Afghanistan-A-Go-Go

A Reservist's Tale Of A Tour

Posts Tagged ‘support

Fortune Favours The Bold

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Alright, I guess I am not quite done.

I have this thing for Latin sayings, proverbs, and the like. It’s probably the product of reading far too much history and the like, coupled with an inability to articulate my thoughts well in an original way which makes it easy to put others’ sayings to good use.

My high school had an interesting one, Palma Non Sine Pulvere, which no one ever actually explained to any of us that I know of, but I came to understand while at the Infantry School. Literally, it means “no palms without the dust”. It refers to the Gladiators, who in victory walked on a path covered in palm fronds when leaving the arena in victory. To do so meant going into the fight, getting covered in the dust and dirt of the arena. To extend it, nothing worth having comes easily. If there’s anything that can teach a person just what they’re actually capable of, of what their limits are, I submit to you that infantry officer training is probably it, and finishing the dismounted course (which is as far as reservists normally go) was the feeling of walking off like that. There were palms, and there was a whole lot of dust. And mud. And so on.

Before I sound like too much of a pseudointellectual, there’s a point to all this, and since it fits into the story, I decided to include it.

I have come to a realization. It’s time to move on career-wise, and for the past week I’ve been struggling with trying to figure out how to do it.

I have at least come up with some next steps. I tend to be a fairly deliberate, methodical, calculating person – I plan and scheme with a view to getting rid of every imaginable risk in a decision to the point that it can often be almost paralyzing. It was a habit I had to break working in the military, because as you’ve likely heard, a workable plan executed aggressively at the right time is better than a perfect plan executed too late.

As it happens, there’s actually a term for this. It’s called Kotov Syndrome, named for Russian chessmaster Alexander Kotov, who described it in a book he wrote. Specifically, he used it to describe a situation where a player in a chess game is placed in a complicated position without a clear path. After contemplating for too long, the player is then forced to make a move as they run out of time, and makes devastating mistake as a result. How do I know this useless trivia? Well, one of my favourite bands is Rise Against, who have a song called Kotov Syndrome and I had to figure out what the origin of the name was. Whatever works though, right?

So, I’ve contemplated my options and I’ve made a decision on my next steps, which are relatively bold, and involve something of a leap of faith, because I do not have everything lined up the way I want it to be but I have to accept that. It is the step into thin air, in a way. Again, when I was younger and less responsible, my friends and I had a hobby of finding things to rappel off. Bridges, buildings, whatever. It was usually an “unsanctioned activity”, but a good time. When you rappel from something like a bridge (or a helicopter skid, as I’ve also been able to do in a more legitimate capacity), that first bound is into thin air. You have a drop of at least your height when the rope anchor is below you before you get tension on the line which lets you control your speed of descent. That first step you simply have to trust that you’ve set everything up right and that it will work – that the anchor was set right, that you’ve hooked your gear up right, and that it’s going to do the job. And then you go, you free fall until everything catches and you resume control.

I’m basically doing that. I realized that I only have an illusory sense of “security” anyhow, and that I have a set up that should do the job when I step off the ledge. And I do.

There’s some organizations that exist to help with transitions – they’re mainly aimed at people leaving the Regular Force and transitioning to civilian employment, but Reservists coming back from deployments are often in the same sort of position and so they offer the same sort of help. I’m working with a couple of them, and planning to relocate, which is bit of a stressful experience on its own, but ultimately will serve me well.

I still have a backup COA, as you do – but I figure if you’re going to make one of those uprooting bold changes, this is probably a good time to do it. Fortune does favour the bold, after all.

The Shadow Army Run

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Today in Ottawa is the Army Run, in its fifth iteration. Across Afghanistan, various camps where Canadians are held “Shadow” runs today, and that’s how I started my Sunday. I for some reason did not sleep particularly well last night, and so I probably hit my snooze button about six times before wandering over to the track (probably the last to arrive, however, that’s something that seems to be my custom lately, particularly for Canadian events that have time changes that don’t always seem to get passed on to me – though that is improving!).

The first run was the 5K, a good turn out, and we stood around and cheered the runners on before it was time to start the 10K. Let it be known that while I’ll run when I have to, it’s by no means my favourite activity. However, the Army Run raises funds for Soldier On and the Military Families Fund, both great causes, and so I of course was happy to make my donation and head out to the run. And because of my trade, I was of course sort of pressganged into the 10K. But I’m glad – it was more of a challenge, right? So off we went, me following the theory of slow and steady wins the race. There’s more than a few gazelles among us, and a couple of them were across the line in just over 41 minutes, a respectable accomplishment, especially 2000 metres above sea level. Me, well, I didn’t finish anywhere near that fast – but the part I’m happy with is that I finished. And it felt pretty good. Enough that I’d do it again. Just not for a couple of days.

So, if you’ve been enjoying my tales and feel like a little retroactive sponsorship, please, feel free to follow the links and donate to those organizations. Or the others I’ve put links to. Or Oxfam. Or whatever you might like. There are literally hundreds of organizations doing good work for military families, for Afghans, for all sorts of people who could use a bit of help around the world. Pick a cause and become a part of it. It’s good for you. Probably in some ways better than this morning’s run was for me.

Written by Nick

September 23, 2012 at 5:51 am

A Quick, Shameless Plug For A Good Cause

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My small cadre of fans, I have a favour to ask.

When I first joined the army, I lived in Peterborough, Ontario, and was a member of the Hastings & Prince Edward Regiment. The Hasty Ps, especially in Peterborough, were like big family, and over the years, that sense of family was tested and proven many times.

Also from Peterborough was a young boy named James Birrell, who suffered from a horrible brain cancer called neuroblastoma. James, in his very short life, touched a lot of lives. Including the Hasty Ps. It turns out that one of our soldiers rented a room in a house that belonged to James’ aunt (if I remember right), and from hearing the stories, a little inspiration was born. James loved green trains, you see. What looks a little like a green train? A bunch of soldiers on a ruck march. So some of the troops got an idea to do a ruck march through town to keep awareness of the James Fund (the charity created in his name) alive, to encourage physical fitness, to just do something good together.

I did a few of the Green Train Marches before moving on. It disappeared for a couple of years but has since restarted. It actually happened yesterday. I, being Over Here, couldn’t be a part, but I’ve decided to support them a bit, but more importantly, here’s what I’m asking of you.

1. Go to http://www.jamesfund.com and read a bit about James and his story, and be inspired by how brave kids can be.

2. Go to http://my.sickkidsdonations.com/personalPage.aspx?registrationID=1372041 and make a donation. Any donation. The fund is administered by Toronto’s outstanding Hospital For Sick Children. You get a tax receipt, and research goes on. Everyone feels good.

Seriously, go. Do it. I’ve gotten all sorts of offers from people to send care packages and such things here, but honestly, I don’t need anything. What I’d much rather those people who have that sense of generosity do is something like this.

Thanks!

“Ya can’t let cancer ruin your day.” Well said, kid.

Written by Nick

April 15, 2012 at 12:44 am

Things On My Mind Before I Go

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The day is getting so close now that I’m trying to review in my head all the things I need to get done, and it’s complicated. I wanted to get my tax return sorted out for the year before I left, and I managed to do that last night. I made a typo in my tax software that made me think I was getting back a pretty sizable return, but when I was going over everything I discovered the mistake. It turns out I owe this year – though nothing overwhelming. One of the tricks being a Reservist is that I have to try to get it so that the tax withheld on my army pay is enough to actually cover what I owe. I’ve gotten better at this over time, but it’s not perfect. I think I’ll just use a small RRSP loan to cover off the balance, and pay it off when I get over there, which shouldn’t be an issue.

I have the option to defer filing until after my tour, but I’m not going to do that for one simple reason: the nature of my civilian job is such that it’s much easier to file electronically, rather than assemble a massive tax package – being paid by commissions means you have a lot of deductions to submit receipts etc for. If I defer, I’ll miss the window on NetFile, and that’s more hassle than it’s worth. I have almost  everything I need now anyhow – just waiting on one last T4 slip to make sure I have all the numbers right, and I’m good to go.

The family dynamic is what’s really interesting, challenging. I have been in the army 11 years, all of them as a reservist. That means I’ve been away from home a fair bit, but usually in very short spurts – a weekend here, a week there, the odd longer stint doing courses and so on. The longest so far was about 14 weeks while I was on one my officer training courses at the Infantry School. Being three hours from my parents and able to talk to my wife whenever I felt like it more or less made that pretty simple. When I went back in January, I wasn’t home for three weeks, and that’s a first in a while, since 2008 actually. In the first stage of workup I was home every weekend as it’s a relatively short drive and I could always find someone to bring me here.

That seems like forever ago, incidentally – this whole process seems like it has been a whole lot longer than it actually has.

This is going to be different, and it won’t be easy I suspect. From when I leave to get on the plane in a few days, it’ll be something like seven months before I see my wife again, when we meet during my leave. That actually makes me think my dates might have to change, since they don’t match up with our projected RIP dates – must look into that… We haven’t yet decided where we’re going, we’ve discussed Greece, Turkey, the Czech Republic (and a Eurail Pass), Morocco (well, I have), Russia, so many ideas. I’ll see her for a couple of weeks, and then head back for the last little stretch beforee it’s time to come home.

There’s an interesting effect though, I’ve noticed. Being home actually creates disruption for now – she’s so used to the idea of me being gone that my being here disrupts the routines, the structures she’s gotten in place to be ready for the next little while. It’s not just me that’s got a lot to contend with – in fact, it’s families that do a lot more. I’ve always admired military families, I’ve always heard from senior leaders how important they are to the team’s effort, how vital they are to the CF being able to do anything, but it’s going from abstraction to reality.

They don’t do it alone, fortunately.

Unlike the last time I had my name in for a tour, we have something of a luxury in that we live in a military town. Halifax is the home port of the Royal Canadian Navy’s Atlantic Fleet, so there’s lots of people in uniform here, and a great Military Family Resource Centre, which provides all sorts of services to our families. My wife was out to a briefing on how everything works, everything from why you always answer the phone when call display comes up “Government of Canada” (bad news is never delivered by phone), to what actually does happen in the event of casualties. I remember during my infantry officer course that it was important to include in your plan and your orders what the medevac plan is, how you’ll deal with casualties, because those you lead need to know that there is a plan. So they got the same briefing we did, what the medical resources are there, what happens when the worst happens, and all that.

One of my peers – actually two of them – also took it upon themselves to make sure that my wife has people to call if she needs anything. We refer to the Army as being family, and it really is. We look out for each other, we look out for everyone’s family. It’s not something they have to tell us to do, it just happens. I’m glad to know that is the case. I know that if I’m not around and something does happen she’s got people to call on. That said, the marvels of modern technology mean that I’m going to be able to stay in touch pretty well – I don’t think we’ll be that out of touch. Between Skype, Facebook, satellite phones, my biggest worry is having something to talk about most of the time.

This is going to lead right into what I wanted to talk about. I hear so many people going on about “supporting the troops”. It’s become a political statement in some cases, a means of separating one group from another in debates, all sorts of things. I see all sorts of people with those little yellow ribbon stickers on cars, or making the statements, or whatever. But what does that actually mean? So you bought a ribbon from Wal-Mart and stuck it on your car. You’re supporting the business that makes them, in most case, but does that actually do anything for soldiers? Probably not. So, if you want to really “support the troops” more than making an increasingly empty statement, I’ve got some suggestions. I added some links to organizations you can donate to that make tangible efforts to improve the lives of military families and soldiers. I’m going to keep adding other organizations that do good in the world that hopefully will help us build a world where eventually soldiers are almost unnecessary. Our boss on this tour has charged us with the responsibility to work ourselves out of a job – if only to be handed another one – but imagine if that was what could be done for our communities on a grand scale?

I don’t want to sound ranty, but it’s important stuff. Canada’s elite Joint Task Force 2 has a motto that encapsulates it well: Facta non verba. Deeds, not words. Actions, not stickers. There’s nothing wrong with those stickers, by the way, if you buy them from an organization like CFPSA, where the proceeds go directly to programs for soldiers and their families. If I can impress anything upon anyone reading this though, it’s just go do something. Someone asked what she could do to support me, and I just said go do something that makes her community better. You can donate to organizations that do good work, but if that’s not something you can do, time is often as valuable, or more so. One of the things the unit I used to belong to did every year was help pack Christmas hampers for the local Salvation Army. All the donated money in the world doesn’t do that manual labour required, but we went out, worked hard for a few hours, and contributed to a lot of people in our community having a more enjoyable holiday. I got more of a sense of personal satisfaction out of that few hours of work than I have ever gotten from getting any gifts or anything else.

It’s something I have to get better at myself, even. It’s something I don’t think I can ever let myself think I’ve done well enough. In fact, it’s something I’m going to try to focus more on when I get home. If I’ve taken away anything from my friends who’ve deployed before me, it’s that you come back with a renewed appreciation for just how good things are here – how lucky we were to have been born in (or ended up in) a country like Canada. But it is the way it is because people put in effort to make it this way, and often it’s selfless effort, with no hope or thought of reward or personal gain. Everyone can do better, so if you want to do something to support me or anyone else in uniform, I’ve just told you a myriad of ways. Deeds. Not Words.

Written by Nick

February 11, 2012 at 12:49 pm

The Day Job Comes To An End

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Nick

November 1, 2011 at 8:55 am