Thursday, April 30, 2009

Scott Kesterson's AT WAR to be shown at The Buffalo-Niagara Film Festival

The docu-film, At War which was produced and directed by Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist David Leeson and Scott Kesterson will be shown this weekend at the Buffalo-Niagara Film Festival in North Tonawanda, NY on Sunday at 6PM. If you are in the area, be sure to stop by and check it out.

AT WAR presents what Scott found with his camera - a whirlwind of diverse experiences illustrating the chaos of war through the eyes of U.S., Canadian and Afghan soldiers.

Ultimately, we learn that the only meaning ascribed to war is the definition we provide. AT WAR presents the dichotomy of human existence - love and hate, joy and sorrow, victory and defeat - that will hopefully lead us to a greater understanding of the futility of war, even the wars we fight on our own in our quest for personal peace.

AT WAR Trailer 1

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Major General Oates Addresses The Milblog Conference PART III

Part 3 Courtesy Greyhawk of the Mudville Gazette.

This would be a very interesting project for the Canadian Forces to try. Not only does Major General Oates invite questions on his blog from enlisted Soldiers, but questions from anyone around the world. I wonder what Rick Hillier would think of this.

Major General Oates Addresses The Milblog Conference PART II

Part 2 Courtesy Greyhawk of the Mudville Gazette.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Major General Oates Addresses The Milblog Conference PART 1

Greyhawk, of Mudville Gazette fame, was kind enough to offer fellow Milbloggers the first part of Major General Oates Q & A with conference participants at the Milblog Conference held in Washington DC this past Friday and Saturday. MG Oates discusses embracing the new media to reach Infantry Soldiers whose median age is 24.

By all accounts this years conference was an even bigger success than previous ones. Troy Steward kicked off the conference on Friday evening with a screening of Scott Kesterson's AT WAR. I'll try to have more on that later.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Anniversary of the Battle of Kapyong

Peter Worthington, a founding member of the Toronto Sun, served with 2 PPCLI during the Korean War in which he commanded troops in battle. Today writes in the Toronto Sun about this little remembered, but vital battle to save Seoul from the Chinese Army

Peter Worthington, April 24, 2009

If Vimy Ridge was the perfect set-piece attack in WWI, a case can be made that on a reduced scale, the battle of Kapyong in the Korean war, fought by 2nd Battalion of the Princess Pats, was a perfect defensive battle that, arguably, saved Seoul from being captured by the Chinese.
Canada's triumph at Vimy Ridge in 1917 was the first battle of WWI decisively won by the allies.

Kapyong was the most vital battle fought by Canadians in the Korean war, but is not well remembered -- except by those who were there, by those who followed and, of course, by Koreans.

Today, Apr. 24, is the 58th anniversary of that battle in 1951.

In subsequent battles, the Van Doos and RCR had greater casualties than the Pats endured at Kapyong, but none where the stakes were so high.

The Patricias were the only Canadian unit in Korea at the time, commanded by Lt.Col. "Big Jim" Stone, a soldier's soldier who had enlisted as a private in WWII and had served in every rank up to colonel, winning two Distinguished Service Orders by war's end.

As battalion commander he was tough, had a good eye for ground, and would not commit his men to action until he felt they were ready for battle.

The Pats were due for a rest when the Chinese launched their 1951 spring offensive across the front, with the goal of re-capturing Seoul. The coastal road was guarded by a battalion of the Gloucester Regiment -- the Glorious Glosters -- while the Kapyong valley route to Seoul was held on one side by an Australian battalion, the other side by the Pats. Both were supported by U.S. tanks and New Zealand artillery.


The Chinese hordes attacked the Australians first, and by nightfall the Aussies pulled back, leaving the Patricias as the only obstacle to stop the Chinese advance on Seoul, 50 kms away.
Hugely outnumbered, Stone ensured that his companies and platoons mutually supported one another by interlocking fire. He made it clear that come what may, there would be no retreat. Alive or dead, his battalion would not leave its Kapyong position. This tended to focus the troops.

The attack came at night from several directions -- even from the rear on battalion headquarters, which had a lot of machine guns in for repair. These wrought havoc on the attackers.

The Chinese inevitably over-ran some positions, but there was no retreat. The Canadians called New Zealand artillery fire on their own positions, inflicting enormous damage on the attackers.

Valour was a given, and by dawn the Chinese attack was not only blunted, but crushed. On the coastal road, at the same time, the Glosters were annihilated. Their companies and platoons were isolated, and fell. Of the battalion, 37 survived, the rest were casualties or prisoners. By their gallant defeat, the Glosters were accorded military immortality.
So well-prepared were the Patricias that "only" 10 were killed. Always chary at awarding medals, Col. Stone figured it was just another day in war. He earned another DSO, and awarded one Military Cross, one Distinguished Conduct Medal, a couple of Military Medals to individuals.


Civilians assumed with so few killed and so few gallantry awards given, that Kapyong couldn't have been much of a battle -- not like the Glosters who were wiped out. But the Americans knew, and awarded the Patricias a Presidential Unit Citation (the first ever to Canadians) -- a small blue ribbon in a gold frame that 2nd Battalion soldiers wear to this day.

There are three tests of a great defensive battle: 1. That you lose no ground and hold the enemy; 2. That you inflict horrendous casualties; 3. That you endure few casualties. The Princess Pats excelled in all three. Until the end of the war, the Chinese got no closer to Seoul than Kapyong.

Today it's largely a forgotten battle in a forgotten war, despite grateful Koreans ceding an acre of land in the Kapyong valley to Canada for a memorial that is annually honoured.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Canadian Forces and Veterans Honoured with Free VIA Rail Travel

Offer expanded to include VIA1 Class and Sleeper

Ottawa, April 22, 2009 – Canadian Forces personnel and veterans will be able to get free, unlimited rail travel during the month of July. The announcement which celebrates the contribution and sacrifices of Canada’s military personnel and veterans was made at the Ottawa Train Station by the Honourable Rob Merrifield, Minister of State (Transport), along with his colleagues, John Baird, Canada’s Transport and Infrastructure Minister and the Member of Parliament for Ottawa West—Nepean, the Honourable Josee Verner, Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, President of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada and Minister for La Francophonie, The Honourable Peter MacKay, Minister of National Defence and Minister for the Atlantic Gateway, and the Honourable Greg Thompson, Minister of Veterans Affairs.

Each active or retired Canadian Forces member or veteran may bring up to five immediate family members with them, at a 50% discount off the applicable Comfort class fare. In addition this year, VIA is offering a 50% discount to all personnel and their family members off the regular adult fare in Business, Sleeper and Touring classes.

“As Minister responsible for VIA Rail, I fully support VIA’s initiative to continue to honour Canadian Forces personnel and their families with these special fares.” said Minister Merrifield. “If last year’s response can be taken as an indicator, this is an offer that will be truly appreciated and enjoyed.”

“I’m proud to be a part of a Government that, under the leadership of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, both honours Canada’s bravest and encourages them and their families to enjoy recreational time touring the country that they serve and protect,” said Minister Baird. “This is a good news story for all Canadians where we can say thank you for those who are and were involved in the defence of our great country.”

“Canada’s men and women in uniform, and their families, will continue to be appreciative of the support they have received from VIA Rail,” said Minister MacKay. “This initiative will allow them to visit more of the country and meet the people whom they have committed to defend.”

“VIA Rail and our government are proud to pay tribute to this history,“ said Minister Thompson. “We are proud to be offering our servicemen and women – past and present – with the chance to see more of the great country they helped build.”

“The success of last year’s program exceeded our expectations,” said VIA Rail’s President and Chief Executive Officer Paul Côté. “VIA is proud to recognize the contribution and sacrifices made by the men and women of the Canadian Forces. This special program offers an experience of our country that only the train can provide.”

In 2008, some 60,000 current or retired Canadian Forces personnel took advantage of VIA’s initiative to honour them with a special fare

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Tribute to The Troops

I recieved the following e-mail asking me to post the video by Pat McGee and although it is specifically an American tribute we are allies in this war and I find it fitting.

The moving story behind the song is tragic, inspiring and is best told byPat himself...

"Come Back Home was written in the wake of me losing my longtime drummer andformer Army soldier John C. Williams. But the song started off as areflection of how a military couple deals with separation. After the releaseof Come Back Home, Johns little brother was killed by an IED in Iraq. Hisname was Blake Williams. His platoon used this track as the audio to amemorial slide show presentation they did in March of 2008. It was for allthe courageous men and women they had lost in the month of March.

I am humbled by their service to our great country and I hope this songbrings them some peace. My father served in Vietnam and I truly appreciatetheir dedication and bravery."-Pat McGee

Pat McGee - "Come Back Home", a tribute to the troops

Friday, April 10, 2009

Canada’s CH-146 Griffon and CH-147 Chinook helicopters reach initial operational capability

What follows is from the official Canadian Air Force News Room. The picture at right shows Canadian and American personnel boarding a CH-147 Chinook Helicopter at the Kandahar airfield as the Chinook prepares it's first mission transporting coalition personnel to foward operating bases. The picture was taken by CAF Captain Steve Hawken.

NOTE: Canada's higher per capita casualty rate due to IED injuries and deaths was the result of the lack of helicopter support. In the story below they mention that among others, the Dutch have been succesfully, using the Chinook in Aghanistan for years. What isn't mentioned is that the Dutch bought Canada's entire fleet of Chinooks back in the 1980's when they were on offer during prime minister Brian Mulroney's time in office. (You can actually see the old CAF makings under the new paint jobs on some helicopters.) Short sighted thinking caused death and injury.

In his post, Settling In, Scott Kesterson , embeded with American troops for the third time, says that "The Chinook has become one of the iconic images of the war in Afghanistan."

March 9, 2009 Canada's Air Force News Room

On March 3, 2009, Lieutenant-General Angus Watt, Chief of the Air Staff, accompanied by Colonel Christopher Coates, the Commander of the Canadian Air Wing in Kandahar, announced that the CH-146 Griffon and CH-147 Chinook helicopters had reached initial operational capability (IOC).

IOC is a declaration to Regional Command (South) that the CH-146 Griffon and CH-147 Chinook helicopters belonging to the Joint Task Force Afghanistan (JTF-Afg) Air Wing are ready to start providing a level of operational aviation support to Regional Command (South).

"I am very proud of every single member of the Joint Task Force-Afghanistan Air Wing," said Lieutenant-General Angus Watt. "In a very short period of time they have completed very demanding training, brought new aircraft into theatre, and have attained a high standard of operational capability."

The six Chinook D-model helicopters will enhance the International Security Assistance Force's (ISAF) ability to conduct air and aviation operations within the Regional Command (South) area of operations. The medium-to-heavy lift helicopters will provide an important transportation capability and increased options for the transportation of Canadian soldiers, as well as their Afghan and coalition partners.

The Chinook is a very reliable helicopter that has proven itself in both domestic and international operations. The U.S., the U.K. and the Netherlands have all successfully operated the Chinook aircraft in the challenging environment of Afghanistan. With their ability to carry large payloads and more than 30 soldiers, the Chinooks are a valuable asset and welcome addition to the ISAF aircraft pool.
The eight Griffon helicopters will be used to provide escort protection for the newly-acquired Chinooks, which will enhance CF capabilities, giving commanders the ability to move troops rapidly and with more flexibility. Griffons have been used effectively in many national and international humanitarian relief operations-including Manitoba's Red River flood in 1997, Eastern Canada's ice storm in 1998, and the United Nations effort to stabilize Haiti in 2004-and are a welcome addition to the JTF-Afg Air Wing inventory

This achievement is an important step in fulfilling one of the key recommendations of the Independent Panel on Canada's Future Role in Afghanistan. These helicopters will enable the Canadian Forces to better support their civilian counterparts and will assist in more efficiently and effectively progressing Canada's priorities and signature projects in Kandahar Province.

The Air Wing will continue to develop its capabilities with these platforms in order to reach full operational capability (FOC). Canada's Heron unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) reached initial operating capability on January 31, 2009. Upon reaching FOC, Canadian Forces aircraft will be declared to have met the full scope of CF air support commitment to Regional Command (South).

Sunday, April 05, 2009

American Brig.-Gen. John Nicholson "optimistic and unashamedly so."

Matthew Fisher has reported from war zones around the world for years where Canadian Forces are deployed. He has covered, objectively, conflicts in Bosnia and Croatia, the first Gulf War, NATO's intervention in Serbia and Kosovo, and Afghanistan, since Canada's involvement beginning in 2002. The following report for Canwest News gives some insight into the plans going forward for southeast Afghanistan.

U.S. general says surge makes Afghan war ‘winnable’

Matthew Fisher, Canwest News Service Published: Sunday, April 05, 2009

KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- The American general overseeing the influx of 20,000 to 30,000 U.S. troops into southern Afghanistan is convinced the war can be won and believes that Canada's forces in Kandahar have a crucial role to play in "the toughest place to fight in Afghanistan."
"I am optimistic. It is an optimism informed by a realistic appraisal of the ground. This is quite winnable," Brig.-Gen. John Nicholson said during an interview in NATO's makeshift headquarters at this busy military airfield.
"2009 is a pivotal year. This is the year we are making the investment that can bring us to the tipping point."
That military investment includes an aviation brigade with more than 100 transport, assault and reconnaissance helicopters to work with the International Security Assistance Force across the war-plagued southeast and a highly mobile Stryker armoured brigade to take over responsibility for parts of Kandahar from the overstretched Canadian battle group that has been at war here against the Taliban and al-Qaida since early 2006.
"The heroism of the Canadian soldiers, their willingness to close with the enemy and get the job done and to go back out despite the losses that they have taken, speaks to the calibre and character of the Canadian fighting man and woman," said the general, who serves with the 10th Mountain Division, which is based at Fort Drum, N.Y., across the border from Kingston, Ont.
As Lt.-Gen. Michel Gauthier, the architect of Ottawa's war in Kandahar, recently told CanWest News Service in Kandahar, Canada's greatest shortcoming was that it did not have enough troops to secure the province.
"I think as a military man and as a commander on the ground, and knowing the nature of the difficult task your commanders have faced, I know they have wanted more resources," Nicholson said. "I am pleased that we, your American allies, are delivering some of the additional forces needed to get the job done."
Britain and Canada "have done the heavy lifting for the alliance" in the south for several years, he said.
"The challenge here, of course, and in any counter-insurgency, is holding once you clear. So the amount of force is relevant. In this case, quantity does have a quality of its own because in order to hold an area once you've cleared it requires some commitment of force."
Even though the Canadian and American forces in Kandahar are to be arrayed mostly along district lines, "the population moves back and forth so we must have co-operation," between the two armies, Nicholson said. "It is not just a matter of physical terrain but functional co-ordination. In the areas of development and governance, it is going to be absolutely essential."
While U.S. forces would take over military responsibility for less populated parts of Kandahar, "American forces will respect the primacy of the Canadian PRT (provincial reconstruction team) in the area of governance," across the province, Nicholson said. "The Canadian PRT are the ones who built the relationships, made the investments in the Kandahar provincial government and have the mechanisms in place. We will simply plug into the existing Canadian mechanisms and work governance issues through the PRT."
On the military side, the U.S. army's 2nd battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment would continue conducting counter-insurgency operations in Maywand and western Zahri/Panjwaii, under Brig.-Gen. Jon Vance of Canada.
An increase in fighting was to be expected because there would be more allied forces and "because the enemy does not give up their hold on the population easily," Nicholson said.
The key to defeating the insurgents was, he said, to have a properly resourced campaign and "a unity of effort" with civilians and soldiers from the 17 countries in the south working together alongside Afghan government agencies.
"I am encouraged by the fact that the Afghan people want this," said the former army ranger. "They want a better life. They have not seen the results though.
"Their expectations have been raised and because we have never devoted sufficient levels of resources required to win in the past, many of them have remained on the fence waiting to see how this was going to turn out."
A front page Washington Post article in late March quoted Nicholson as saying each of the NATO countries operating in the south had taken a "stovepipe" approach to development, rather than the regional approach favoured by the U.S. Some in Canada took this as criticism of how Canada had run its aid programs in Kandahar.
This was not so, Nicholson said in remarks designed to clarify his position.
"Canada and the other nations in the south have focused their investment in the province they are in and at the national level," he said, "and that is all that has been asked of them in the past."
As well as more soldiers, the U.S. is bringing additional development dollars so that for the first time a regional effect was possible, he said.
"We are talking about the creation of a regional economic core that will extend from central Helmand to Kandahar to the Pak border and upon which we would then build a self-sustaining, licit agricultural economy," Nicholson said. "We believe this is attainable and we believe this is the best way to help the Afghan people develop an economy that can sustain them and help this transition from poppy to legitimate agriculture."
The goal was to return southern Afghanistan to where it was 40 years ago when the Arghandab and Helmand river valleys were the country's breadbasket, producing not only enough food for domestic needs but for export as well.
""We are seeking to complement what is going on and reinforce, not replace."
If water, power and roads were improved and the traditional economy began to function again, it would blunt the poppy industry, which represented $3 billion to $4 billion in annual profits, more than half of Afghanistan's gross domestic production and, according to NATO estimates, provided $80 million to $400 million in revenue to the Taliban.
"Given that they've got a financial engine in the form of narcotics and a ready supply of manpower in the form of unemployed youth, they could continue indefinitely unless we accomplish this transition from poppy to a traditional agricultural economy," Nicholson said. If this could be achieved it would also limit the corrupting effect that the narcotics trade had had upon on the government, undermining its legitimacy with the people.
"In short, if we encounter narcotics and insurgent activity together then both are legitimate targets," he said. "In fact, we do encounter that quite frequently in Zahri/Panjwaii, in particular. When that has been encountered we have taken appropriate action and that is to call the police and deal with it . . .
"The point is this disrupts the narco-trafficking trade and this is a positive thing. There is a nexus between the two. Not only does the enemy receive financial support. What we often see is that the enemy actually arrays IEDs and conducts their insurgent activity to defend poppy production areas."
It has already been "a tough year" because the NATO armies in the south and, in particular, the Canadians "have been aggressively going after the insurgency," he said. "We have had a higher level of contact and inflicted greater losses on the enemy and disrupted his operations more.
"Nobody should interpret that as a resurgent enemy. They should interpret that as aggressive and courageous behaviour on the part of our soldiers and especially of the Canadians in Kandahar. It has had an extremely disruptive effect on the enemy."
Looking ahead, he said: "I am optimistic and unashamedly so. We can put all this together in a coherent fashion and move things forward."

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Scott Kesterton's 3rd Afghanistan Embed

Scott Kesterson, the prize winning American photo journalist who, back in the summer of 2006, captured the first footage of the Canadian Army in combat since the Korean War, is back in Afghanistan for his third embed with US Forces. He also plans to meet up with the Canadian Forces in the south later on if he can get the paper work through.

His main focus this time, as it was last fall, is the Gardez area of operations. Scott has taken an array of new toys with him this time to help him spread the news more quickly and efficiently. The main piece of technology that has really proved beneficial and came as somewhat of a surprise to him is his Blackberry which he describes as "huge addition to solid reporting". The Blackberry "exceeds satellite phone coverage" in it's capacity to hook up from just about anywhere in Afghanistan.

I got an e-mail from Scott today inviting me to join his Twitter list which means I'm going to have to learn to Tweet. (It had to happen.) Scott will be working closely with Troy Steward of during this embed. Troy has already recorded his first podcast of this embed with Scott at Bouhammer's Afghan and Military Blog while he is busy preparing for the upcoming Milblog Conference in Washington D.C.

Troy plans to screen Scott and David Leeson's documentary AT WAR , at the conference with live commentary by Scott broadcast from Afghanistan. This will be huge. AT WAR is an important documentary without the usual scripted bits that regular documentaries are framed around. Scott stays true to his photo-journalistic roots and with no political agenda lets the players speak for themselves.

Check out Scott’s first podcast from his third embed in Afghanistan, and Troy's 10th podcast at