A Reservist's Tale Of A Tour

Posts Tagged ‘teaching

Spreading The Message

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Day four of our course and things are going pretty well. I’m realizing – well, to be honest, I’ve always known that I love teaching. Especially when the topic is something that really interests me and that I can really dig deep into. That’s the kind of person I am, I’ll do loads of research and want to get as much insight into things as I can to convey it.

The course I’m teaching on as part of three-man Mobile Training Team has just shy of 100 students, the largest audience I’ve ever taught in front of by far. We are working in a nice theatre, three big projectors, and a ridiculous audio-visual suite. I’ve never taught with monitors before, so when I ask a question the cacophony coming back through the monitors makes it challenging.

The students are great. They range from junior NCOs to senior officers, from Canada, the USA, the UK, Estonia, Slovenia, Poland, Hungary, Belgium, and Spain.

I’ve been a little ambiguous about what I do in Afghanistan, but I think I can ease up on that. I work at the Counterinsurgency Training Center – Afghanistan as a COIN instructor, validation officer, and I’ll soon be taking on a staff mentor role as well. As we work on transitioning to ANA running the show, we are involved less and less in actual training. This is actually probably the last coalition training we will do, and we are basically here in Germany to train, validate, and certify counterinsurgency instructors who can then train their soldiers in preparation both to come to Afghanistan or to get involved in any sort or low intensity conflict or counterinsurgency operation. We are teaching some Afghan-specific stuff, but a lot of generic theory.

The other instructors I’m here with I haven’t taught with before but it’s working well, we have a pretty good rapport and our styles mesh well. We take lots of jabs at each other to keep the atmosphere light and encourage students to jump in – we want them to challenge us, debate us. We aren’t all-knowing experts, after all.

Being in Germany has an element of surrealism to it after being in Afghanistan three months. I rented a car and driving after three months of almost never doing it is a strange feeling indeed. I’ve not yet been out onto the Autobahn but that’s coming in a couple of days.

Being on a US base requires me to get a “ration card” to be able to shop at the PX or Commissary (supermarket) on base. It’s actually a stamp on my NATO Travel Order, which allows me to buy four cartons of cigarettes, four bottles of spirits, and 1.25 pounds of coffee (or 5 ounces of instant coffee). Quite an allowance for two weeks, none of which I have any use for. The rations restrictions are in place because these goods are tax exempt, but apparently controls on many goods exist because there’s a chance soldiers might get the idea to resell stuff into the black market – these are remnants of occupation rules really.

Last night we visited the “German Kantine” on post to mingle a bit, from the Germans I got travel advice for Berlin, from Canadians some good war stories, and there’s a British Captain who has a lot of background dealing with ANA and told some stories about defusing some of the problems we have dealing with religion – he’s a Muslim and didn’t let ten get away with shirking work to pray as I’ve seen happen. “Great, it’s prayer time. I’ll pray with you. We’ll do it tactically! Half provide security, half pray and switch.” “But we need water for wudu (ritual ablutions)!”. “No you don’t. Use dust, that’s allowed!”. This was a brilliant way to disarm them – something most of us can’t do.

As a demonstration of “Good COIN”, he offered to drive me back to my hotel in Regensburg so my colleagues could head back to the hotel early. Perfect.

We have some sightseeing planned on the little bit of downtime we have, and when that’s all done we head back. By coincidence a good friend of mine from home isn’t far away on another NATO tasking, I haven’t seen him in months, so it’ll be great to catch up when we get together on our off day.

Written by Nick

June 7, 2012 at 12:40 pm

Culture Shock

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Today, after three months in Kabul, I headed to the airport early in the morning to catch a plane. I mentioned in a previous post about how I was getting a chance to teach at a training centre in Germany, and today was the big day.

For the first time since getting here, I walked around outside a camp or other secure compound, and did so without wearing body armour. I wore civilian clothes for the first time in months, a pair of jeans that are significantly too large for me. I couldn’t fit my boots in my suitcase, so I had to go with wearing them rather than Sketchers, but nevertheless it was a weird feeling.

Security at Kabul International Airport, the civilian side, is pretty tight indeed. My bags were x-rayed on the way into the area. Then again before I checked in, where I got frisked in more detail than I think I’ve ever been. I then checked in without incident, and sat in the terminal. Most passengers leaving for Dubai were westerners – contractors, diplomats, NGO workers including a Finnish woman and her two sons. She’s live in Kabul for twelve years, it’s the only home her kids have know. I have to admire the dedication of someone who’d commit to trying to help such a place so long. She laughed at my frustration at not being able to walk out in the city, to meet and talk to people, but that’s the reality of my job.

Two and a half hour’s flying brought us to Dubai, and what I can only describe as an overwhelming culture shock. I’m not used to so many people, so much… normalcy? Though I’d hardly call DXB normal! So much luxury, it’s a giant mall. But a Starbucks coffee and sushi for lunch was a welcome change from DFAC “food”.

We expected we could get into one of the lounges, because the team lead is one of those ultra platinum frequent flyers, but no such luck. The expected reciprocal privileges were not offered. Such is life, however.

I’m starting this post from an Emirates Boeing 777 – probably the greatest flight I’ve ever been on, and waiting for lamb curry for dinner, watching as the screen shows us flying over Iraq toward Turkey, and onward to Germany. Tonight, I’ll sleep in a hotel, in a huge comfortable bed. I think I’ll take a ridiculously long shower – if available, a bath! Such simple pleasures after three months.

It’ll be a busy couple of weeks or so working on the course, and then it’ll be back to Kabul for my next stretch – shorter than the last. In fact, I’ve completed the single longest stretch of time I’ll spend in Afghanistan. It’s going to be two shorter spans – broken up by leave – and then home. To what, I’m not sure. More shocks, I’m sure. But good ones.

Written by Nick

May 29, 2012 at 11:20 am