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.
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.