Afghanistan-A-Go-Go

A Reservist's Tale Of A Tour

Posts Tagged ‘travel

Coming Full Circle

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I keep watching the blog stats for some reason, and it still gets a lot of hits, which is interesting. Some are from people clicking links on my former employer’s intranet site, some are from random google searches, usually people looking for information about the Tajbeg Palace, or about Camp Clark (since there’s very little on the web about it except my raving about the food there), about PXs, about all sorts of things.

I have stated I wasn’t going to add any more content, and yet, I keep feeling some sort of compulsion to do so because there really doesn’t feel like a good ending yet. I think now I can put one in, but we will see, I suppose. I don’t even know if anyone really reads this, anyhow, or if it’s an email that goes to some, or a cursory glance for others. Whatever it is to others, that’s fine. I did this mainly to keep a story for myself, something which I will eventually cap off and save for posterity… To give to whom, I’m not really sure.

I’m now sitting in my condo near Toronto, which I bought almost six years ago, my first real estate investment as it were, and probably one of my worst decisions ever. Yet, here I am. We have moved back to Ontario not because I really wanted to but because when I looked at my options for career moves and so on it simply made the most sense. So we evicted (that sounds so harsh) our tenants from the condo and packed up and moved. It’s a little weird that our old place looks a bit different to me now, but that is mainly a function of our having replaced all of our furniture when we went to Halifax. And now we have added a few things we didn’t have before anyhow.

My greatest looming battle is with my condo board about getting a barbecue. Well, maybe. I don’t actually know yet.

Part of the moving process was returning to my old army unit, the place where it all began for me. When I saw a recruiting ad in 2000 and decided to join the Reserve, I did it mainly because I dreaded the idea of only ever sitting behind a desk doing paperwork. The world was different then in a way, some time ago I saw the notes that the Personnel Selection Officer who interviewed me took, where I talked about the importance of the idea of peacekeeping, so romanticized it was then, and how where the UN failed it was important for NATO to intervene because it has the power to do so in the interests of all or something like that. Little did I know then that that idea would have me living in the suburbs of Kabul for eight months, though it was eight mostly quiet months.

Everyone I served with is now gone from Afghanistan, though I know a few people still over there or getting ready to go – dispersed around the world at least we have Facebook to keep in touch, it seems the easiest way, and not long ago we were all waxing nostalgic about those early days, and getting acquainted. There’s rough plans for a sort of reunion, mainly the idea of being able to have a beer with all these people who were the only people around us for so long, in a more relaxed setting. Next year, maybe.

When I was sworn in on January of 2001, I had no idea where things would go, if I’d do the Militia thing for a few years and get out, or go into the Regular Force, or whatever. Now I’ve qualified for the first of our “long service” medals and I can’t really see myself getting out any time soon, especially now that I’m back to my old unit and amongst many old friends. My first time seeing them was a Change Of Command Parade, where a man I have long seen as a mentor handed over the reins of his regiment to the next to take over. At some point, there’s an end of the line, I guess, but in that something new begins as well, and it’s not generally what one expects, either.

So it was with me. My plan when I left to start work up training was to go back to what I was doing before. That didn’t work. My plan when I got home from work up training but before I left for Kabul was to transfer to the Regular Force, that too didn’t happen. My plan late into my tour was to find another job within my old firm, and I thought I found a perfect one. That, as well, didn’t happen.

What I settled on as a course has also changed since I got home, but it seems, much to my mirth, to be good change, just as it was when I showed up to catch my flight and learned my job in Afghanistan was changing and I was set up to meet some of the most incredible people I’ve ever worked with. I have to wonder how things always seem to fall into place for me at the right instant, when all seems lost it all suddenly meshes in ways I could never have anticipated.

For that I am lucky. And grateful.

So, for me, I think that’s more or less everything to say. I’m now settling into a new job, with a steep learning curve and a high potential for failure, but one only ever reaps rewards by taking risks necessary to earn them.

I will head back to Nova Scotia in a few weeks to retrieve my motorcycle, the only thing I didn’t bring with me on the move, and while it’s not the road trip I had planned originally, I will be taking a bit of a trip to get back just to get the bike warmed up for the summer. I’m sure it’ll be a busy year when work starts taking off, and I have some ideas about things I want to do beyond that, specifically with some of the organizations which exist to help soldiers who didn’t have the fortunes I seem to have. There are so many little organizations trying to do so many things and overlapping, I feel like the must be some way to help tie them all together. That’ll be my next challenge, I think. To give something back.

If you’ve enjoyed the story, let me know with a comment. If you’re connecting from the intranet site of my former employer and want to get in touch, you can look me up on LinkedIn. As always if there’s questions I’ve left unanswered, then use comments to ask, and otherwise, well, that’s all she wrote.

Written by Nick

March 31, 2013 at 9:33 am

More Civilized Pursuits

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I logged a lot of miles flying during the past year, most on a variety of military aircraft, with the occasional interlude of feeling like a normal person flying on a normal airline (some nice ones at that, I have to admit to being quite a fan of Emirates Airlines now!), but the last flights that stick in my memory were the flights home, not exactly a model of luxury, but functional and effective enough for the intended job, that is, getting from Point A to Point B.

Because it seems like an ideal time with little else to do, this post is again being composed on an aircraft, a much more comfortable and civilized Bombardier Q400 belonging to Porter Airlines, presently somewhere between Halifax and Montreal, traveling onward to Toronto, my destination. This is something of a business trip. At least, I hope it is. I’m headed to Toronto to do a whole bunch of networking in the hopes of returning with some solid job leads, if not an actual job offer. The latter isn’t likely given the time of year, the former is much more likely, and it’s what I am hoping for.

I nervously informed my boss at my civilian job this week of my decision to leave the firm – or rather, to leave the role I’m in and the firm if I cannot find anything else internally, and it went far better than I expected. I had figured it would be an unpleasant uncomfortable experience, rather like the last time I left a job, but it wasn’t. The writing, after all, was on the wall. I didn’t want to stay doing something I didn’t want to be doing, and it wasn’t really fair to anyone involved to do so. But it didn’t end how I expected. Rather than being shown the door immediately, my boss actually told me to push back my termination date in case any business I had closed (one deal might and will make me a few bucks), and so I could stay an internal candidate for any jobs that might appear. Definitely a better departure than I expected.

The purpose of my trip to Toronto is rather simple. I’m meeting with a couple of leads, and with a couple of organizations whose purpose is to help people transition from the military to civilian employment. It seems strange to need to do so, but the reality is that after a year away from the world of suits and ties in the world of camouflage and guns, I need the help. Old friends are helping with that which is incredible, providing me with networking leads and somewhere to sleep for a few days while I’m away. At worst, I’m seeing some people I haven’t seen in a while on this trip. Hopefully the rest will fall into place. I’ve got a week, heading back home on Christmas Eve in the late evening, which will make observance of some of our traditions complicated, but that’s the trade off. At least I’m home for the holidays, the roto that replaced as isn’t.

Written by Nick

December 17, 2012 at 3:51 pm

The Long Journey Home

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Another post from an aircraft. This time an RCAF CC-150 Polaris, or Airbus 310 in the rest of the world, our “strategic airlift”. The actual plane we are on is the one used by the Prime Minister for official travel, so it has a lounge and office area up front while us plebes are jammed in the back. It’s not uncomfortable though. We were up early this morning at the resort where we did our decompression to get cleared out and to the airport. Being the first group to leave it didn’t go totally smoothly, but we managed to leave almost on schedule, and the flight crew is over the opinion that between the stop on the way and good flying conditions they will still get us home at the planned time. This works for me.

The better news is that instead of staying overnight in Gagetown, we apparently will have transport laid on to take us to Halifax tonight, which means I will be in my own bed tonight, when I post this most likely unless the airport we stop at has wifi.

Decompression was excellent. I wanted to skip it and just go straight home, but it turns out that it was worth it. On landing in Cyprus we were whisked off by bus to the resort and ushered into a large reception hall to get the lowdown on how things worked, what the rules were and what was happening. It’s weird to get a brief where it’s stressed that the main role of the military police contingent is to keep you out of trouble rather than making it. They actually stayed downtown, and kept an eye on people, brining back those who’d had enough fun, and rounding up those who were in danger of straying into the many places in Cyprus that are best avoided. It was fitting for them, a proper interpretation of their radio arm identifier: Watchdog.

We started in on the mandatory mental health and reintegration briefings almost immediately, with just a bit of time to change clothes, shower, and grab lunch. Great plan, because we were thus done the morning of day two. The first night, we had a good dinner, and booze flowed liberally, helped in part by some €1400 ponied up by everyone from my camp who had been promoted during the tour. People got thrown in pools, there was some roughhousing and so on, but all under the watchful eye of the TLD staff. This was part of the process, after all. Better to have people vent and hit the bottle in a relatively controlled environment where you can figure out who needs more attention. I went to bed relatively early and other than a minor bit of trouble when my roommate finally came back, I slept well. I’ll spare you any details.

Day two, up early for an awesome breakfast and the second session we had to attend, then it was off to go karting, or as the hilarious women who worked with TLD called it, “drinking & driving”. My first heat was good, the second less so. Good times though. We had a whole range of options for things to do organized by PSP. When I came back I spent most of the afternoon in the pool.

Day three I took easy, just strolled around, read my book poolside, didn’t do much, as I probably needed a bit of a recovery. I did have an amazing dinner though with one of the other Captains, and our LCA, a hot stone grilling joint with all sorts of meats to cook up, finished with nice desserts, Cypriot coffee, and cigars.

Day four I went to Limassol, Kourion, and Omados, a little village in the mountains. Ate some food, drank some wine, took some pictures, slept on the bus back.

Our final day – an extra bonus due to something with Air Force schedules, I went to visit the Tombs Of The Kings, forgetting my extra camera batteries, and thus grateful I had my iPad with the guide to the site on it to get some pictures. When I got back, thoroughly sunfucked after being oblivious to the 38°C temperature and humidex much higher, I packed all my kit up and went off for Thai for dinner before an early night as we were up at 5 this morning to head out. Which brings me to the present.

So, what the hell am I going to do tomorrow? I’ll actually be home. It’ll be strange. Step one is arrange insurance for my motorcycle and go pick it up after taking a leisurely drive down the south shore of Nova Scotia I think. My wife wanted to know if I wanted anything special for dinner and I think was frustrated by me saying I didn’t, or couldn’t think of anything. Maybe some yoga, I’m anxious to see how bad my flexibility has suffered, even if I’m fitter than when I left generally.

The reality of it is, there isn’t anything special I want to do when I get home, other than just be there for a while and just relax. And unpack, I’ll have to do that. That will entail trying to get rid of as much of my operational kit as fast as I can, I have enough army stuff as it is around. I’ll need to find a green uniform to wear this week to work, because I have to go in for three half days before I go on leave.

I also have a job interview on Tuesday, an internal posting which interests me greatly. It’s some kind of panel interview via telepresence, so it could only run that day, I had to warn them off that I’ll likely be all sorts of jet lagged, hopefully it won’t be a negative impact! The job picks up on training and development skills I got from the army but have never really been able to leverage in my civilian job before now. Should be interesting. It requires a move, which is not ideal, but that is life.

I can only think of the adjustment period I had when I arrived in Kabul, I’m sure it’ll be more or less the same coming back. It wasn’t hard then, shouldn’t be now. I’m resolved not to stress much about anything that does not really matter, which is nearly everything. I think my wife’s actually more stressed out, which is normal – about having the place cleaned up, not having me turn up annoyed about anything like that, and so on. I can’t see that being a big problem, I doubt I’ll notice by the time I get in the door anyhow, I suspect it’ll be straight to bed as I figure I’ll have been mostly awake for 24 hours by the point I get home. And tomorrow, I’ll wake up just happy to be home.

Flying back we did the post-deployment overall survey. I can’t remember the name of it, HDO is the acronym, but we did one before leaving about how well prepared we felt, how suitable our work up training was, what we experienced in terms of stress, how we are feeling and so on. Part if it is assessing the job you did and how you felt about the mission. Hard to answer to be honest. Another part was mainly about leadership, my answers less relevant since my leaders weren’t Canadian once I got in theatre, except for the administrative connection back to Canada, and I can’t really assess that.

I’ll write more a post review later, but for now, I’ll say it was hard to answer. Like many surveys, they asked the question in numerous forms to try to get a more accurate assessment. I’m not even sure how my aggregate rating would read.

Written by Nick

October 21, 2012 at 9:05 pm

Posted in Homecoming

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On The Way Out

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Today’s post comes from a jump seat on a CC-177 Globemaster (why Canada doesn’t just call them C-17s is beyond me), somewhere in the air on the way to Paphos, Cyprus. We are headed to the Third Location Decompression Centre, which is basically a pretty nice hotel/resort on the Mediterranean Sea where we will stop for a few days before returning to Canada. Getting out of Kabul was relatively painless, and pretty well organized. We got into the airport with time for last minute shopping for those who needed to, and went through the process of getting cleared to fly, which was mainly traffic techs inspecting our luggage and palletizing it to be loaded onto the C-17. After that we sat in the terminal before heading out to the aircraft which was rather amazingly early.

The cargo pallets were loaded, which was funny to watch from my seat, because the loadmasters, after shoving and heaving a massive pallet with about 50 rucksacks on it realized that they had not flipped over the floorboards to the rollers, and were heaving against an anti-slip surface (basically, grip tape like you’d find on a skateboard). “Did we really just do this?”, one of them quipped. “Yeah, we did.”

Lesson learned: when flying on a C-17 when it’s cold, don’t sit toward the rear, especially if you sent all your warm kit home. Turns out it doesn’t heat that evenly, and the rear section actually exposes you to cold air being blown on you. That, my shivering mass discovered on the first leg of the flight, is suboptimal. Fortunately after a refueling stop, a crew change, and breakfast, it has warmed up enough that it’s more comfortable back here. Other than the seats, which are just jump seats and not something I’d want to spend more than a few hours in.

So, what’s TLD all about? Well, basically, the idea is to get us out of theatre, but somewhere not yet home to do some of our screening. So, it’s briefings from mental health folks, classes on reintegration and so on, and a chance to unwind. We get an allowance while deployed that can go toward a variety of excursions, so assuming I’m still conscious this afternoon, I’m going to go on a winery tour that includes dinner. My other plans involve checking out some of the historical sites (Greek and Roman) on the island, maybe renting a motorcycle to explore more.

After a bit of time at TLD we’ll head for home, back to Gagetown at first and then on to Halifax for me, where I’ll have a few days of work and administration before my post-deployment leave begins. During that time I’ll figure out what my way forward with my civilian employer is. While I’m on leave from the army for quite a while, I’ll likely start back to work fairly soon, because other than the trip I’ve gone on about before a few times, I don’t have any other plans, and the idea of sitting around the house for days on end – especially in November/December – does not really appeal to me. One of the prospects for a job is actually quite interesting. Building on the experience I’ve built up in the army both at home and on tour, it’s a training gig, training people in the last two jobs I held. Seems like a perfect, rather natural fit.

Beyond that, it’s simple things I’m most looking forward to. Being able to cook my own meals. You’ll never really appreciate actual silverware until you’ve not touched it for most of eight months, we noticed over a very civilized breakfast. I’m looking forward to non-DFAC and non-Afghan cafe meals. To beer and scotch, in moderation of course. To not being confined to a compound you can walk the perimeter of in ten minutes. To my bed. To seeing my wife. I only didn’t mention that first because it really is simple things that first come to mind oddly enough.

The strange thing to consider is that the people I’ve spent the last eight months with are all dispersed now, all over the world. We have plans to try to arrange a reunion of sorts next year, and I hope it happens, but it’s bizarre. And some I have no idea if I’ll ever see again… Afghans I worked with – both the staff of the school, but also Habib and Mustafa, who ran the shop that could get damned near anything, and Hassan and Samad, who ran the cafe where I spent most of my off time on rich conversation over chai, coffee, and meals. And our interpreters, who made my stay much more comfortable and interesting. They all have plans to emigrate at the earliest opportunity fearing reprisals should GIRoA not get a grip on security. What that will mean I don’t know – they have lofty ideas of going abroad, but the reality is that most of them lack much education and the prospects for them outside Afghanistan are not what I’d call outstanding. There’s the broader consideration of the impact of multilingual, well-educated Afghans fleeing as ISAF leaves, and how that will disrupt development. These people are our best ambassadors, because they came to know us, and understand that we aren’t the kind of monsters or crusaders that the Taliban and other groups want Afghans to believe we are.

And then I start to ponder the future of Afghanistan more broadly. As I felt our aircraft leave the ground and the landing gear retract, I had to wonder if I’d set foot on Afghan soil again, and under what circumstances. I’d like to return, not as a soldier, not carrying a weapon, and not confined to a compound ringed with Hesco Bastion and totally disconnected from the surrounding country. I’d like to go back and walk the markets in Kabul, to visit the lake at Qargha, to go to Bamiyan where the Buddhas stood and to Band-e Amir’s lakes. I want to visit other cities too, Herat and Mazar-e Sharif, homes of exquisite architecture and yet more history. Any thought of the future of Afghanistan is rooted in the hope that before too long I’ll be able to go back to see the country for real, not through the prism of force protection and war.

I suspect that many on this plane – and waiting to leave – and who’ve been and returned – have similar pondering about what they accomplished. In a lot of cases it’s hard not to be cynical, really, because in a lot of cases progress was hard to see, and some of the things people have seen make the future look rather bleak. However, what we have set out to accomplish is a monumental task, and expecting to see results in a few months is not realistic. Only a long view will let us really assess whether we managed to make a significant difference. As I leave, I accept that there may have been things I could have done better, but I think I did a pretty good job, and it is really only hindsight that makes me wonder otherwise.

The World’s Most Hellish Easter Egg Hunt

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When I whined about how much of an annoying process getting out of here is on Facebook, a friend of mine described outclearing as “The World’s Most Hellish Easter Egg Hunt”, and so I naturally stole that as a title for this post. Yesterday I left my home for the last few months and headed to another camp, which is where most of the Canadian staff are based, to start the process of leaving the country. Much as when we were getting set to leave Canada, we have PRV checklists to get signed off by all sorts of people, briefings to attend, kit to return, and all sorts of tedium in order to be ready to get out of here.

So I’m back in the K-Span in which I spent my first day or so in Afghanistan. A massive building full of uncomfortable bunk beds and people coming and going constantly. And I arrived early so I have more time than some to spend here. The prize, I must remember, is that before very long I will travel to the airport and then onto a plane out of Afghanistan. This tedious running around getting signatures and ditching kit and so on is just the price of that.

Packing was a load of fun. I doubt I could have fit much more into my bags, and this morning, it dawned on me that I have to rearrange them because when I get to decompression, I’ll only have access to one of them – my barrack box, and the carry on bag I have for the flight. And I didn’t have my shoes in there. So I’ll shift around stuff. I have one extra bag stashed that I’ll use if I have to, so it’s not the end of the world if it doesn’t all go back together the way I expected.

In the meantime I’ve finished up my road trip plan mostly, and gotten some of the other things I was worried about taken care of, I only need to hope that the weather is all good, and then it’ll be fine. The job picture for when I get is looking good too, I have a pretty good idea of what might happen, so I can’t complain about anything right now except for being bored and not sleeping well in this building.

Last minute souvenirs and possibly a carpet for a friend of mine are all I have to get done now, so really, it’s all done here. In fact, I think this will likely be the last post I put up from Afghanistan, and just about the end of the blog. I will add some stuff about the “epilogue”, but that’s really probably all I’ll do with it. Amazing to think that it was just less than a year ago that I first headed to Gagetown to start the journey, and now it’s almost done.

Written by Nick

October 13, 2012 at 5:02 am

What Are You Doing When You Get Home, Anyhow?

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That’s becoming a pretty common question around here as we all plan to go our separate ways – there’s a lot of organizations rotating or leaving over the coming months and everyone’s mind is inevitably turning toward home. For the Regular Force guys, it’s not that complicated. Go on leave (quite a lot of it, actually), then return to work. It’ll soon be posting season and they’re all waiting to see what will come next. Some will be going on career courses. Some will be taking new jobs within their units. Some are getting out of the military and moving on to other things. One of our drivers who recently left us got accepted to school to become a paramedic and will be starting that when he gets back and ends his military career. Reservists, regardless of what country, tend to have a different set of parameters. Some, like my friend Chris who I met up with in Prague, just decided to spend some time traveling and will then figure out what to do next. Some will go immediately back to the civilian job they had previously. Some have full-time Reserve jobs to go back to once their leave period is up.

As for me… well… I have a civilian job to go back to. I’m going to take some time off while I’m on my post-deployment leave, but I’ll reintegrate into what some people jokingly call the “real world”, but I’m looking to see what else is available within the organization I work for because I’m not sure what I was doing before is what I want to do next. To my good fortune, it’s a big company, and there should be some great opportunities. I think I have a better idea of what I want to do than I did before. We’ve also started making some plans for my wife to continue her education a bit – a worthy investment, I think. If I’m going to drop a bunch of money to buy a new motorcycle when I get home, I can’t really not spend some money on her career prospects, right?

So, the bike. That’s the first plan. With 9D’s permission (always critical), I’m planning to pick it up as soon as I return, and after a short stay at home, head south. My parents winter in Arizona and will likely have already left town so I’m going to go visit them. I’ve been planning out the route and number of riding days, along with some stops along the way to see some people. I can’t really cast anything in stone because it’s all going to depend on making a call about the weather. Late October/early November might not work. Last year I put my bike into storage on October 22 just before I left for Gagetown, and the ride to Mahone Bay was pretty chilly – though a week later it was nice and warm and bikes were still out everywhere. In fact, if I remember right, people were still riding on New Years Day in Halifax.

If it looks good, my plan is to get as far south as I can as fast as I can, to Washington DC for a day and then onto the Blue Ridge Parkway and into North Carolina where one of my colleagues here who’s since departed lives. From there I’ll head to the Tail Of The Dragon across the Great Smoky Mountains (if the weather is good), into the Knoxville area, and then on into Arkansas, Texas (with a day off in San Antonio, I’m going to need it by then I’m sure), New Mexico, and finally Arizona for a week or so before I fly home.

Here’s hoping I have the frequent flyer points for a ticket home. I’m going to leave the bike in Arizona for the winter and return for it in the spring to ride back along a different route.

I’m reading through the awesome blog North American Circle to get ideas on routes and see how he found it went. He did it as a fundraiser. I’d love to do something like that too – but it’s not really original now. I’m hoping, however, that I can couchsurf lots of places to stay so I won’t have much to pay for but fuel. And I also hope my VStrom is a little more reliable than his BMW apparently was! The blog is full of good stories though, of the people me met and how people helped along the way, the kind of stuff that lets you thing that indeed people are generally good and worthy, which gets hard at times. I’m finding that there are a lot of couchsurfers in some places along the way that should be a help and I’m already starting to get in touch with them. The detail obsessed part of me is looking through Google maps and plotting distances, time, and routes. For the early days it’ll be all business on major highways until I’m far enough south that I can slow down a little and not worry about weather as much. Early November will still be sketchy in a few places.

I’ll get back from that in late November and have to see what comes of the rest. I know there’s lots of opportunities and options and so on. It’s amazing to think, however, that I’m probably more anxious about going back to work outside the army than I have been about really anything here – even that first convoy ride when I had no idea what was going on.

The Hundredth Post

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According to WordPress, this will be the 100th post I’ve put up here – but that does include the stuff I’ve reposted from other blogs. Nevertheless it’s an idea number having passed a bit of a milestone. Yesterday we held a small ceremony to mark the official transfer of responsibility for our institution to the Afghans. Normally, this is known as “1-Alpha” – or more formally, “Capability Milestone 1A”, the end of a series of milestones determined by what the ANA has gained the ability to do on their own.

However, we can’t officially declare CM1A just yet on a technicality, because the permanent location for the organization isn’t ready yet. They’re occupying a temporary facility while the Afghan National Defence University is being constructed at Qargha, just west of Kabul. So, while their NTM-A advisors are being withdrawn (I will officially be the last one), I’m charged with preparing some “handover notes” I can give to some people who will be in a position to lend support during the interim period, as our ANA friends do still have some logistical challenges of a nature probably too complex to get into here.

Essentially, my job’s almost done in the sense that I’m here for not much longer to make some final connections for our partners, and to do up some nice public affairs stuff about what we’ve accomplished. And to prepare for the trip home.

Fittingly enough that’s underway. I’ve packed up my UAB, which made me try to figure out what I wanted to keep here and what I was okay with sending home – I think I’ve gotten my stock down to the point that I won’t be stuck trying to pack everything into bags that are too small. I’ve started to segregate the stuff I have to return before I leave – or rather, to find the stuff I was issued, but don’t use, and pack it in one place so I’m not scrambling for it. Most of what I sent home was of the same nature – stuff I needed when I got here and it was 20 below zero, for example.

It’s going to be a long few weeks until I leave, I fear – but we’re all working on things to fill the time – professional development stuff, finishing off courses, looking at courses to do, I might even try to do one last shot of PD for the ANA instructors, if I can get interpreters. Ours have all been released back to the company that supplies them to get new jobs.

I’m also planning things for when I get home – doing route planning for a long motorcycle trip that I’m going to try to squeeze in before winter. Basically, heading all the way down to Arizona where my parents spent the winter. They’ll likely have left before I get home, but the plan is to head there, leave my bike there for the winter, stay a few days, and fly home, then get on with the business of returning to work. But I’m still having to research things like the weather – because that obviously will come into play at the early stages. I really want it to be possible, but we’ll see.

Written by Nick

September 4, 2012 at 9:35 am

Back To Work

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My leave is over and I’m back in country. It was an amazing three weeks.

I was a little apprehensive about how things might go meeting up with my wife – and parting ways at the end, but it actually went just fine. After I spend a couple of days in France and Belgium visiting Vimy Ridge, the Menin Gate, and various military historical sites, we met up in Frankfurt and carried on to spend the next two weeks in Berlin, Dresden, Prague, Budapest and Vienna. From Vienna she went back to Canada and I proceeded on to Jordan, seeing the incredible wonder of the world that is Petra, as well as Jerash, Ajloun Castle, the Amman Citadel, Madaba, Mount Nemo, Wadi Mujib, and Wadi Rum. I fittingly spent my last night in a Bedouin camp in the desert, and went out in a jeep to sit on top of a big rocky hill to watch the sun go down and contemplate. Later, after a feast of maqlouba, an awesome Jordanian dish, the generators went off and I saw stars like I’ve never seen them before. I barely slept before we headed back north for a dip in the Dead Sea and a trip to a Turkish bath then back to Afghanistan. I spent a lot more money on the trip than I had planned originally, but I don’t have any regrets – it was probably the most amazing trip I’ve ever taken and will be hard to top.

I arrived early in the morning and was rather disappointed to find out that I was going to be sleeping in a transient tent for a few days before I could get a ride back to my camp. With one uniform and a rucksack full of dirty laundry. To my good fortune, I didn’t get any objection to trying to catch a helicopter flight back, and quickly headed to the air movements office to find out if I could get a Space A flight back. The next morning I dragged my gear to the helipad to learn that my flight was cancelled – but again fortune smiled and it was put on later and I got a seat.

Things have changed a lot here. The staff has been rapidly shrinking, and I came back to find out the seven Canadians who were here when I left on leave, there’s two of us now. And the other one will likely leave next week to be reassigned. So in a few days, it’ll be me and the director, who leaves mid-September. I’m literally the guy turning the lights off at the schoolhouse, when we call transition complete. I might wind up with a replacement after all, another officer who will work with the higher command’s advisory team to act as point of contact for the ANA’s COIN Training Center until they move to their permanent home, the Afghan National Defence University being built at Qargha, just west of Kabul.

I’m now having to start making plans for returning home. In a couple of weeks I have to turn in my UAB (the stuff I’m sending back to Canada in advance) to be shipped home, which means thinning out a lot of stuff, though that will make my room a little more organized than the disaster it currently is – I’ll send home all the cold weather kit I brought with me and don’t need to go back, the suits I bought here, and things like that. I’d like to get my holdings down to just what I actually need for the last stretch and to get going after I get home.

Once that’s done, it will remain to be seen what the flight plans are for going home – which chalk I fly on and so on. I know which one I’m slated for now, but depending on what’s decided about whether I have a replacement, I might actually see that change. And plans change anyhow from time to time, that’s just the nature of the beast.

The real variable I’m trying to wrap my head around though is what happens when I get home. Not just the “when will I actually get home”, because I know I’ll land in Fredericton and head to Gagetown and have things to do there before I get released to go back to Halifax, but what happens then. I’ll have about a month and a half to two months of leave (I haven’t quite figured out the formula yet) where I will still be getting paid by the army, but after that, my contract ends and I revert to being a Class A Reservist, and I will need to make sure that income is flowing in.

This is something of a quandary, though I think it stresses me more than it needs to. My civilian employer granted me a military leave of absence, meaning that I am good to go to return to my “day job” when I get back. The trick is, I don’t want to go back to what I was doing before, not that specific job. I do have the luxury of working for a very large company with all sorts of options, and I’ve started looking at postings to see what grabs my interest, but as of this moment, nothing really has where I live – and I’m not sure I want to move either. Quite a predicament, isn’t it? I guess we’ll see, a lot does change in a few months. They recently posted jobs that were really of interest to me and I’ve been in touch with a few of their recruiters/HR folks to get an idea of what’s coming up.

There’s also a prospect of returning to Germany to teach on another course like the one I did in June, which I’m following up on though that’s only a couple of weeks, and a couple of career courses that might be doable if I play my cards right and follow them directly after the tour. There’s generally an unwritten proscription on such things for Regular Force folks, but in my case, I’m only too happy to knock some of this stuff off while I have the chance.

What I really want to do is go back to school. Without waxing philosophical about it – I shouldn’t have left school when I did. I was sick of being in class at the time and wanted to start making money, so I quit with an undergraduate degree when I should have gone to law school or something. I’m actually looking into the prospect of trying to do school part time. I just need one of those patrons. Or maybe I should write a book about my experience here and the bigger picture from the perspective of someone who’s seen what’s happening. I’d probably sell … well … maybe 100 copies. I don’t think that will do it.

It’s interesting watching things wind down. When I got here and the staff was much bigger, our schedule was pretty full of training events we were attending, of upcoming courses, meetings, writing material for courses, getting translations done. We occupied a large building that we’ve progressively given up parts up to others. My days used to start with planning toward the next training trip I had. Then it was toward going on leave. Now I’m back, and there’s just a few loose ends to tie up and no trips to plan for. In fact, a couple of days ago we went up to a couple of other camps to get some business done – first to Camp Phoenix so that my American colleagues could mail home their excess baggage (they don’t get UAB shipped like us) and then to Camp Eggers for the director to go to some meetings on the future of our organization. I had nothing really to do with any of this, so was a bit surprised when I got told I was going. Because they needed a Truck Commander. That’s how small the staff has gotten – it took all but one of us to have the people we needed for the convoy to go off. I also got to drive (which was funny in a way, my colleague Tim The Battle Bear acted like some combination of my dad when he taught me to drive and a driving examiner critiquing me as I weaved expertly through the insanity of Kabul traffic. It ended just fine though.

So that’s the current situation here. I’m trying to figure out how to fill my next few weeks mostly.

Brief Hiatus

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

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

Written by Nick

August 3, 2012 at 3:49 am

Site Stats And So On

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WordPress, which hosts this little blog, is pretty neat in that it offers me a bit of a “statistical analysis” of where hits come from – what countries, what sites refer, and even what people type in to Google or other search engines that gets them here. Some of the Google terms are bizarre, I must admit. Some of them make me laugh, and some are totally random. What’s interesting is that a lot of them are questions that I could actually probably answer if someone posted comments to ask the question rather than just realizing that the search terms haven’t gotten them to where they want to be.

Some of them are pretty simple: How long is the flight from Leatherneck to Kabul? About an hour and a half. Add half an our or so on each side while they load and unload kit. Oh, and in that 30 minutes, expect to be sitting in stifling heat with no airflow. Hydrate before you go.

Is there a PX at Camp Clark? Not when I was there. There were Afghan shops that sell everything anyhow.

What’s the daily routine of a soldier in Afghanistan? There isn’t one – everyone has different jobs, different demands, different op tempos. Someone wanting to know for themselves if they’re deploying would have to ask the people they’re replacing.

Why don’t Afghans get along? Actual search term the other day. Complex question, not one I’ve got the scope to answer, but reading Afghan history will help.

Where is the massage place at BAF? Near the PX off Disney Drive. It’s inside the barber shop which is around the corner from the Harley-Davidson dealership and more or less behind the Pizza Hut. One hour is $30. Make sure you bring PT shorts.

How can I convince my Afghan mom to let me use tampons? Wow. Er, well, I got nothing for that, you’re on your own there, anonymous Google person. That is probably the most bizarre one of bunch so far.

Lots of questions about care packages. All I can say is ask the person you’re sending them to if they want anything specific, because it varies. We get all sorts of strange and bizarre stuff.  Popular things around our way are freezies and microwave popcorn, but for people living on more austere FOBs, well, those aren’t so useful. Universally useful things are those little drink crystal pouches, the single serving ones, Starbucks VIA coffee packs, beef jerky, candies that don’t melt, and things like that. But really, if you’re sending one to someone specific, just ask them what they want.

It’s interesting to see where all these hits come from, because it’s not as though I actually make any effort to “promote” this, and it’s as much for me to remember stuff as anything else, while telling stories a bit.