Afghanistan-A-Go-Go

A Reservist's Tale Of A Tour

Posts Tagged ‘leave

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

Brief Hiatus

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It’ll be quiet for a couple weeks or so, I’m presently on leave and exploring Europe with my wife. My first couple of days before she got here were a lot of driving going to some WW1 sites of note, the Menin Gate and Vimy Ridge chief among them, also Tyne Cot, Hooghe Crater, Hill 62, Passchendaele, Beaumont-Hamel, Thiepval, Courcelette, Cambrai…

I met my wonderful Missus in Frankfurt a couple of days ago for a couple weeks together toward the end of my tour, so my attention will be focused elsewhere for a little while.

Written by Nick

August 3, 2012 at 3:49 am

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

Please, Don’t Fret About Coffee

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I know many of you have been worried about the coffee situation here.

It’s okay. We’re going to be okay. A massive stepdown transformer magically appeared which is powering the Keurig we “found”, and the wonderful folks at Keurig are replacing my machine anyhow, which is awesome. My colleagues are now scrambling to order their own K-Cups as I’m not planning on supporting them forever. We’ll survive okay.

In addition to that triumph, I’m also incredibly happy with the memory foam/gel mattress cover thing I picked up at Costco for my UAB. It took a bit of a struggle to get the thing on to my top bunk, but I think it’s probably just about the best $100 I have ever spent. Good sleep is key to everything, after all.

Beyond that, life is moving along just fine. We’re figuring out how the transition process for the school I’m working at, which will determine how long we are actually here. There’s a bit of a luxury in not having an end date, because I’m not “counting down the days” until the end. Officially, our redeployment plan starts in October, but we’ll have more clarity when the overall plan for the school I’m working at emerges. I’m hoping we don’t get cut too short.

I’ve got a Word document that I’m slowly building an itinerary for leave for – it is a good way to take a break from work to start doing research on the various destinations. I’ve got another month or so before I can officially book everything, but I’m mainly trying to figure out what to do in each of the cities we are visiting. Berlin has some amazing walking tours (and a zoo) that we’re planning on. Budapest has a very highly recommended guide that I think we’ll hire for a day tour, and Prague – well, Prague I haven’t really gotten to researching yet. But I know the major sites to start working with. I also am trying to pin down a budget for the trip, because while I want to enjoy it, I don’t want to blow everything. I’m so far pretty happy with the fact that my HLTA allowance should cover all the major travel expenses (flights and rail passes), and I’ve found pretty good accommodations for fairly cheap rates, without staying in pits.

The only real variable is my wife’s vacation time. She booked off the time I was going to be off originally, but plans changed and now she’s having some issues with getting the time off. Hopefully it’ll resolve itself in time.

April looks to be a busy month, with several training events happening, and some travel for me lined up. We’re experiencing some of the challenges of transition already, getting movements of instructors approved, getting lesson plans and resources sorted out, and so on. There’s even challenges with getting our own movements sorted out – everyone has to be accounted for, and with small groups traveling everything needs coordination, but in the end it’s all coming together, and we’re getting things taken care of. It should be a good chance to see a little more of the country, and to meet more of my peers, interesting things indeed. It means my roommate will get the room to himself for a while (which is probably good for him, I snore like a bastard), as well.

I’m also starting slowly to think about post-tour things – like work and longer term career plans, most specifically more education. I don’t know how it will all fit together, but I’d really like to return to school, even if only part time, because I think having only an undergraduate degree isn’t enough for me – I’ve got so many different ideas about what I want to do next that none of them have completely gelled though, and that’s making things complicated in a way. I know that I while I’m likely going to stay in the same field, but I don’t think I want to return to the same job, necessarily. I have something of a luxury in working for a very large firm with almost limitless possibilities though, so as my goals and ideas become clearer, I’ll start engaging them about where to go next. I’ve got some ideas, already, but they’re just not quite clear.

Written by Nick

March 29, 2012 at 2:41 am

Courses, Sandstorms, Leave Plans, And Motorcycles

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It’s been a busy couple of weeks here, mainly with coursework. I completed a couple of courses which were both incredibly interesting, and incredibly frustrating at the same time. The first course on counterinsurgency featured some long days, but generally interesting material. The second course was on the District Stability Framework, the “way forward” in taking care of the non-kinetic aspects of building a stable Afghanistan. In military speak, “kinetic” operations mean basically killing people (ideally incorrigible insurgents who deserve it), “non-kinetic” operations are those which do not involve the use of force. Ideally, we want to maximize non-kinetic operations, I guess you could say. The reality is that at this point, dealing with security is a responsibility we want to shift to the ANSF, while ISAF works more toward advising and capacity building and draws down toward 2014 when the majority of coalition forces leave and Afghanistan, we hope, can start to take its first steps on its own. There will be a lot of support required in those initial steps, but it’ll be more in the development aid area, vice military aid.

DSF was interesting but in a way frustrating, as I suggested above, because the civilians involved in the course have a very different point of view from the military, and in group practical exercises it was hard sometimes to overcome the biases we carry toward each other. It was also made difficult by the fact that all of the facilitators usually involved were not available, leaving the lion’s share of work to a friend of mine, a junior officer from Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry who is actually the guy I’m replacing. He did a brilliant job of fending off some difficult questions and challenges and managed to keep things mostly on track. Mostly.

I was supposed to miss the last day of the course, because I was all set and rather excited to accompany my institution’s director on a liaison visit to one of the regions where we support courses, out in eastern Afghanistan near Jalalabad. I had my bags all packed, threw on all my battle rattle, and came to the office ready to catch a ride to the HLS to board a helicopter, only to learn that I had a missed call on my phone from the Operations Officer calling to tell me that due to a dust storm (my first), helos weren’t flying for routine operations, and we weren’t going anywhere. I was disappointed, and I suspect my roommate was too, because he was going to get the place to himself for a few days, and I happen to know all too well that I snore like a bastard, so I’m sure it’d have been appreciated.

Fortunately, there’s another trip planned to another site in a couple weeks’ time, and hopefully that one won’t be impaired. However, I understand Kabul’s spring is sometimes called “120 Days of Winds”, and if they’re like today’s, well, who knows what will happen. We’ll just have to watch and shoot, as the saying goes.

I have to say, my first sand/dust storm was interesting. The way the sky looks, the way it feels, it’s like nothing I’ve experienced before, and stupidly I didn’t grab a camera. However, it’s supposed to continue for a while, so I’m sure I’ll have the chance. I’d like to add more pictures here, but uploading them is a nightmare as I work off a ridiculously slow connection and it’s painful at times.

My fallback plan to occupy my mind was starting to plan for my leave. I got word a few days ago that my dates had been changed. I had one of the last leave blocks, and they’ve apparently eliminated that block so I got moved earlier, to August instead of mid-September. That’s probably because I’ll likely be coming home a little earlier than originally planned, but that’s the nature of the beast. This causes a little problem because my wife had the time booked off and it’s not clear that she’ll be able to change it, but we’ll hope for the best with lots of time to work on resolutions.

I think I explained a bit about HLTA before – it’s basically a travel allowance for when we go on leave that’s based on the cost of traveling home to Canada, but it can be used to go to a “third location”, and to bring your next of kin to meet you there. What I’m looking at doing right now is flying to Frankfurt, Germany, and meeting my wife there (because she should in theory be able to get a direct flight from Halifax), spending a couple of weeks exploring Europe, and then I’m going to head back here with a short side trip to Jordan. I’ve wanted to see Petra for as long as I’ve known it existed, and conveniently, I work with a Jordanian Army officer here who’s not only stirred that by having the camp plastered with Jordanian tourist posters, but he’s also offered to help organize the trip for me. My wife might come, she might not. But I played around with flight schedules and managed to make it all work potentially, and without even spending all my allowance (yet, anyhow), so we’ll have some to use on rail passes or something like that. It’s a long way off, but starting to plan for it makes me have something to look forward to, and when I get back from leave, things will be winding down nicely here.

My other occasional diversion is motorcycle shopping. I basically consigned my bike (a 2003 Suzuki Intruder VS800) back to the dealer who hooked me up with it for a steal, and should have a good chunk in trade for when I get home. Most of what I save up from being here is going to deal with paying off debts and retirement savings and things like that (and to making the leave trip awesome), but my one “reward” for deploying is a new bike. I’m looking at a Suzuki VStrom for the simple reason that I want a touring bike, and frankly, that bike’s pretty incredible as a commuting bike, a long haul tourer, and so on. I thought I’d go for something more “classic”, but it really struck me when I first saw one at the dealer. I’m debating between the 650cc version and 1000cc version, but I think I’ll go with the 650. It’ll be cheaper to insure, and according to all the reviews I’ve seen, more than adequate for the long rides I like – including quite possibly a tear down to Arizona where my parents winter. I’m thinking ride down, leave the bike there for the winter, fly back in the spring and ride home (via a different route), but we’ll see. My wife may have different ideas about what I do right when I get home.

Well, I don’t have much else to report on for now – things are good. We sent off a few people who are headed home, and there’s something of a tradition of roasting departing team mates, which last night turned into a good ribbing of each other’s cultures, primarily done in the form of YouTube videos. My contribution was introducing our American and Coalition Friends to Rick Mercer’s Talking To Americans, and ribbing our Italian brother with the hilarious “Europe & Italy”, a crude but funny animation on cultural differences that I found to be 100% true in the week I spent there in 2005. Good laughs make the thought of someone leaving “for good” easier, but reality is that life-long friendships are made here, and military folks have an amazing and constantly expanding networks of people who will insist on offering hospitality whenever you’re in the neighbourhood.

And with that all said, I’m going to bed.

My Bags Are Packed, I’m Ready To Go…

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Being home from Gagetown has an element of frustration to it that doesn’t make a lot of sense on the surface. After a chaotic final week of making sure everything was set for us to be able to take off on our appointed days (my team will travel on ten separate flights while the relief in place is conducted), I finally left on Friday afternoon. As I did in December, I managed to leave my winter coat in my room when I cleared out, and so I had to send my clerk in to pick it up for me. I think I’ll survive with out it for a few days, so not really worried.

Being home has some comforts, of course – spending time with my wife, having decent homecooked meals (while army food at the BARFF is actually quite good, it’s not the same as being home), being able to cook when I’m so inclined, and so on, it’s also frustrating. She, of course, has been preparing for the idea of me being gone, and has basically had the place to herself for most of three months already. So my return is actually disruptive. It screws up her routines, her ways of doing things, and it makes it such that she’d rather in some ways that I be gone.

Sounds bizarre, doesn’t it?

I get it, though. It’s especially complicated because she works from home, and I’m on leave and don’t have anywhere to be, anywhere to go, anything to do really. I’ve gotten my stuff mostly packed up (in fact, about the only think left to pack is my shave kit and my all electronics, since I’m using them now). Everything’s stacked up in the corner, ready to go.

Remember the post in November about the new rucksack I got and how complicated it was to put together and how massive it is? Well, I’m amazed how much I was able to cram into it. All my clothes, my gucci gel pillow, my sheets, and some other miscellanea all got in there, and I managed to get it all closed up.

So I’m home. And somewhat bored, anxious, something like that. I had thought about a trip down to Toronto to visit some people there but decided not to, and now I’m kicking myself for it. Could be worse, though, I suppose, I have friends here who aren’t leaving until a couple of weeks after me, and they’re sitting around, no doubt with the same frustrations.

Written by Nick

February 9, 2012 at 3:32 pm

Home For A Long Spell

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Friday was as low-load as expected. In fact, the only timing I had for the whole day was a briefing at 1300, our Rules of Engagement. We couldn’t get a large enough room to brief the entire camp at once, so we settled into the CO’s Conference Room with all the leaders who are now charged to brief their subordinates on the ROEs for the mission. These are the products of lots of staff work by the JAG to ensure that the rules about when we can use force, and what type of force, are appropriate for the mission, for our values, and reflect well on us. ROEs are secret, but suffice it to say that I’m quite satisfied that they’re very thorough and suitably robust. Our boss was in town for a couple of days to get the brief done, as he hasn’t yet been released from the current job. I like the guy, he seems to have a great sense of humour, and I think he’ll be good to work for. While we’d never met previously, as is commonly the case in the Army, we have lots of mutual friends.

I found myself sitting around the office afterward with nothing to do, so I went back to my room and finished cleaning and packing. All my green uniforms are going to get packed away here as I don’t need them anymore, and I brought home what I’ll need for the leave period, leaving a lot up there.

This morning (after a welcome period of sleeping in) I breezed into the office here in Halifax to turn in my travel claims, and talk to the powers that be about leave, because we found a really nice last minute five-star trip to Cuba leaving on Tuesday. Unfortunately, it looks like I can’t do it, because I don’t have enough leave days, which is frustrating because I’ll just be sitting around during embarkation leave with nothing to do, and this is the only time the wife has off… There’s one angle I can try which I’m going to check out tomorrow, but I’m not particularly optimistic, unfortunately.

Tomorrow is the Men’s Christmas Dinner, and a Regimental Sports Day for my home unit. The Men’s Dinner is a long-standing tradition in the Canadian Army (note, we use the word “Men’s” still out of tradition but it is of course the “soldiers'”, because we do have female soldiers after all. The dinner starts with a parade where the youngest soldier is promoted to Commanding Officer for the dinner, and the oldest Corporal is promoted to Regimental Sergeant Major. They then get to sit at the head table. The dinner itself is served by the Officers (who also do the dishes), and wine is poured by the NCOs. It’s an important role reversal, and it’s something that no one misses unless they absolutely have to.

Written by Nick

December 9, 2011 at 8:10 pm

Posted in Musings On Army Life

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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

Over The First Hurdle

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My first big job in my position as S1/Adjutant for my camp is to sort out the HLTA plan the leave schedule for the folks coming to the same camp as I am. It’s going to be a job to manage the plan as it looks like people will be shifting around a lot over the next year as ISAF shrinks dramatically in size. The US military is taking about 1/3 of its deployed forces out of Afghanistan, and several other countries are winding up their contributions. Deutsche Welle World Service reported that the German military will hand over their AO, centered around Feyzabad in northwestern Afghanistan, to the ANSF by the end of this year, for example. That is the idea, though – to work ourselves out of our jobs.

In the case of my camp, it’s converting from a regular military training centre to a literacy school, and NTM-A will likely decide that a presence there is not as necessary and we’ll be moving. So far, it sounds like we’ll be moving to Camp Julien, which was actually the original Canadian base in the Kabul area, but no one is really sure about that. We might also break up our current unit.

You can probably anticipate the problems that this will generate for managing leave plans, particularly for people I wind up no longer working with.

Today, however, I got the first draft of the plan done. I solicited everyone’s top three choices of dates (which are allocated in blocks based on logistics plans to get people out of the country), and started filling them in. I think I managed to get a good chunk of people the blocks they wanted, fortunately, and all of the people who have critical dates to hit in Canada I’ve managed to accommodate as well – we have a soldier who’s wife is pregnant and due to give birth while we’re away. An officer whose daughter will graduate from university. A soldier with a sister getting married. These sorts of things we do our best to fit in, and we’re set to manage that.

Of course, not everyone will be happy, and even though many junior soldiers chose mid tour blocks as their preferences, someone’s going to be leaving in the first block, within a couple of months of arriving, starting into an eight month tour. That’s life, though. I think I’ve got it reasonable well distributed. In my case, I chose the last block initially, but bumped it forward by one to give a Private his first choice. I would rather work though most of the tour and have less to come back to at the end. Just seems to make more sense that way.

Other than that, today was pretty slow. We were out to Wellington Range to “spectate” while a small number of people got to fire M72 rockets. The M72 is a 66mm single shot rocket which is effective against soft-skinned vehicles, light armour, simple bunkers, and so on. I laugh because since I joined the CF I’ve heard repeatedly about how it’s obsolete (it’s a modernization, basically, of the WW2 “bazooka”, and dates from the Vietnam area, though today’s NM72E5C1 model is much more advanced) and will be phased out of the system. For eleven years I’ve heard this, but apparently people found them useful in Afghanistan.

For workup, only 48 rockets were available, so only about 1 in 10 of the augmentees were able to actually fire, the rest of us just went to the range. What a day to forget my camera. That said, I didn’t get much of a view, but video might have worked well. It was a quick process, though for some reason we went with rifles again, drawing some funny looks.

We managed to get one rocket allocated for our camp, so I made sure it went to our medic, who likely wouldn’t get another change to shoot an M72. She was giddy for lack of a better term. May as well enjoy it.

Tomorrow, I will feel somewhat smug that all the stuff I had to get done before my next conference, and I’ll head off to do jungle lanes, which if the weather is good should be a bit of fun.

Written by Nick

November 29, 2011 at 11:03 pm

Over the halfway point for Block 1.

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Had a nice weekend at home, a little cocktail party last night and an overall pretty relaxing couple of days. In fact, last week in general wasn’t bad at all, even with the nonsense of training being unexpectedly rearranged. We’ve been lucking out with weather in particular. Friday morning was an early one to do our BFT. Rather than a boring route on base, we followed a rail trail which was snow-covered, just tamped down by ATV tracks. Made for a little bit of a harder go than normal, but nothing insurmountable. In fact, the snow made us use a bunch of different muscle groups, which was probably a good little workout. I trailed a bit behind the pack as I got into a conversation with one of the NCOs – but I ran a bit to close up in the end. I was in in 2:14 which was a little longer than an ideal time but well within the standards.

Getting done nice and early afforded me enough time to go get a nap in before the Task Force BBQ in the afternoon. I also sat in on the J4 Conference, which gave me a little insight into how the logistics end of the tour is unfolding. I’m the kind of person who gets a little obsessed with knowing as much as possible even outside of what I need to worry about. It was kind of pointless for me to be there, but the last one apparently covered some things I should have known about, so I went. I do feel good about the fact that we seem to be well ahead of where we need to be to get things done. I’ve started on the leave plan, and next up will be performance management stuff we should be able to get going on pretty quickly this week.

This week I’m hoping for more good weather, as we’re spending most of it on ranges – starting with pistol ranges tomorrow, jungle lanes, M72 though we just get to watch, only 48 rockets are available for the whole organization, so not many people get to actually shoot them. Mind you, I’m combat arms, so I might be one of the people who gets to shoot a live one. Who knows…?  Some more briefings and possibly the cancelled first aid training will happen this week as well I think. Not really clear yet.

This weekend, I’ve got to get all my UAB straightened out – going to hit Costco and fill up my MOBs with some more snivel kit stuff, and next week it gets sent out, and I have no idea how long it’ll be before I see it again! I’m going to be leaving here after the following week, so I’m going to try to get everything organized so that I’m basically able to live out of what’s coming back with me in January, and all of that will be what I take over to Afghanistan.

The other piece of the puzzle I’m contemplating is HLTA travel plans – where we’re going to go, we’ve discussed a few ideas, and if I can can firm some of those ideas up I’m going to have an easier time picking my leave block. I found an awesome GAP Adventures 17 day Trans-Mongolian Railroad tour which sounds incredible, but I don’t think that’s as appealing to the wife. Another time perhaps then. However, I don’t want to do something that’s easy to do another time – we get a fairly good-sized allowance for HLTA and I want to use every penny of it if I can, head to somewhere a little different/out of the ordinary. The tour aspect holds some appeal because then I won’t have as much planning to deal with, and in some cases, I can use HLTA money for more things. Cruises work the same way, but they’re really not that interesting to me, so I don’t know.

Let’s see how the week shapes up…

Written by Nick

November 27, 2011 at 10:52 pm