve as a good reminder to the people – “never again”?

I rounded out the week with a trip to the tailors, to pick up a Regimental Camp Flag I commissioned. It cost me the princely sum of $50. It’s not a perfect replica (the badge is disproportionately small, but it’s pretty decent for the price, and I got it mainly as a wall hanger, since there’s several such flags up in the office. We (my roommate and I) also had a couple of cheeky morale patches made up (one alluding to cat herding, another a “Chairborne” badge), which we can’t actually wear except for the brief moment we wandered into the Canadian TOC with them and got some laughs. We wrapped the day up with a trip to the coffee bar here, watching the surreal sight of a young Afghan barista with a very modern espresso machine making us lattes while Guns N’ Roses blasted from his stereo. We sat on the patio, slightly amazed by where we were doing this.

Afghanistan is indeed a strange, interesting, beautiful land.

Written by Nick

March 25, 2012 at 2:07 pm

Regimental Birthdays

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

Pro Patria! (For Country) Motto of The RCR

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

Written by Nick

December 21, 2011 at 3:02 pm

Posted in Musings On Army Life

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The Day Job Comes To An End

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Yesterday was my last day of work in my civilian job, my leave of absence officially started. I spent the day cleaning up my office, getting some files organized, and saying a few goodbyes before I headed downtown to return my laptop, printer, and all that stuff. I walked out into a beautiful evening and what my father refers to as “gardening leave”, a few days off before I set off for Gagetown at some point this weekend, and the fun begins.

Today, though, I’m doing a video shoot for the company’s intranet that will be posted next week for Remembrance Day. Last year they did snippets on a bunch of employees with military connections and in the last few months they’ve started using video to feature different employees talking about all sorts of things relevant to the business, or our communities, or whatever. Kind of neat. Among other things they want me to talk about Remembrance Day and what it means to me. That’s an interesting question.

When I was growing up, it was about paying tribute to the fallen in wars long before my time, seeing older vets getting together to remember absent friends, and it was very vague. I understood why we did it, why it was important. I memorized In Flanders Fields even if I didn’t totally understand its message.

My first Remembrance Day in the uniform of Canada’s Army was in 2001. A new war was just beginning and it wasn’t clear what it meant. It was still a vague event, I went with fellow soldiers to tour the Legions and other service clubs, bought drinks for veterans and listened to their stories of WW2 and Korea.

By 2002 Canada had seen its first Afghan casualties and it suddenly had a different meaning. We actually were commemorating our generation. As each year went by, and more  names were added to the list of those fallen in the service of the country, we had more to remember. In 2006, for the first time, it was people I knew personally. By 2009, I was remembering and honouring a pretty close friend.

Each year, we gather at the cenotaph and pay homage to the fallen in broad, general terms. We stand in silence while Flowers of the Forest plays, we think of those lost, and when the parade is dismissed we head off to commiserate a bit over our absent friends. Each we honour in some unique way, each we feel the loss of anew, but we do this because it gives them an immortality that few will ever know.

Written by Nick

November 1, 2011 at 8:55 am