Afghanistan-A-Go-Go

A Reservist's Tale Of A Tour

Posts Tagged ‘shake out

Welcome To Kabul

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After a long trip, I’ve arrived in Kabul. I was impressed that despite the long travel time, and the time change of 8.5 hours, I actually didn’t feel a great deal of jet lag.

Stepping of the plane at Kabul International Airport I was struck immediately by the sight of the snow-capped Hindu Kush mountains, which surround the city. Then I got my first few breaths of the air – thin at 5900ft above sea level, and not exactly fresh. But medics assure us that while winter air quality is poor, due to people burning just about anything for heat, the spring winds deal with it, and it’s not that bad according to testing.

KAIA is a busy place, and we were shepherded off quickly to start inclearance.

I managed to sleep on most of the flight, which probably helped. And every time we stopped along the way, we got fed, which coupled nicely with the NyQuil I was popping to make sure I slept.

Prior to leaving we’d heard that there was challenges with heat where we were sleeping, about long delays and not enough food along the way, all of which turned out to be false.

I’m still “in transit” to my final destination, but getting into the swing of things. The one problem we have is that so much is changing that everything I thought I knew about the next few months seems a little unclear. But that’s how things go. There’s a saying in the military: no plan survives contact. So I’m not surprised. I’ll just roll with it all.

Written by Nick

February 25, 2012 at 1:17 am

A Lot More Traffic!

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Well, today was the busiest day the blog’s ever had, thanks to the link my civilian employer added to its intranet site. I’m working to keep in touch with them while I’m gone, and quite a few people seemed to have an interest in what’s going on, so I wonder how many will keep following along having seen this. Kind of unfortunate that I didn’t have anything too interesting up. I’m going to work on that more. And on adding more pictures, but it’s been difficult to get many good ones during training, because training is of course my priority.

I have to commend our hosts from 2 RCR (mainly India Company, who are largely making up the Rear Party and running all the training for us). They’ve been running some of the most efficient ranges I’ve seen, which is important when you’re trying to get so many people through the process of getting all their qualifications without wasting too much time. They’re faced with an additional challenge in that the Task Force is composed of people from all arms and services, and all different levels of skill. They’ve handled the challenge incredibly well. Today was no exception, although I did start my day off with a fair bit of confusion about where to be and when. We also wound up drawing our rifles from lockup and it was totally unnecessary as we didn’t use them. Oh well. It meant they got a bit more cleaning, and it did give me a chance to experiment a bit with the set up of my SORD rig, which was good. With totally new gear we’re trying out all sorts of different configurations to see what works, and I think once I find spots for my radios I’ll have mine set. The trick, of course, is that I don’t know what radios I’ll be carrying, if any. My job “over there” probably doesn’t require any, but I’m looking beyond just the tour in the hopes that this is the kit we’ll be keeping, because it’s a pretty dramatic improvement over our current load carriage equipment.

In any case, by about 9:30 we had finally figured out what we were doing for the day and got started on training. First off was the grenade range, which starts off by throwing dummy grenades to ensure that everyone’s clear on the drills. That’s actually how all range training starts, with what we call TOETs, but with grenades it seems to be more important. We then jumped into the back of an MSVS (big army truck) for a ride out to Verdun Range. As an aside, all of Gagetown’s ranges are named for World War I battlefields, fittingly enough this fall as they’re all muddy mires. The ranges went pretty quickly until about halfway through the first relay (group of throwers) when we had a dud, tossed by the S3 of my camp. This meant we sat and waited 30 minutes to see what happened before calling EOD (explosive ordnance disposal – combat engineer specialists) to blow it up. As soon as that was done, however, it was back to business, and we were all done not long after noon. Everyone has to throw two grenades to get the IBTS “check”, and that’s generally pretty quick. No one had any issues, although some people get pretty nervous around grenades, “boob nervous” as the Sergeant running the show called it. I’m sure I don’t have to explain the meaning there.

We had lunch in the range shack quickly and jumped on another MSVS to get shuttled to Somme Range, to do some pistol shooting. The Infantry School’s Urban Operations Instructors came out to do some training, which was of great value. Most people in the CF rarely see, never mind shoot pistols, and the reality is that on this tour, if anything happens that will put us into a firefight, it’ll likely be the pistol that we’ll have at hand. It makes me think of an old, classic Steve Earle song called “The Devil’s Right Hand”:

About the time that Daddy left to fight the big war
I saw my first pistol in the general store
In the general store, when I was thirteen
Thought it was the finest thing I ever had seen
So l asked if I could have one someday when I grew up
Mama dropped a dozen eggs, she really blew up
She really blew up and I didn’t understand
Mama said the pistol is the devil’s right hand

The devil’s right hand, the devil’s right hand
Mama said the pistol is the devil’s right hand

My very first pistol was a cap and ball Colt
Shoot as fast as lightnin’ but it loads a mite slow
Loads a mite slow and soon I found out
It can get you into trouble but it can’t get you out
So then I went and bought myself a Colt 45
Called a peacemaker but I never knew why
Never knew why, I didn’t understand
Cause Mama said the pistol is the devil’s right hand

Well I get into a card game in a company town
Caught a miner cheating I shot the dog down
Shot the dog down, watched the man fall
Never touched his holster, never had a chance to draw
The trial was in the morning and they drug me out of bed
Asked me how I pleaded, not guilty I said
Not guilty I said, you’ve got the wrong man
Nothing touched the trigger but the devil’s right hand

We actually had a pretty successful shoot, a lot of people with little or no confidence with the tool were a lot better off. I was talking to one of the instructors, and we both observed how in recent years, we’ve gone to teaching a program called “Gunfighter” which is a more practical shooting program. It basically requires breaking people of bad habits, including most of what they were taught on basic training, because we still essentially teach them “wrong”. The thing we noticesd is that the people who identified themselves as having little or no experience tended to be among the best students because they were blank slates, and with good instruction we can turn almost anyone into a good shot. The biggest challenge I found, being a recreational shooter who uses what I can only describe as more modern pistols generally, is that our 9 millies have controls that are not exactly user-friendly, in particular the safety which is not hard to take off, but hard to get back on – I can’t actually do it with one hand as you should be able to. Many modern pistols don’t have mechanical safeties in the same style, which is my prefererence, but alas, I have to use what I have.

I was happy with my shooting, though, and even though it was raining by the time my relay was up, it was not bad. The only part that wasn’t much fun was the inevitable cleanup, picking up as many of the spent casings as we could in about 20 minutes before we shut down for the day. Back to the MSA to check my rifle in, off to supper (I went with spaghetti and meat sauce, and an excellent turkey soup, with a big salad), and now I’m back in my room, mulling over whether to do laundry now. I think I’ll wait until tomorrow, though, since it’s back to the range and more mud is inevitable. I have an OGrp tomorrow at 7:30 before PT so I think I’ll try to get to bed at a decent hour tonight, I didn’t manage to last night.

I’m also trying to think of what else to pack up in my UAB. I have the Keurig, and I think I’m going to go buy some new books. I figure I will have a fair bit of time off work with not a lot to do, and there has to be better things to do than play video games, and I can only spend so much time in the gym… frankly I’m not a gym junkie and while that might change, I have to have more to my plans than that. I might even look at more schooling by correspondence. I have a litany of these sorts of ridiculous ideas running through my head, actually, but for now they’re not gelling into anything so I just keep pondering. I think I’ll head to Costco on the weekend and stock up on some snack and treat items to send over, things to break the potential monotony of DFAC food and so on.

That’s my Monday. Lots of fun. Tomorrow we’re off to the rocket range, mainly to watch people shoot M72s, a light, 66mm anti-tank rocket. They’ve been “going out of the system” for years, but apparently in Afghanistan they were found to be quite useful, and so they’re still around. There’s only a small number available, and I’m pretty sure I’ll just be taking pictures. Wednesday we’re off to do jungle lanes, a fire-and-movement range, which should be a lot of fun, and rather practical. Thursday we have grenades on the schedule, but that’s rather pointless since we’re done, so we’ll be finding something else to do – language training or possibly some other IBTS training. Friday is “professional development” of some sort, whatever that means, and then back again to Halifax.  Two weeks until we cease training for Christmas and New Years, and I get to spend some quality time at home.

Written by Nick

November 28, 2011 at 7:12 pm

Monday of Week 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Nick

November 14, 2011 at 10:27 pm

Getting In The Loop

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I went to PT with the TF HQ folks this morning, a short run because the water was being turned off in our barracks and we had to get back in time to get showers and all that good stuff, it was a nice jaunt through the Lindsay Valley area of the Camp, probably about five kilometres, maybe a little more. I think I might start using RunKeeper or something like that to keep track. The blister wasn’t a problem, neither was my shoes being full of sand since Not Since Moses back in July. Did I mention I hate running and don’t do it much unless I have to?

The dispute about who I’m working for is now settled, I was in the right place all along as I suspected. Now that that is clear I can get on with the job, which is starting to take some shape. I thought I’d be into the meeting with the J1 (the guy who’s basically the next level up from my job) this afternoon, but it looks like they’ve got too much on the go, so we’ll probably meet after sports day tomorrow at the mess. We’re bumping the traditional TGIF festivities to TGIT because of Remembrance Day. I won’t stay too long though, because I’m going to be going back to Halifax tomorrow night for the weekend.

We had our first real OGrp this morning to get a lot more info, on how things are being structured. A few things are clearer now, including that this tour is going to be eight months, not nine – meaning only one leave trip for the duration, and when we should know when our RIP (deployment) dates are and when our leave is likely to be.  I had lunch with the boss today too, got to know him a bit which is always a good thing. It’s slow getting started but we’re getting there. Next week I know we’re going to be out to the pistol range for a couple of days, getting a lot of familiarization with our 9mms and a lot of really good practical shooting in. For me, shooting pistols is a hobby, so it’s not going to be too much, but at the same time, the pistols the CF uses and that we’ll be carrying aren’t the modern sort I tend to use – there’s more to learn with handling, and of course getting a feel for them. If we do get into any trouble, it’s the pistol that will get us out. It makes me think of the Steve Earle song Devil’s Right Hand – “My very first pistol was a cap-and-ball Colt, shoots as fast as lightning but she loads a-might slow – soon found out, it’ll get you into trouble but it can’t get you out…”

Part of the plan is to carry them loaded (with dummy rounds) everywhere to get used to it. That will be the routine over there, and most people never touch the damned things over here. Makes sense.

I got a CD of Dari MP3s to start learning – but I’m a visual learner, so I need to find some more stuff – I need to get into how the grammar works, how the language is structured, because I can’t just memorize phrases and really get anywhere that way. I’ve found some websites already, and I also am going to have access to some sort of awesome language lab that we got donated to us for research purposes by the developers. It’s sort of an interactive thing apparently, I haven’t seen it yet. Someone described it as a “first person talker” where you interact with Dari-speaking characters. Since I will be back from block leave a week ahead of the Reg F guys I’ll have a week to spend in the lab, and I plan to make full use of it.

It’s 2pm now, and I think I’ll head back over to the office to see what the plan for Sports Day tomorrow is – and well, if there’s nothing else to do at the time, I’ll get my leave pass autographed for the weekend, and head back here.

Written by Nick

November 9, 2011 at 2:03 pm

Day One

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We’re underway. This morning I walked into a massive mob of people at 2RCR’s massive headquarters building. It seemed like it was going to be a complete goat rodeo, but as the military is very capable of doing, it was very quickly organized into a pretty efficient process. Clerks looked over our document packages, confirmed our positions, and broke us down into each of the camp organizations. After about three hours of standing in lines of various descriptions, I was done, and introduced to some of the folks I will be working with for the next year or so. We parted company for lunch, and I returned to my (palatial) shacks for the afternoon until our standup parade at 3:30. Parade, incidentally, is essentially the term used for any reasonably formal assembly of soldiers, not what the civilian term implies.

That was a brief gathering, with all the folks I’m training with. We went over some macro points of the schedule, and with confirmation of what’s going on for PT tomorrow morning – a ruck march – we again went our separate ways.

I’m really bad with names, generally, but I’m going to have to get practiced at it – I’ve got a lot to learn over the next little while it seems like – at least the key people on the team I’m working with, and that’s coming together.

So far, so good.

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Written by Nick

November 7, 2011 at 9:32 pm

Day One

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We’re underway. This morning I walked into a massive mob of people at 2RCR’s massive headquarters building. It seemed like it was going to be a complete goat rodeo, but as the military is very capable of doing, it was very quickly organized into a pretty efficient process. Clerks looked over our document packages, confirmed our positions, and broke us down into each of the camp organizations. After about three hours of standing in lines of various descriptions, I was done, and introduced to some of the folks I will be working with for the next year or so. We parted company for lunch, and I returned to my (palatial) shacks for the afternoon until our standup parade at 3:30. Parade, incidentally, is essentially the term used for any reasonably formal assembly of soldiers, not what the civilian term implies.

That was a brief gathering, with all the folks I’m training with. We went over some macro points of the schedule, and with confirmation of what’s going on for PT tomorrow morning – a ruck march – we again went our separate ways.

I’m really bad with names, generally, but I’m going to have to get practiced at it – I’ve got a lot to learn over the next little while it seems like – at least the key people on the team I’m working with, and that’s coming together.

So far, so good.

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Written by Nick

November 7, 2011 at 9:32 pm