Sunday, October 14, 2012

Post-HLTA Afghanistan

This is an e-mail I sent to one of my friends to update him on the tour:

The past few weeks here have been ridiculous.

HLTA was a blast. I went to Barcelona, and spent a day relaxing on my own. I rented an apartment in a prime spot. It had a rooftop terrace, TV, A/C, big kitchen, etc. Kayla joined me the next day and we spent the next 5 days just hanging out and walking around the city. Pretty much everything we went to see had a ridiculously long line, so we just walked past and saw the outside of famous buildings. On the last day in Barcelona, my parents joined us. We spent the day taking a bus tour around the city, and saw a ton. Then we boarded the cruise ship. It was about twice the size of the ships I’ve been on in the past, but had the same number of passengers, so we had a lot of room to ourselves. Our cabin was massive and had a balcony.

Our first stop was Cannes. It was nice, but we really just walked around, found a café and used the wifi, haha.

Second was Pisa. We booked a bus to take us from the port straight to “the” Pisa. I don’t know if you have ever been there, but other than the area the leaning tower is in, the rest of Pisa sucks. The leaning tower was pretty cool though.

Third was Rome. This was awesome. We had booked a tour of the excavations months in advance. They only take 50 people down there a day. We went below St. Peters and saw the mausoleums that they filled in to build the Basilica on top of. It was really cool because it showed the shift from Paganism to Christianity. Plus, we saw a ton of things down there that not many people see. Like the spot they think St. Peter is buried. We saw it up close.

Fourth, we went to Salerno. Not much to say about this place.

Then we had a say at sea, cruising our way towards Venice.

Next, we were in Venice for two days. It was a pretty cool place. We sailed in through one of the bigger canals on the North side, so we got to see the entire city from the top of the ship, while eating lunch. Once we docked, we just wandered around the city taking it in. We didn’t really have an itinerary or anything in particular that we wanted to see. We made our way to St. Mark’s Square, which had significantly less pigeons than I imagined. On the second day, we did the same, but made our way to some less touristy parts of the city. We bought some masks, which are cool.
After Venice, we went to Ravenna and took a tour of Pompeii. We had a great tour guide and it was awesome to see how well preserved the city was. The plaster casts of the people covered by ash were pretty amazing. You could actually see their facial expressions.

Our last port was Dubrovnik. This place was really nice. We, again, just wandered around. We made our way to a cable car that leads to a fort on a hill, but the line was ridiculous. So, instead, we went into the old city and had some beers. The scenery was beautiful, as well as the architecture of the fort that surrounds the city.

Finally, we had two days at sea to just relax. We ate, drank, read, and played shuffleboard and scrabble. It was nice to just sit around and do whatever we felt like.

On returning to Barcelona, my parents took off from the port, but Kayla and I spent the night in Barcelona. The next day, I began flying back to Kabul.
Since my return things have been going OK. I have had some exciting times and some really, really, boring ones.

I had a reported embedded with my team who seemed to enjoy purposely misquoting me out of context, haha, but drew great pictures. He followed us around for days. I actually dropped him off at another camp and the next morning he was sitting on my vehicle waiting for me. He said he hated the camp I dropped him at and wanted to hang with me some more.

Unfortunately for him, the day he was in the other camp we found a possible IED, which was exciting. An ANA officer came running up to me to report it. So, he led us to the site and sure enough it looked like there was an IED buried there. I got closer to investigate and all the signs were there. I called it in and C/S 0 told me that they had found it there the other day and already BIPd it. There was no way they did. I’ve seen the craters BIPing an IED makes and this wasn’t one of them. So, I poked around some more and they get back to me that Turkish EOD had uncovered it, but left when it got dark. That means that an uncovered IED main charge was left uncovered over night. So, I began a cordon and search with the ANA of the surrounding buildings. We searched about 10 buildings and found nothing, which really sucks because I am sure that charge is already buried somewhere else around here.

The past week has sucked because we haven’t had power or water. We buy some power from the ANA and they let their generator run dry. We still had power in our operational areas, offices, etc, but the shacks were dark and the water reservoirs only had 3 days supply. So, we started rationing it. It started by just taking short showers, then they turned the sinks off, and finally shut down the showers and toilets. I thought the order of that was weird, but I’m not a COL, so what do I know. Then, some idiot turned a bunch of showers on and broke them so they couldn’t be shut off, further depleting our water. My guess is that it was some Afghan that works here. The other day we had our power turned back on and water was restored soon after, but it was a crappy week in the dark.

Now, I am just biding my time until my replacement arrives. Only 19 days to go until the Vandoos start getting here. 

Now I am only a few weeks from being back in Canada, and I can not wait!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Welcome to my first official update from Afghanistan,

I have been in country for about 6 days now. We flew from Fredericton to Paphos, Cyprus, via commercial charter, with a stopover in Leipzig, Germany, to refuel. Once in Cyprus, we got on a military aircraft and flew to Kabul, with one stop for refueling and to change crews. The flights were pretty comfortable and total transit time was only about 30 hours.
Once in Kabul, we spent some time at the airport and made our way to a staging camp where we would prepare to be pushed out to the camps we would operate out of for the tour. We were in this admin camp for two days. It was pretty good. The food was delicious, there were about 200 of us in a warehouse full of bunk beds, but it was warm, all around not too bad. I was able to purchase a cell phone here and peruse some Afghan shops between briefings. When we were done our administration, we convoyed our way to Camp Blackhorse, which is where I am now.

Blackhorse is a small camp East of Kabul. There are about 17 countries that operate out of this camp, which makes for a very interesting community. The food here is pretty good, not as good as the larger camp, but adequate. We are surrounded by an ANA camp, so our perimeter is very safe, which is nice and makes our lives easier.

I have spent the past few days reading up on my team of Afghans and all the notes my counterpart wrote for me. I was lucky to take over from an RCR officer – my handover was very detailed. Today, I finally went out with my team. We were running our Kandak (Afghan Battalion) through personal weapons ranges. Let me tell you, it is pretty nerve racking to be surrounded by hundreds of Afghans who are carrying live ammo, weapons and are firing them. We got along fine, though. I spent most of the day talking with the team members and trying to build some rapport with them, while adjusting the sights of the Kandak soldiers weapons. I spent an equal amount of time sunburning my face, as we were operating in a tight, snow filled, valley. The reflection from the snow ruined all our faces.
My counterpart leaves in a few days, so luckily I am getting a grip on what is going on. Basically, I am the middle man between the ANA, Canada, Germany, Romania, Croatia and Jordan. It is a pretty miraculous balancing act, but we seem to be able to reach at least a 50% solution (an Afghan 50% solution, that is).

Hope you all are doing well. I will send along my address in the next message, if you feel like sending a care package.

I hope my next update will be more detailed, but my time is limited at the moment.