Canadian Forces

The Afghanistan Veteran Project: Week of Remembrance: An Account of War by Stephen Oliver

Today on Remembrance Day we stop on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month and think about all of those that have sacrificed for our freedom.  On this day I am honoured to bring you Stephen Oliver's account.  About 4 years ago Stephen transferred into the Royal Highland Fusiliers of Canada and lets just say he made a major impact.  Stephen's outgoing and positive attitude matched with his love of physical fitness and the experience he brought from a long life of soldiering made him a pivotal member of the regiment.  It didn't take long for us to cross paths and he's been kicking my ass ever since.  When I started this project I immediately thought of Stephen and knew that I had to get him to contribute...He grilled me about all aspects of the project and when he was satisfied with my answers he agreed to participate.  Its been some time coming but here it is!  Sergeant Stephen Oliver served in Afghanistan from April 2010 - December 2010 as part of Task Force Kandahar. 

In April 2010 I arrived in Kandahar Afghanistan as part of a five soldier Tactical Psychological Operations Team. The team had spent the prior year competing against one another for positions, training together as a team and building the individual skills we needed to step off the plane and support the Canadian mission.

Upon arrival we were attached to a Company of the US Army 82nd Airborne 2/508thoperating in the Arghandab Valley. It was there with the 82nd at Combat Outpost (COP) Ware that I first got my feet wet; a surprisingly literal statement. The terrain of the valley surrounding the COP encompassed deep rivers, lush apricot orchards and delicately milled radish fields. Every day we would conduct a patrol composed of a small number of Afghans, US Soldiers and we Canadians. Our constantly varying routes would take us through the rivers, over the walls and walking through rows of crops. I would sit and speak with the farmers, listening to their stories and often telling them ours. We would talk of the war and government, of the land and the rain, of families and home. This talk was not aimless. It was our job to shape what people thought about their government, the military and our enemies in hopes of supporting the various security and development efforts. I remember one such conversation from early in my deployment.

 We patrolled out to a nomadic village near our observation post both perched on the side of a hill. Our mission was to deal with a small crisis. The day prior a soldier was forced to kill a large dog from this village that came barrelling down upon him. Occasionally, this type of crisis mitigation was the reason for our meetings although probably not as often as many believe. Our well-armed patrol arrived among the shelters and we met the local leader. He was an old man with a long grey beard and aged face that showed many years of hard living. He invited us to sit with him in the Mosque tent, an invitation that came with a cultural catch - no footwear. My note taker, our interpreter, a US Sergeant and I considered this catch and decided that we could fight without boots should the need arise. We removed our boots and placed them neatly beside the door. A plate of dried fruit and tea promptly arrived. The old man initially refused to believe that I was also raised on a small family farm with animals and working dogs. I assumed he was wary of such coincidences with friendly strangers. Instead his stereotype of us focused on the towering cement cities not the wide Canadian landscapes. Together we drank tea, ate fruit and talked of where his country was going and how he could help guide it there.

Today I remember this conversation not because he was our enemy or our friend; he very well may have been either. I remember this conversation not because he gave us vital information or some other great military victory. I remember this conversation because it gave us each an opportunity to show respect for one another and feed a real curiosity that everyone in that tent shared. This was our job as much as fighting was our job and our team of five Canadians was really good at it.

This story and others from my time in Afghanistan will stay with me. I try to remember that as much as I arrived ready to fight in a desert only to walk through orchards it was our daily work and our conversations that were changing expectations and attitudes for everyone in that conflict. 

The Afghanistan Veteran Project: Week of Remembrance: An Account of War by Henry Wong

When I was first contacted by Henry he was hesitant to participate in the project but as we talked  about it he changed his mind.  I am happy that I did because his account will resonate with everyone who reads it.  During my trip to Ottawa Henry took time out of his schedule to meet up and have his portrait taken.  It was great to finally meet him, Henry brings a humour that is all his own and its easy to see how he positively impacted the lives of those he served with and the Afghans that he strove to help.  I am proud to bring you Henry's account.  Cpl Henry Wong served in Afghanistan from September 2008 - April 2009 as part of Task force Afghanistan and Task Force Kandahar.

Positive Flashbacks

It was just before Ceremonial Guard 2007 started that I received word I had been selected to attend pre-deployment training for TF 3-08.  I remember seeing the short list of junior NCO’s from my unit and was pleased that I would be in good company for my tour.  As a reservist I couldn’t have imagined the varied experiences and opportunities that were waiting for me.  Initially I was assigned to Force Protection, 2 Platoon of the National Support Element.  We were trained to carry out escort duties for re-supply convoys to the various forward operating bases/patrol bases and conduct Defense & Security tasks.  By about mid October we started handing over our duties of daily convoys to Force Protection 1 Platoon and Force Protection 2 Platoon would begin the daily grind at Entry Control Point 3 of Kandahar Airfield.  Eventually we again handed over duties to the Slovak Military Police.  Since there was little requirement for two platoons to conduct Combat Logistic Patrols, my platoon would end up being divided into various other organizations.  With great fortune, I was assigned to a mentoring team within the OMLT. 

When I first heard of the Afghanistan Veteran Project I knew I wanted to contribute, but I honestly wasn’t sure how to go about it.  I’m not much of a writer or a story teller and by luck my experience encompassed a fair amount.  I’m convinced that if you gathered all the daily stories, from the mundane to the extraordinary, of each soldier, it would be measured in countless volumes.  Those who know me best will probably tell you I’m quite soft spoken, so I think it’s only fitting that I settled on humour as the main focus of my experience.  I think it’s safe to say that humour, especially for a soldier, goes a long way in keeping morale high and we relish those funny moments of peace with war going on about you. 

Looking back on my military career I’ve had many memorable moments and there are a few that stick out in my mind.  These memories make me smile and/or laugh out loud when I think of them.  One of my favorites is a memory from late Sept or early October 2008.  It was a pleasantly warm evening at Kandahar Airfield; the temperature was just right for shorts and t-shirt and as long as I didn’t move too much I wouldn’t start sweating bullets.

I was sitting outside the 2 Section Weather-haven tent in the Force Protection lines (“lines” being military speak for “where we were living that moment”) and enjoying a quiet evening after a very long day of re-supply convoys.  Next to me sat my good Friend Alec.  I honestly don’t remember what we may have been talking about, but that doesn’t really matter.  Here we were, lucky as all heck to have the chance to deploy (well…not all luck, there was some work involved) and fortunate enough to be part of a solid Platoon.

There was a moment of comfortable silence amongst the din of the Airfield.  Suddenly, we both heard a long whistling sound, the sound that is hard to mistake for something else, the sound that military guys know all too well and it just makes your skin crawl and your heart skip a beat.  I didn’t know exactly what it was at the time, but my mind immediately went to “Artillery Simulator” which then translated into “Mortar round or Rocket” which then further translated into “Bad”.

We both heard it, and likely we were both thinking the same thing.  I turned to face Alec as he turned to face me.  The look on his face was priceless; it was a weird combination of partial grin and “oh shit this is gonna suck Dude!”, and of course I likely had the same expression on my face as well.

We sat there looking at each other with our weird expressions for what seemed like a few seconds.  Then, I utter the following phrase out of my mouth while trying to maintain a serious, as a matter of fact demeanor:

“I love you, Alec…”

After a half second pause we both burst into an uproar of laughter, the kind that makes you slap your knee, double over, tear up and hurts your stomach.  We are now both gasping for air and I hear Alec force out “I love you too, Henry” through his gritted teeth laughter.

I’m sure in the back of our minds we both knew that we weren’t in actual danger (relatively speaking of course).  In the end, the whistling sound turned out to be the whine of a jet engine winding down on the tarmac close by.  But I tell you, it was comforting to know that had that been my last moment on earth, I would’ve died happy, laughing, knowing I was doing something worthwhile, and that one of my close friends loved me like a Brother.

Another moment I’ll never forget was from the second half of my tour.  Life in Strong Point Mushan as a member of callsign 7-2 Charlie was constant and steady work.  Working alongside 6 other Canadians and a Company of ANA was (to me) much more akin to an adventure than work.  Aside from daily presence patrols, life within the Hesco walls of Mushan were calm, relaxed, and yet busy.  There was always something to do or improve or maintain so that Mushan could continue to function.  Taking care of diesel generators, radio watch, burning garbage, maintaining weapons, cooking meals, everything right down to doing laundry in a basin with a washboard; the list was endless. 

One day I was taking a respite from the ongoing activity inside Mushan when I received mail from my units Junior Rank’s Mess back home.  In the package my friend Dan had sent me a can of Honey Roasted Peanuts with a little note that read “I hope you like Nutz!”.   You’d be surprised how something like canned nuts can make you miss home.  I sat on our “Deck” (which was fashioned from pallets and plywood) with a fellow reservist from London, John.   John is an interesting character.  He enjoyed a good laugh and always kept things light, even if at that very moment we were doing something completely serious (like firing mortars).  His lighter side bellied the fact that he was also a thoughtful and intelligent soldier; not to mention that he is quite fit and cared for his body, often lamenting the anti-oxidant virtues of Green Tea.

As we sat quietly enjoying the mild temperature of “Winter” in mid February, I offered him some of my honey roasted nuts.  In his perpetual raspy voice and serious tone he says to me:

“Duuude, those are sooo good, but do you know how much saturated fat is in there?”

To which I replied:

“John…we could be dead tomorrow.”

He looked at that can of nuts with a contemplative gaze, within a few seconds he replied:


 He then proceeded to take a handful of that honey roasted goodness and we both had a suppressed chuckle as we sat there enjoying my care package.  Somehow amongst the constant danger there was always room for a little humour, a little compromise, and a handful of nuts.