Afghanistan-A-Go-Go

A Reservist's Tale Of A Tour

Posts Tagged ‘ranges

So much for those plans!

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Our range day didn’t happen, because apparently there’s not quite a perfect system for coordinating when the range can be used. We used to go up onto the ANA garrison to use their range, but a range has been rebuilt closer to camp and just opened. Well, sort of. See, because we are in a fairly densely populated area, ranges aren’t just, as one of my Twitter mates said, “thataway…” – you can’t just shoot anywhere in a populated area. The new range is set up reasonably well, but there’s a road that runs behind it to one of the local “tourist attractions”, and it turns out that being a really nice day there was a lot of tourists out and about. So after waiting to try to account for everyone so we could go live, we got word to just shut it down.

Oh well. It was a good little hike to get there in full battle rattle, I’ll call it supplementary PT or something, and life goes on.

As we were there, getting a team picture taken, our Sergeant Major (not the one I’ve mentioned before, who’s just gone back to Australia in fact), says “So I found this interesting blog last night about CTC-A and about someone who works there traveling to Germany.” I laughed, because while I’ve not hidden this (obviously), I’ve also not publicized it particularly. And because I don’t know how people will react, for PERSEC reasons as well, I don’t mention anyone by name or really at all – I figure it’s just a better way to do things, after all. But it is an interesting cast of characters here, one that’s changed several times while I’ve been here as people come and go and the institution gets smaller. What’s amazing about the place is that we pretty much all get along well, which isn’t always the way things go in any workplace, and when thinking of your regular average job, add into that that we work longer hours, and we live in close quarters too. It’s not like you have a social life separate from your work life really – they basically merge, albeit it not perfectly. We work out on different schedules. Thursday nights I play trivia with Brits, most of the lads watch a movie in the office – it varies a bit. But we’re rarely far from each other, we eat most of our meals together, and so on. I guess we’d have to get along whether we want to or not, when you think about it.

Written by Nick

June 15, 2012 at 8:02 am

Watching Blog Stats

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WordPress has a couple of interesting features, not only does it tell me how many hits I get on the blog, and where they come from if they have direct referrers, but it tells me what search terms lead people to the blog (some are bizarre, I have to say), and also an idea of where readers come from. Most hits originate in Canada, which doesn’t surprise me, because virtuatlly everyone I’ve distributed the site info to is Canadian), but every now and then I will get weird one-offs, and sometimes, a whole bunch from one country – like the other day about 11 from Austria. Could all be the same person, know knows, but it was interesting to see that number of hits.

Today is a scorching hot Friday, though hot is a relative term, I’ve got a trip planned to southern Afghanistan where there is a whole lot more heat to contend with – and we’re headed to the range shortly for a mix of training and some good friendly competition in pistol and rifle shooting. Good way to spend a Friday afternoon, especially given that the power is off in the office while electricians do some work.

I did manage to sleep in today for the first time in a while, which was nice – my new room is pretty comfortable (if small) and there’s some luxury in no longer having a roommate – though even if I hadn’t moved, he’s gone on leave for three weeks anyhow – actually, with the way our leave process works it’ll be almost a month before I see him again. We’re busy working on pranks for when he returns.

Written by Nick

June 15, 2012 at 4:48 am

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Eight Weeks (And Then Some)

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Friday mornings are my “weekend”. We knock off work early Thursday and don’t have to be in the office until 1pm on Friday, giving me a morning to sleep in, and generally, we all meet for pancakes at the Afghan restaurant for brunch. It’s a nice little routine.

It’s now been eight weeks I’ve been here (actually a little more – I stepped off the plane onto the tarmac at Kabul International Airport on February 23) and I’m pretty well settled in. We’ve got a pattern of life mostly established, I work with a pretty awesome team of people, and we not only get our work done, we have a fair bit of fun doing it. There’s really no one in the cell I work in that I don’t get along with. Of course, we have extra incentive to get along, it’s not that easy to just move along.

Just like at home, we have training to get done, and we’ve now worked out a schedule to keep up on it. Things like ethics training are normal components of military life, and as one of the Canadian Unit Ethics Coordinators on the ground, I have a chore to run an hour refresher on a regular basis. We have first aid refreshers, ROE training refreshers, and of course range training.

Yesterday was a pretty rainy day in Kabul, and just as you might expect, it was also the day appointed for us to go to the range. There’s only a small contingent of Canadians where I work, but we’re close to another bunch, so we pool some of our training activities, so off we drove to the 100m range. It’s a rather unusual setting, more austere than a range at home, but that’s not shocking. The plan was to do some rifle zero confirmation (that is, making sure what you see through our optical sight matches where the bullets are hitting) for those who needed it, and then do some transition shooting. That means switching between rifle/carbine and pistol, which you might need to do if for some reason your rifle fails to fire and you need to get rounds down range.

Arriving at the range, which was a good test of the four wheel drive in the beat up Toyota Land Cruiser we had for the day, we discovered the rain had created a vast sea of sucking, heavy mud. Trudging around in it wasn’t much fun, and I found myself rather glad that I had jumped at a chance to do my zeroing already, because to do it right, you have to shoot from the prone, and laying in a mud pit wasn’t my idea of a good time. Transitions, on the other hand, weren’t so bad – but it went quickly, and I honestly can’t complain, because the wind, the rain, and the wet was just unpleasant, and I was happy to get back to camp and go to the gym to warm up. The range we went to faces into a mountain, but has lots of pasture land around, and several herds of goats and sheep could be seen, their tenders paying little attention to us.

On ranges in Canada, at the end of the day’s shooting, you have to pick up brass – all the spent casings. On courses, it’s common for staff to threaten some punishment for missing any – usually 10 pushups per casing. Here, before we could even imagine picking up any brass, the ANA tend to race down to take care of it. Brass is valuable, after all. The speed with which they work makes me think that they’re the closest thing to the mythical “brass magnet” that we suggest recruits should have brought with them.

One of the training/professional development events coming up will be a rather amusing fusion of my two careers – recently, a change to the retirement benefits Canadian soldiers get was announced. It’s similar to what was done for civilian defence employees last year, which kept me busy at my day job, so I’m going to run a little seminar for my colleagues who are impacted so I can help them understand what’s changing and the financial implications. Kind of funny to see my two professions collide, but I got enough requests that it only made sense.

Things are going well. Kabul is back to normal after last week’s attack, and I traveled through the city including past the site of one of the incidents shortly after and there was no real sign of anything having happened. Life has returned to normal, I think.

A bit about Kabul. I’ll try to get some pictures at some point, but it’s a bit of a crazy city. I’ve never seen traffic anything like it. Most intersections are traffic circles with police trying to direct traffic, but the reality is that they are trying to shoehorn chaos and it barely works. Add to this pandemonium seemingly aimless pedestrians everywhere, and you have a recipe for disaster, though it doesn’t seem like there’s that many real accidents. Most vehicles are Toyota Corollas imported from everywhere. Canadian ones are particularly prized apparently, and often have Canadian flag stickers on them. Where I used to live, in Oshawa, Ontario, an Afghan-Canadian who owned a pizza shop had a side business of buying used Corollas and sending them over – there were always several parked in front of his shop. There’s also a wide assortment of buses (often old German ones) and trucks (again, commonly German, with their original marking intact), and Toyota HiAce minivans, into which you can pack about 45 Afghans.. Often an Afghan license plate is simply put on top of the original German/European one. The other popular means of conveyance are motorcycles – generally Japanese or Chinese bikes, normally 150cc or so. They’re often adorned with all sorts of personalization – flags, stickers, tassels, and carpets on the seats. They make me miss bikes, but I’ve picked out my new one for when I get home.

Signs are everywhere advertising the latest technology – 3G phones are now available here, with Roshan and Etisalat rolling out their networks. Cell phone adds are most common, but you’ll see advertising for banks, insurance companies, and so on. Business is brisk, often in little shops, but new office/commercial buildings are everywhere as well, and there’s lots under construction (though it’s from buildings under construction that the most serious attacks have been launched). In addition to internet cafes and schools, you’ll see bakeries with footbread hanging on display (they generally sport fluorescent orange and yellow awnings, I’ve noticed), and butcher shops with meat just hanging out in the open – a little bit bizarre. Apparently, some of our guys saw a cow being slaughtered in the street in the city, locals didn’t seem to think anything of it. Not exactly what you’d expect at home.

What is most astounding is the sprawl, though. Kabul’s surrounded by steep mountains, and settlements are built all up them – little goat track-like roads lead up almost impossibly steep slopes to shanty towns which make me think of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas. They’re a sign of the real problem – Kabul was a city of about 500,000 until just a few years ago, now estimates place its population anywhere from 2-5 million – and the city doesn’t have adequate housing or services for them. That’s an issue they’ll have to tackle over time – but how, I’m not sure.

Written by Nick

April 20, 2012 at 1:11 pm

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

Thirty Days

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Today is my thirtieth day in theatre. It’s a small milestone, a month here, but it’s still a great one – it feels as though I’ve been here longer in some ways, now that I’ve got routines established, social networks in place, and a pretty good idea of what it is I’m doing here. A lot of people who were here when we arrived have just ripped out, and we’ve got some new arrivals to get introduced to. What always amazes me with military people is that you become fast friends, and people I’ve known for only that month leave with just as much significance as people you’ve known longer.

In fact, one of the guys who left this morning to make his way back to his unit in Kuwait, and eventually back home to Minnesota, is planning an epic round the world type trip that includes plans to try to meet up with several of us that have just arrived when we go on our leaves. He’s collected all the dates to try to arrange an appropriate itinerary, and through the wonders of Facebook and so on it should actually have some degree of possibility.

I have been amusing myself in my spare time with planning out my leave in more detail, so that when the time comes that I can actually start having things booked I’ll have a solid idea of where to go, what to do, when to do it, and so on. If I don’t use up all my HLTA money on flights and railpasses, I think I’m going to rent myself a nice touring bike for a couple of days while I wait for my wife to arrive in Germany to meet me. Rentals are much cheaper in Germany than in Canada, and so I can get my mitts on a nice BMW tourer, or a Harley-Davidson, or something that will do the trick. I thought about trying to rent my proposed new bike, but nowhere in Frankfurt-am-Main seems to rent them.

I can’t wait to explore some new cities and some history with my wife – we’ve not had the chance to do all that much traveling together in the last few years, and so it’ll be a great experience to do it. The trick for her is to make sure she has the time off work, which has been something of an issue so far, but we’ll see how it works out. There are numerous ways to deal with such problems.

My month ahead looks somewhat interesting. I’m headed out to one of the regions as part of a Mobile Training Team, and we have a course starting here as well that I’ll be involved in. I’ve just been involved in the course we give to new arrivals, as we have some guys in replacing people getting ready to go home, and I’m starting to get the impression that there’s really a point to my being here. There were moments I wasn’t totally sure about that. I just basically tried in those moments to learn as much as I could about what’s going on around me and figure out how to make myself relevant. It’s easy to look at tasks here as impossibly large, but when you realize that incrementally there are loads of small things that make differences, it’s easier to handle. I guess that’s something that military service is good at getting you to understand – when you face a daunting problem, break it into smaller ones and attack each individually.

Things have seemed a little unsettled for the simple reason that the school I work at is in the middle of transitioning, we’re working at shifting responsibilities from us to the ANA – and so what the people we replaced did doesn’t match up directly with what we’re doing, and that’s fine. It’s just an adjustment to define what exactly we need to do going forward to meet our goals, because the school’s plan is to hand off increasing amounts of responsibility to the ANA over the next few months. They have some things to develop their capabilities on, and some things they do well, we just need to help them along.

So how’d I spend day thirty? Well, Friday is our “weekend”, we don’t start work until 1pm. I got up at 10:30 after a nice sleep in. Last night I was out to trivia with the Brits (and we didn’t win, sadly!) and was in the office fairly late doing travel research, so it was nice to not have to get up early. This afternoon we were up to the range to do some Quick Reaction Drill shooting – basically, you’re sitting at your desk and someone decides to turn green-on-blue on you – how to react. Of course, the odds of that are rare, but there was an incident at Kabul International Airport where an Afghan Air Force Colonel, who was apparently about to be busted for using ANSF aircraft to smuggle drugs, shot eight people dead before killing himself. The victims were all armed and failed to react effectively. One of them, apparently, had a pistol but instead had a cellphone in their hand.

It was good just to get out, enjoy the weather, and get some shooting in. It looked like rain for a while but it turned out okay in the end. The best part: at ranges at home, after shooting you have to pick up all the brass (spent casing). Not so in Afghanistan. Within seconds of our completing our shoot, a bunch of ANA soldiers descended from the hills beside the range and furiously collected all the brass in no time flat. It was something of a sight to see. I guess it’s because they can sell it for scrap. Whatever the case, it doesn’t bother anyone, and saves us doing it.

Written by Nick

March 23, 2012 at 11:32 am

Deeper Thoughts On Training

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or we shouldn’t. I don’t.

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

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

Written by Nick

January 20, 2012 at 10:50 pm

And We’re Back…

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Back to Gagetown. I arrived back in the area Saturday night with my wife, she came to drop me off to resume workup training, and mainly because we wanted to go for dinner at a particular restaurant in Fredericton that we discovered on arriving no longer exists! Nevertheless we had a nice evening out with an old friend of mine from a course six years ago. She’s out of the military now, but her then-shaggy-haired boyfriend is now her Army Captain husband. We hit a wine bar for a long night of revelry before heading back to our hotel.

I got back to the shacks Sunday afternoon and set about sort of unpacking. I have a fair bit less stuff here now, because I’m trying to more or less live out of my barrack box until it’s time to leave. I’m here until February 3rd, and literally every day is booked with some sort of training activity. Tomorrow I’m off to do convoy ranges at Swan Creek Lake. I got some frostbite watching the demos today, but tomorrow should be a little warmer as I understand it. Wednesday I have… I can’t actually remember, and Thursday I start first aid training, a good refresher. Standard then combat first aid will take me through the weekend, and then we move on to some other stuff. Mostly it’s “classroom” so I shouldn’t be too bothered about things like cold.

We’ve got about an inch of snow on the ground. Kabul apparently got something like a foot over the weekend, though it won’t likely last long.

Today was also my first day wearing my CADPAT(AR) uniform – desert cam. It’s just weird seeing my reflection in it – or people milling around in it. We are also a Sergeant Major’s worst nightmare, because climactic conditions mean we have to make use of all our cold weather gear, which is all green. I don’t think this will make sense to the average civilian, but mixing different uniform components is generally a big no-no that drives those charged with enforcing dress and deportment ballistic. Alas, we carry on.

I got my departure date today (although it’s not 100%, I haven’t seen it on paper), early on in the relief-in-place, which is good. I won’t have a lot of time sitting around between the end of training and when I head off.

In addition to all the training on the schedule I’m still working at learning the language. I got my hands on some better materials and I’m starting to get a grip on the basics of things. It’s tough to learn a language that literally in no way resembles any language I know. I’m starting to wrap my head around things like basic grammar, and very slowly building up a little vocabulary. I have a lot of lessons left though, and I’m hoping that between the different tools I have and the time remaining I’ll have some better skills.

For those of you reading this regularly (or stumbling upon it – that seems to happen from time to time too!), what do you want me to tell you about? I feel like I’m not telling that great a story yet, but I’m not totally sure if there’s better directions. Use the comment feature to tell me what you might want to see.

Written by Nick

January 16, 2012 at 11:45 pm

Into Every Training Plan A Little Rain Must Fall

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Today was our last day out in the training area until the end of this block of training when we get RTU for Christmas leave. Today’s training was a trip to Drummond Close Quarter Battle Lanes (which are commonly known as “jungle lanes”) to do pairs fire and movement. Rather than a conventional (static) range where you fire from a specific firing point, jungle lanes are lanes in which two firers move down the range engaging a series of targets. Normally, it’s done with electronic pop-up targets, but to make things easier, we just used conventional paper targets called Figure 11s, basically the silhouette of an angry looking bad guy sometimes called Chargin’ Charlie. The aim is to work with a partner and practice communication, basic battle drills, and so on.

We took buses out to Drummond, and divided into five groups headed to the different ranges. It wasn’t until we got off the MSVS’s at lane 6 that I realized that my friend Adam was on the same relay. Being that we are both infantry, we decided we’d pair up, and we ran through the dry training before the live range pretty quickly. We were set to go first before being stopped for not having flak jackets, which we’re supposed to have already but had to order. So we waited for some other teams to go downrange and grabbed theirs on the way back out.

When our turn came it went pretty slick, though I think I kind of rushed things and got myself into Condition Black (a physiological state where heartrate and respiration makes fine motor skills difficult and there’s an element of panic), and it wasn’t as good as I would have liked. This was the first range I did with my SORD rig, too, and mag changes were easier than with our old Tactical Vest but not as slick as I’d have liked. I’ve also decided I don’t like the way my single point sling hooks up: the sling caught the charging handle of the rifle a couple of times and made it difficult to do some drills.

The lane was full of sucking mud, and I slipped into a puddle, coating my boots in mud and drawing laughter from the safety staff, and Adam once he had the chance to get some rounds downrange. It’s drying off now, but I don’t think I’ll be able to wear those boots for a couple of days, and they’ll need quite a brushing off when I do.

We were done in no time, which was great as the rain started hammering down, and I scrambled into the back of a LAV-III parked on the range to get out of it. We were done so early that our buses were nowhere near picking us up, so the range staff decided to pack everyone into two MSVS’s and send us back to camp that way. It’s a long, slow ride because army trucks cannot take public highways while loaded with soldiers (“trooplifting”). I called shotgun as a joke, and was rewarded with a ride in the cab of the truck which was much more comfortable, despite the driver’s taste in some pretty heavy rap.

Getting back to camp, I gave my rifle a quick clean and turned it in and returned to the office to finish off the leave plan, which I had to reformat to fit in the master document. It was a tedious process, but I got it done eventually. I was also able to learn that my second pay on my Class C contract went to the wrong account, because some clerk transposed digits in the bank transit. Fortunately, a friend at the bank got it sorted out in no time, and the clerk who was responsible has been reassigned, apparently. It wasn’t only me that had problems with pay based on this transposition problem. It should now be good to go for next pay, on December 15th.

I then headed over to clothing stores and was able to pick up my very own flak vest, right after the last range I’ll need it for until the new year. Oh well. It’s good to have and get used to wearing. We have training plates that simulate the weight of the bullet resistant ballistic plates we’ll get before we go, and as I’m not used to wearing them, it only makes sense to start.

We capped off the day with a slightly comical briefing on “AFV Recognition”. Normally this would be “armoured vehicle recognition”, how to identify different types of tanks and other vehicles. This, however, was more “Afghan Vehicle Recognition”. I’m not totally checked out on the differences between Toyota Corollas (90% of the cars in Afghanistan), Corolla Sarachis (station wagons), Toyota Hilux pickup trucks, Toyota 4Runners, Toyota HiAce minivans, jingle trucks, cargo trucks, and so on. The only real key point is that the bad guys use all of them. A Toyota Land Cruiser carrying 700kg of homemade explosives was what killed MCpl Greff in Kabul just before Remembrance Day, after all.

Tomorrow we have nothing official on the schedule, so it’ll be some cultural briefing and readings, some language study, and my unit CO (and possibly the CO of my old unit) are going to be in town for a graduation parade at the Infantry School. I’m hoping to see them for lunch or something like that. I should also be able to head over to clothing stores again to pick up my new rucksack, which apparently arrived in a shipment today, but the supply technicians hadn’t been able to get all the parts together when I picked up my flak vest.

Friday is a bunch more briefings before I head back to Halifax again, where I’ll be off to Costco collecting stuff to pack in my UAB since it’ll be shipping out next week. I’ve got some ideas about what to pack – simple things mostly – coffee, tea, shave kit type stuff, and so on. I have lots of space, so I’ll fill it up with stuff I want to make sure I have over there, rather than being at the mercies of whatever I can acquire.

Here’s a picture of me from the range today, making the best effort I can to look like I’m having fun with all the liquid sunshine.

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Written by Nick

November 30, 2011 at 11:48 pm

Posted in Workup Training

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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