Dining at the Mess

One of the interesting things about working in a coalition environment is sampling the fare at the DFAC’s (dining facilities) of our coalition brethren. Right now KBR (a subsidiary of Halliburton) has the contract for providing dining services to the bulk of the coalition troops on Kandahar Airfield (KAF) and Bagram Airfield (BAF). They also had the contract for the DFAC I dined in at Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo. KBR does a pretty good job feeding thousands of troops every day. But let’s face it, the fare is not to the same level of quality that my bride and I had for our wedding reception held at the Jefferson City Ramada nor does it meet the level of quality of the fare that was served at our rehearsal dinner at the Hotel DeVille. Many of the people that work for KBR would not make it at any of the resorts at the Lake of the Ozarks. There are a few exceptions but not many. Fortunately, there are dining alternatives.

On BAF, there is a wonderful little Korean restaurant. It has bulgogi, kimchee, gim-bahp (Korean for sushi), fried rice, and a whole bunch of other things. It is run by the company that manages the Korean dining facility and they are doing quite well. You have to go in hungry; $8 purchases a phenomenal amount of food. The food is as good as or better than any Korean restaurant stateside.

The Canadian PRT in Kandahar City has a mess (what they call a dining facility) run by Canadian Army personnel. The PRT at Tarin Kowt, where I was at for six months, was run by US Army personnel. The food at the Canadian PRT is far better than the food at the Tarin Kowt PRT. One reason for the difference in quality is the ingredients. The food for the Canadian PRT comes in on a plane and is at the PRT in less than a day (plane lands, unload plane, inspect pallets, load trucks, drive 20 minutes to PRT). The other reason for the quality is that the Canadian Army cooks are really good.

The food for the PRT at Tarin Kowt and all the little FOB’s (forward operating bases) in the region consist of what we old timers call “A” rations, or what are now called UGR-A’s (Unitized Group Ration-A). UGR-A’s come in a combination of canned, frozen, and shelf stable foodstuffs in three boxes. The stuff is nourishing but gets old after awhile. We had one cook who was from the Texas National Guard and that man can work wonders with the UGR-A’s because he cared and had an artistic touch. The remaining cooks followed the instructions and that was that.

The British Army set up their own mess (they rightly refuse to call it a DFAC) last month. The rumors that floated around that it was quite good. For those of you who have traveled in the United Kingdom, I bet money that you didn’t visit for the food. My bride spent a semester attending the University of Glasgow and the cafeteria would serve potatoes three different ways.

I was invited to a working dinner with my coalition colleagues at the British mess today and I jumped at the chance. The place is managed by mess sergeants and the workers are from Sri Lanka. The food was FANTASTIC!! Lamb chops with a hint of mint, sweet and sour chicken breast, curried pork, beef pot pie, steak with onions and mushrooms, assorted vegetables, bread pudding, assorted cakes and tarts, brie and crackers, and more.

I couldn’t believe I was in a military dining facility until I was politely asked by a mess sergeant if I was a regular patron when I went back for seconds. Non British service members eat there by invitation only. I pointed to my group and said I was with them to which he responded with “very good sir, enjoy your meal” to which I responded “I will, thank you and might I add that you all have done a superb job!”

KBR and the US Army can learn a thing or two from our British brethren. Dining at the mess is so much more preferable than chow at the DFAC.

CPT NightHawk


Learning As You Go

I have now been serving with the Patricia’s close to a month and a half. In my tenure here we have been involved in both steady state and combat operations, I planned and executed my first leaflet drop (I was going to go on the helicopter to push the leaflets out but the Special Ops guys had a fixed wing available and they took the mission. Those guys have all the fun!), and managed to get the battle group to change some of its procedures. The last bit is a major victory for me. Allow me to explain why.

A couple of weeks ago I worked late one night and was heading back to my quarters when the TF Orion commander waved me on over for a chat. He was sitting on the deck outside his office puffing on a cigar and he kindly offered me one. I accepted and he started the conversation saying that I have more experience and background in IO than everyone in the battle group combined, how is the battle group “fucking it up”?

The commander wanted an honest assessment and I gave him one. I said that the battle group needs at least one more company and that Canada did not resource the battle group properly. I also said that the PRT needs to report directly to TF Aegis and have its own operationally controlled force protection so it can conduct its own operations. Right now the battle group is trying to coordinate the efforts of the PRT as well as conduct combat operations. I explained that the PRT I was at in Tarin Kowt reported directly to CJSOTF-A, not the Special Forces “B” Team co-located with the PRT, and it had its own force protection. CJSOTF-A, acting as a brigade HQ, coordinated the PRT’s efforts with the SF teams.

He agreed with everything I said. We went on and talked about Information Operation doctrine and the differences between how the US and Canadian Army treats its IO assets. We both agreed the 10th Mountain Divisions arbitrary division of operations into kinetic and non-kinetic is doctrinally wrong and that it is having a deleterious effect on planning and execution. What do I know; I am just a school trained IO officer and the commander is a Jedi Knight (what we in the US Army call graduates of the School of Advanced Military Studies at Ft. Leavenworth, KS).

Last week the TF Aegis IO officer and I were in a meeting with the commander about an event we were planning. The discussion eventually turned to how to better achieve the effects we wanted to achieve in the information battle space. The commander wanted our input and we gave it to him. That evening at the staff meeting the operations officer announced that there will be changes in how the battle group manages the PRT, the PSYOP team, and CIMIC (what we in the US Army call CA, or Civil Affairs) team.

To say that I was pleased is an understatement. In one month I was able to positively change the way the battle group uses its IO assets. My input (backed by six months of experience as a PRT IO officer in Tarin Kowt and three months as a IO Planner in Kosovo), plus hard experience on the ground by the battle group conducting a combat operation, contributed to the changes. Not all of my recommendations were implemented, only the ones the commander can change. Some of the changes that need to be made are structural and needs buy in by the flag officers in Ottowa.

This is the first major combat operation the Canadian Army has conducted in over thirty years. The commander knew that there will be lessons learned. The Canadian Army, just like the US Army, is learning as it goes. I am damned proud to have done my part for my former countrymen.


More info on my exciting day

Here are links to stories covering the S-VBIED incident that I was a witness to yesterday in Kandahar City and described in more detail in the previous post.

First, we have this gem from CBS News. It leads off with “Suicide Bomber Targets US-led Convoy”. This is lazy reporting at its worst. Firstly, I was the ranking US Officer in the convoy and I was manning an air sentry position on a Bison. I wasn’t leading anything! Next to me was a Canadian Army Major manning the other air sentry position and he wasn’t leading anything either. There was a Canadian Army Captain who was the actual patrol/convoy commander. The convoy consisted of Canadian vehicles commanded by Canadians. US led indeed.

Next we have this “in depth” story written by Carlotta Gall of the New York Times (you have to register with the NY Times to view the article). When you first read it you probably think that she did a great job getting all the facts and she must be really be on the ball. NOT! The last sentence of the first paragraph gives her spin away right off the bat. The following paragraphs have some good quotes from the locals but I view them with great suspicion. You see, she wasn’t there; she relies on stringers for her stories because the only times she ever leaves Kabul is when the Commanding General goes somewhere. Furthermore, we firmly believe that one of her stringers is a die hard Taliban because some of the info she has received was too damned coincidental and was spun. For example she received a tip that Canadians were using attack dogs to terrorize the residents of a village and were intimately searching the women. The Canadians did do a patrol in said village, the Canadians asked and were granted permission to use a BOMB sniffing dog to have a sniff around, and women and children were not bothered with. Anything she writes should be immediately made suspect.

Lastly we have this article written by Bob Weber. Pretty good article. It is detailed with facts, very little editorializing, and balanced. He was actually there.

CPT NightHawk


20 Meters

Today the convoy I was in was attacked by a suicide vehicle borne improvised explosive device (S-VBIED). In short, we got hit with a car bomb. No one in the convoy was hurt nor was any vehicle disabled. Unfortunately a few civilians were killed instantly and a few more may die in hospital.

I and a Canadian Army Major were manning the air sentry positions of our vehicle (standing up through two hatches in the rear of the vehicle). We were in a Bison, a smaller version of the LAV/Stryker. I was on the left so I was scanning the left rear.

I didn't see the explosion but my colleague did (it happened in his sector of fire). I heard a very large boom and felt the heat flash on the left side of my face. I swung to my left bringing my rifle up to bear and I saw a huge ball of fire and the remains of the chassis fall from the fire ball. The vehicle behind us had swerved out of the way and the last vehicle was coming through the fireball.

I had turned so hard that I disconnected my headset cable. I yelled for someone to plug me me back on. I needed to be able to give a situation report to the vehicle commander. I was able to tell the vehicle commander that the last two vehicles were moving with no visible damage and to get us the hell out of there.

I was scanning my area when out of the corner of my eye I saw that the convoy ahead of us had stopped. Our driver barely stopped us in time but we still hit the vehicle in front. I saw it coming so I ducked down enough for my body armor to take the hit. The vehicle commander cracked a rib. Our vehicle commander was screaming at the convoy commander to get us moving.

We got moving and we carried on with our mission.

Me and my fellow air sentry were in the sweet spot. We didn't get nailed with flying debris because we were close enough that the cone of the explosion went over our heads yet far enough to not get burned. We figure that we were about 20 meters, give or take 5, from the blast.

When we arrived we had to give an impromptu press conference for the cats we were herding (international media types). The convoy commander did a great job explaining what happened. None of the them saw anything because the vehicles they were in do not have windows so they were really curious. All they experienced was a large explosion that shook the vehicle, being thrown around a vehicle that was stopping and starting violently, and in my vehicle an American yelling for someone to plug his cable back in.

From my perspective as an Information Operations Officer, I was concerned that the S-VBIED was going to be the feature of the day. We were taking media to a village that helped us out immensely during recent combat operations against the Taliban. We were running a Village Medical Outreach (VMO, the Americans call them MEDCAPS) and handing out humanitarian assistance supplies like hygiene and first aid kits, staple food stuffs (beans, rice, cooking oil, powdered milk, baby formula, etc), blankets, and radios.

The media filmed the event and did some interviews and we held a press conference with the TF Orion Commander, the governor of Kandahar, and a high ranking Afghan National Army officer. Only one question dealt with the S-VBIED and it was a cheap shot at the governor who handled it well.

The other day I met an interpreter who used to work at Tarin Kowt and was there the same time I was. He worked with the Australians and we recognized each other. We got to chatting and I asked what happened to his leg. It got banged up when the vehicle he was in was hit. It was a Canadian vehicle! I laughed, saying that he spent nearly a year in Tarin Kowt and never got a scratch and he is with the Patricia's for less than two months and he gets hurt.

I was in Tarin Kowt for 6 months, rolled on over 50 combat missions, and never saw a thing. I go on my second mission with the Patricia's and my convoy is hit. Go figure.

I have a new lucky talisman. I brought my Coffee Zone go cup because I didn't have time to run it back to my office when I finished because it was time to roll out. From now on it is going on every mission with me.

20 meters, pretty close.

CPT NightHawk