Monday, March 26, 2012

Scott Kesterson On Afghanistan

Scott Kesterson, the first combat photographer to embed with Canadian troops engaged in combat in Afghanistan, speaks here about the stress Soldiers face following multiple employments.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Ancient Airlifter Makes Daredevil Drops Over Afghanistan

The following is courtesy of Wired Magazine: DANGER ROOM.

By David Axe: Wired News

The Caribou airlifter flies so low through the mountains and valleys of eastern Afghanistan that it’s invisible from the ground … until it’s right on top of you. The Vietnam-era, twin-engine cargo plane with the cranked wings and bulbous nose appears suddenly, racing just a couple hundred feet over the U.S. Army outpost on the outskirts of Marzak, in remote Paktika province. At a precisely timed moment, the Caribou pitches upward. A dozen black plastic pallets tumble from its cargo hold and, parachutes unfurling, drift down onto a snowy field adjacent to the American base. The Caribou, hundreds of pounds lighter, dives for the safety of a nearby valley.

The dramatic “Low-Cost, Low-Altitude” (LCLA) resupply, which I witnessed numerous times during my week at Marzak in January, represents the latest tactic in the high-stakes logistical campaign that underpins the U.S.-led war effort. Along with robot trucks, robot helicopters, “smart” parachutes, hybrid trucks and even airships, it’s also evidence of the Pentagon’s never-ending quest for better resupply methods.

Mountainous, landlocked, surrounded by hostile neighboring countries and lacking good roads, Afghanistan is a logistician’s nightmare. Isolated outposts such as that in Marzak are the most difficult to keep fed and fueled. There are no roads capable of supporting a heavy truck. At 10,000 feet about sea level, Marzak is too high for many helicopters. The large, powerful copters — American Chinooks, Russian-made Mi-17s — that can climb high enough are especially vulnerable to rockets and gunfire. Airdrops from high-flying C-17 or C-130 cargo planes are often imprecise. If the materials land too far away from the outpost, the resident soldiers must send out a risky combat patrol to retrieve them, a particularly difficult task without trucks and other heavy equipment.

The Army deployed to Marzak in January. Anticipating the need to supply it and other remote locations, in October the Army hired a boutique resupply company built around a single, 50-year-old DeHavilland Caribou and 15 civilian pilots, staff and ground crew. The Caribou and its crews, based at Bagram airfield near Kabul, are asked to do things most military airlifters cannot: Fly low and fast to drop small loads of critical supplies with pinpoint accuracy.

The company, whose name we’ve been asked to keep secret, began flying resupply missions in October. Since then, it has delivered more than a million pounds of cargo, according to a source close to the company. The secret to its success is the skill of the flight crews, the mechanics’ meticulous maintenance of the 1960s-vintage Caribou and upgrades to the rugged plane’s engines that give it extra oomph. “It makes for a perfect LCLA airdrop platform,” the source tells Danger Room.

“Low-Cost, Low-Altitude airdrops by civilians in Afghanistan is an extremely vital asset that’s usually overlooked by most,” the source continues. The lack of publicity could be intended to spare the Air Force any embarrassment. After all, until recently the flying branch did possess one small airlifter in the Caribou’s general category that could possibly have equaled the civilian plane’s low, pinpoint drops. The would be the C-27J, built by Alenia.

The Air Force and Army originally planned to buy the twin-engine C-27J together, but the Air Force fought to take over the program. The C-27s deployed to southern Afghanistan for the first time last year. They’d barely begun flying missions when the Air Force decided to scrap the entire 38-plane fleet to save money — a move that Gen. Norton Schwartz, the Air Force chief of staff, said was “particularly difficult,” as it left the Army in a lurch. Last week the C-27J cancellation was a hot topic debate in Congress.

With no military planes to assume the low-altitude resupply duty, highly skilled civilians and their ancient but upgraded Caribou will likely remain a unique lifeline for isolated troops. The Caribou’s dramatic airdrops should be a regular sight in the war’s waning years.

Video: U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Charles Crail

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Canadian Soldier’s Heroic Story Comes to Light

The following post comes via Troy who blogs at Bards of War:

I am very glad to see a story like this come out. For too long the heroic actions of Canada’s military has been ignored, overlooked and kept out of the public’s eye by the Canadian government.

Latta was the crew commander of a group of six Canadians who happened by chance to be at NATO headquarters when the insurgents launched an audacious surprise attack on the alliance’s heavily fortified main compound and the U.S. Embassy from a partially built 14-floor office tower. Eleven Afghan civilians including children, and five policemen died during what became a 20-hour firefight.

Until Postmedia News asked about it, there had been no public acknowledgment of Canada’s part in the ferocious battle, which garnered global attention at the time. The counter-attack eventually involved Afghan attack helicopters and ended after a ground assault by Afghan forces.

Canada’s current training mission has been much less dangerous than the combat mission in Kandahar which ended last summer. However, Master Cpl. Byron Greff of Lacombe, Alta., died late last October when the armoured bus he was in was hit by a suicide bomber driving a vehicle. A member of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, he was the 158th Canadian soldier to die in Afghanistan.

There is been very limited proof of the Canadian’s service but thanks to stories like this and to film-makers like Scott Kesterson, who has won an Emmy of this footage of the Canadian Army in combat, the world can start to hear the stories coming from Afghanistan about the great things that the Canadian Army has done in the War on Terror.

On the morning of the big firefight in Kabul, Chief Warrant Officer Gord Cavanagh had gone to the headquarters with Latta and others to pick up maps. Cavanagh, a Patricia like Latta, described a sometimes chaotic scene in which 17 rocket-propelled grenades fired by the Taliban fell within 50 metres of the Canadian position.

“It started with two large explosions so we secured our vehicles, kitted up and advised the Canadian command post of the situation,” said the 47-year-old regimental sergeant major, who had been involved in more than 400 ‘TICS’ (troops in contact) while serving previously in Kandahar. “We then heard three or four more explosions and saw an American soldier firing from a Hesco (sand and metal defence barrier) so we moved to provide suppressing fire when we saw fire from the building, which was about 400 metres away.

“They engaged us and there was some back and forth for three or four hours. There were long lulls after that, but it lasted all night in the rain, so we stayed in position and held the line, getting re-supplied with ammo from other Canadians. There ended up being about 27 of us where we were, Canadians, Americans, French and some Special Forces.”

Do yourself a favor and check out the whole story at

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Bards of War


AFGHANISTAN. Your job is to build an Army to fight an enemy who attacks from the shadows and rarely shows his face. Your life is defined by a small firebase at the end of a long suply chain where daily survival is a test of your wits and your skills as a soldier.

Bards of War is the compelling and tense story that chronicles a small group of US and Candian soldiers tasked with a mission of seemiingly impossible odds. Shot and directed by award winning photographer, Scott Kesterson, Bards of War is a gritty, dirty, chaotic ride into a rarely seen glimpse of war through a soldier's eyes. It is the story of men of spirit and perseverance who were given the difficult assignments with only one expectation… succeed.

Bards of War sets a new standard for combat photography and combat reality. Currently in post-production, Bards of War is scheduled to be released in the fall of 2012.

You can listen to Scott talk about Bards of War on You Served Radio starting at 08:55 for his introduction by Troy Steward. Or, if you want to skip directly to the part where Scott talks about the impact of his embed with Canadian Soldiers seving with the PPCLI, go to 37:09. This episode of You Served Radio cand be found here

Friday, March 16, 2012

The History Channel was cheated........

In their documentary Vietnam in HD they try to capitalize on their success of their excellent series World War II in HD Color. It's a natural follow up to a proven formula, and I applaud them for it. However, in their rush to market the producers cheated. And here's how they did it. At least the things that I know about. There may be more.

In their description of Vietnam in HD they claim that you can: "Experience the sights, the sounds and the stories of the Vietnam War as it has never before been seen."

I know enough about the Vietnam War to have no doubts about the sights and the stories. However it's the sounds that are not what they seem.

In my post below, I've include a link to an interview that Strombo did with Scott Kesterton back in March of 2009. Scott was on Strombo's show to promote his excellent movie At War which was as I recall set for release in the summer of that year.

Two weeks later Scott was back in Afghanistan to document President Obama's inplementation of the surge that was recommended and set in motion by former President George W Bush. Murphy's law being what it is Scott's film At War got tangled up in red tape and never made it past private showings.

Scott had showed it privately at various military bases in America to Afghan War Veterans. He made a point of coming to Canada to show it at military bases where The PPCLI hang their helmets.

To almost all who saw it, veterans, civilians, people of all political stripes, this film was the most truly raw and unbiased film they had ever seen about what war means and what it does to the human spirit. A great many very hardened war veterans were reduced to tears: speechless. That's how powerful this film was and is.

Now we come to the present day, and the reason I'm blogging again. You see, I have all of Scott's You Tube clips of his embed with Alpha Company, 2nd Platoon, "The Red Devils" from Edmonton Alberta.

I've watched them more times than I can count. What's more, I've listened to them more times than I can count.

And that's how I discovered that the History Channel was cheated. Many of the sounds in Vietnam in HD are taken directly from that Scott Kesterson footage filmed in Sangin, Helmand Province, Afghanistan in 2006. Not in Vietnam in th 1960's.

They are the sounds of Canadian Soldiers in combat in another war in another time. This might not seem like a big deal, but some of these Soldiers may have since been wounded or are among The Fallen. To have their voices cavalierly inserted in to a series that purports to capture the sounds of the Vietnam War as never before is not only an insult to the Soldiers involved but to Vietnam Veterans themselves.

War is hell. We all know that. But when the History Channel uses a cheap Michael Moore mockumentary trick it is trivializing the most devasting actions that human beings can engage in.

I can supply proof. In Episode 3 At 32:10-32:15 you hear “My left my left” (again), and “Okay let’s go” which is from Scott Kesterson's footage here at 0:36.

I have more examples but I've made my point I think. Who knows if the producers of Vietnam in HD have include the sounds and voices form American Soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan are inserted as well. And if so how many of those are voices of The Fallen.

If you care about Soldiers and Veterans please let The History Channel know how you feel.

And......we're back.

I've been absent from this blog for just over a year now. Sometime, I might go into the reason for my absence. But not now. I have something on my mind that has galvanized me into returning. It has to do with a man, former Soldier and now war documentary film maker, Scott Kesterson. I have the greatest admiration and respect for Scott. I've never met the man though I have a milblogger friend who is close to him. It was through this friend that I was introduced to the absolutely brilliant work that Scott has put in over four years of documenting the reality of war. Scott was the first combat photographer to embed with the PPCLI, Canadian Light Infantry Soldiers, in action in Afghanistan. He filmed the first footage of Canadian Soldiers in combat since the almost overlooked Korean War.

To understand why and what Scott was doing in Afghanistan you can hear, and see, it in his own words in this interview with George Strobolpoulopoulos in March 2009.