Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas in Kandahar: A soldier's thoughts

Cpl. James Dalton, 21, of the Canadian Scottish Regiment in Victoria, was deployed to Afghanistan on Thanksgiving weekend. He's been writing monthly dispatches from the Canadian Forces base at Kandahar. This is his fourth column forThe Victoria Times Colonist .

Wintertime sees a relief from the intense heat of the summer months and the start of frigid cold temperatures at night that would make you think you're back in Canada.

Even the Afghans think we're crazy when they see us sleep outside. Unfortunately, the backs of the vehicles we drive are uncomfortable just to sit in, let alone stretch out and sleep.

Traditionally over the winter, we see a decline in insurgent activity as many of the Taliban leaders head back to their homes in Pakistan and order attacks from there. Usually, there is a decline in firefights between coalition forces and Taliban, but we see a spike in IEDs around the country.

Last week, I went on a foot patrol through a built-up urban area of Kandahar with some Americans and Afghan police forces. This being my first patrol on foot, I was slightly edgy and careful of every step I took. Every bush I walked by I thought could potentially be a spot where someone could put a bomb.

After walking for about 10 minutes, I started to relax a little. Kids come up to you constantly to say hello in hopes that maybe you have something to give them. Two boys asked me if I had money, chocolate or candy. I shook my head and held out my hand to show them I didn't have any, but they still grabbed it and went through each one of my fingers to make sure.

and the other Canadian on the patrol seemed to get the majority of the attention, possibly because we were dressed differently, but many of the Afghans driving by would yell "Canada!" out their car windows and wave or give us the thumbs-up. One kid ran by the police officer and the American in front of me to shake my hand.

Getting to walk around and see people face-to-face was much more rewarding than driving past them in an armoured vehicle.

The thing you realize is that in the end, people are the same everywhere. They just want to feel safe and to be able to work so they can feed their children and provide them with a normal life. It's hard to do that in a country that's seen nothing but war since the Russians came in 1978.

Christmas doesn't have the same feel as it does most years. Other than an occasional decoration in certain buildings, it's hard to get into the Christmas spirit.

We've been receiving a lot of great gifts from back home. Unfortunately, I opened mine as soon as I got them, thus fulfilling the Christmas dreams I had when I was eight years old.

I'm also missing out on my family's tradition of watching the movie A Christmas Carol on Christmas Eve. We've watched that movie every year since I was about seven years old. What kind of parents would make their child watch a movie on Christmas Eve about a man being haunted by three ghosts ... on Christmas Eve! I couldn't sleep; I just sat straight up all night with a baseball bat and a whistle.

The year is coming to a close and I'm sure a lot of people are looking forward to the start of 2010 and the end of another decade, a decade where we saw the reality-show craze and Facebook reach new heights in popularity.

You could probably make a reality show about a gas jockey and turn him into a sex symbol for high school girls overnight. They would go crazy for his two-cent narratives for every emotional scene.

"I couldn't believe he wanted me to check the oil after I just filled up his truck! My girlfriend just dumped me and my parents made me walk the dog at six this morning! Nobody understands me."

Merry Christmas, everyone, and a happy new year.

© The Victoria Times Colonist 2009

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

What Canadian Soldiers Need From You

Nothing more than that we be mindful of their sacrifice, appreciate their effort and take the time to understand what they're trying to achieve in Afghanistan before forming an opinion. To honour soldiers and to support their mission is not hagiography. It is not blind patriotism, or unquestioning acceptance of any government's propaganda, be it Conservative or Liberal.

It is simply to recognize that people, who believe passionately in a humanitarian ideal, volunteer in the service of that ideal and then risk their lives for it, are praiseworthy.

Behind the combat glasses, the body armour, the helmet and the assault rifle, is a man or a woman whose fear and discomfort are managed only by training, the company of other soldiers and the knowledge that we, the public, support them.

Support Wounded Canadian Soldiers

Wounded Warriors

True Patriot Love

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

American Milblogs Go Silent In Protest

U.S. Army Master Sgt. C. J. Grisham has always led from the front, from combat that earned him the Bronze Star with V device, to doing right by the men he led. His honesty won him readership and respect, from the White House on down. Yet, when he stood up for his children in school, his command did not stand by him. You can read more at Military Times to get the full story. Please donate via PayPal; or you can log into PayPal on your own, go to the send money page, and put in his email: dj_chcknhawk -at- yahoo -dot- com; or, you can send donations directly to:

Milblogs have been a vital link in getting accurate news and information about the military, and military operations, to you. Today, many milblogs are gone and others are under attack from within and without. Today, you have the chance to imagine a world without milblogs, and to do something about it. Make your voice heard by writing your congressional representatives and others, and by making donations as you see fit.

The battle for freedom of speech and the marketplace of ideas is fought on many fronts and in many ways. Without your help, the battle may well be lost.

UPDATE:November 17, 2009. From Marcus Penn, Producer/Host

CJ will go from host to guest on tonight's You Served Radio. The show
will begin at 1900 EST with our usual intro and first guest, at 2000
EST CJ will give a statement regarding the milblogs going silent, and
then Troy and I will interview him for the rest of the show.

Who: CJ Grisham
What: You Seved Radio Interview
When: 2000 EST 17 December
Where: You Served Radio

We may take calls from listeners depending on how long the interview
goes. The call in number is (347) 202-0679.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Highway of Heroes

A very moving musical tribute to the troops from Canadian country singer Ginny McIlmoyle performed at the regimental headquarters of the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment which is part of 33 Canadian Brigade Group, one of four Brigade Groups of Land Force Central Area.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Marching Off To War

"Even though we lost our fallen comrades one is going to stop us from completing our mission."-- 1st Sgt. James McLeod, 467th Medical Detachment

The 467th Medical Detachment that had soldiers both killed and wounded during the Nov. 5 shooting at Ft Hood deployed as scheduled to Afghanistan. Three soldiers from the Madison, Wisconsin-based Army Reserve unit were killed during the shooting.

"This is how it is, mostly: no brass bands, or even drum and bugle corps. No cheering throngs. Just a simple walk in the pre-dawn hours to a bus that takes you to the flightline, to a plane that takes you to war."Greyhawk

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

NATO-ISAF Commander Discusses the Surge

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of the International Security Assistance Force, addresses members of his staff Wednesday, moments after President Barack Obama announced he would send 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan in order to help ISAF gain the initiative against violent extremists, deny them safe haven and enhance the coalition's ability to train and mentor Afghan security forces.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Obama to Announce 30,000 Troop Surge

President Barack Obama is sending 30,000 extra U.S. troops to Afghanistan on an accelerated timetable that will have the first Marines there as early as Christmas and all forces in place by summer report various news sources. But he'll also declare Tuesday night that troops will start leaving in 19 months.

In a prime-time speech from West Point, New York, that finally ends a painfully long three-month review, Obama will seek to sell his bigger, costlier plan for the 8-year-old stalemated war said two senior administration officials speaking as usual anonymously.

This falls 10,000 troops short of what NATO Commander, U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal had called for. This will definitely impact Canada's Task Force Kandahar. NATO confirmed Tuesday that Canada's area of operations in south Afghanistan will expand slightly to include a northern suburb of Kandahar City known as Arghandab.

Few Canadian troops will actually move back into Arghandab. Rather, new U.S. soldiers who will be under Canadian command, will soon take over responsibility for the area, which is one of several Taliban hotbeds close to the provincial capital. The Stryker force had been and will remain under U.S. command.

In Kabul, Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell, the new head of a U.S.-NATO command responsible for training and developing Afghan soldiers and police, said Tuesday the groundwork is being laid to expand the Afghan National Army beyond the current target of 134,000 soldiers and 96,800 police by next October. But, he said, no fixed higher target is set.