Rolling with the Patricia's

I have been in Kandahar Airfield (KAF) for two weeks now. I mentioned in a previous post that I was being reassigned and that I would be working for a unique command. The command is Task Force Orion, otherwise known as Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI or Patricia’s). I was originally tasked to TF Aegis (Regional Command South) but the IO cell offered my services to TF Orion because they didn’t have an IO Officer. TF Orion operates in Kandahar Province. The other provinces and operating areas in RC South have British, Romanian, French, Dutch, and American units.

Some of you already know that I was originally from Canada. I was born in Melita, Manitoba, which is within spitting distance of the border. The Canadians thought that me being from Canada is pretty cool. What makes it more interesting is that one of the infantry companies plus the artillery section in TF Orion are stationed at Camp Shilo, Manitoba where my dad conducted much of his training when he was in the Canadian Army. The remainder of the battle group are from Edmonton.

The Patricia's are a mechanized infantry unit. They use wheeled armored vehicles that the US Army recently adopted for its new “Stryker” brigade combat teams. Because the Patricia's are based in western Canada, they have an ethos and a way of doing business that I can relate to. The Canadian West shares much of the same characteristics of the American West such as cowboys, large farms and ranches, and an appreciation for country music.

The staff work is the same mind numbing drudgery I have experienced in American units. I work both plans and current operations so I am doubly busy. Since I have been here people have commented that the IO side of the house is working much better. I am no miracle worker but the Canadians haven’t been able to fill the slot and now they have someone who is strictly the IO guy so of course all things IO will start working.

I don’t think I will be able to go on as many missions as I have before. I did manage to put myself on a mission the other day. I was starting to go stir crazy because I haven’t “crossed the wire” since before I went on R&R leave. It was great! I got to ride in the air sentry position of the vehicle and got to see a lot of the country and see what Kandahar City and the province looked like. I also got to eat some local food.

We escorted some folks to a shura (meeting of village elders) and because of the distances people have to travel and the whole Pashtun concept of malmastia (hospitality) food is always offered. Out came the trays of mutton, rice, nan, and FRESH tomatoes, green onions, and cucumbers. Because I was herding cats at the moment, I couldn’t readily avail myself of some of the food. One of the Patricia’s had scored some nan and he offered me some. I was munching on the bread when some of the Afghan security guys waved me on over and invited me to share their platter. Since the cats I was herding were gainfully occupied, I accepted the invite.

The food was very good. The local guys were visibly impressed that I squatted down with them (no mean feat when wearing body armor), took off my helmet, and started eating just like they do (using the nan to tear off a piece of mutton, using your right hand to scoop up rice, etc). When they asked me if the food was good (a thumbs up with a questioning look on their faces) I smiled and said “samdi” with a thumbs up. You would have thought I just handed them a pile of money they were so happy!

TF Orion is pretty busy. The next few months will be pretty interesting. It’s pretty ironic that a Missouri National Guard officer originally from the Canadian West is rolling with the Patricia’s.

CPT NightHawk


Breaking Bread

The other day the contingent of interpreters that work on the PRT invited us to have chai with them. Chai is green tea with a huge amount of sugar in it. Me, both of my S6 guys, the MP Advisory Team (MPAT), and a visiting military journalist jumped at the chance just to hang out with the interpreters because the chai is pretty good here.

They were just finishing up dinner when we showed up. They invited us to eat but we had just had dinner at the Dining Facility (DFAC). We haven't had any fresh green things in quite a while. I instantly zeroed in on the huge pile of FRESH green onions and regretted turning down their offer. Needless to say, we had a great time that night. I got to watch afghan satellite TV and they were graciously telling me what the news people were broadcasting and we also watched a cricket game being played in Pakistan.

Afterwards, I said to no one in particular that we need to have dinner with these guys before we are redeployed or re-assigned. One of the MPAT's said why not, we can even pay for it. The next day we asked one of the interpreters that if it would be OK if we all had dinner next week. He said of course and then we told him that we insist on paying. We told him what we wanted, we gave him the cash, and his mom fixed it up.

It was a GREAT dinner. We had flat bread (nan), chicken, mutton, an afghan version of pico de gallo (tomatoes, red onions, etc), garbanzo beans, rice, fresh yoghurt with cucumbers in it, and FRESH GREEN ONIONS! I tore the hell out of the green onions, I think I ate about a third of what they had. One of the interpreters tried to hand me some utensils but I refused. I wanted to eat the Afghan way (roll some meat in the rice using your hands and using the nan to scoop up the food) and all the interpreters thought that was pretty cool. Afterwards we had chai and watched satellite TV.

We all have developed a close working relationship with the interpreters here and it was great that we had dinner with them. One of the interpreters survived an IED blast last year and he gets around on crutches (the medical team here is trying to repair the damage to his feet). The others have worked for either the SF community or the PRT for a long time. These guys are working for us at great risk to themselves and their families. It was pretty evident where their loyalties are when we watched a cricket game on TV. I can't remember the other team but everyone was booing and hissing Pakistan. Pakistan is one of the major reasons Afghanistan is having such a tough time right now.

I really respect these guys and it is tough saying good bye. When you go on a patrol and you see these guys working the radio (to talk with the ANA attached to us) or working with the Civil Affairs folks speaking with the locals, you get the sense that they believe in the mission as much as we do.

A few posts ago I wrote about why we need to see the mission to success in Afghanistan. For me, it's more personal. I want them to succeed becuase I have worked with these people, I got to know them and their personal stories, and most importantly (to me anyway), I have broke bread with them.

CPT NightHawk