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The Afghanistan Veteran Project: From the Fire: An Account of War by Dave Gionet

Week of Remembrance Day 4: Dave Gionet. He is a true Canadian Hero so please take the time to read this and send him some love via comments and likes. Master Corporal Dave Gionet served two tours in Afghanistan, from February 9 - September 7, 2005 and January 21 - August 30, 2007.

My name is Dave Gionet and I am forty-two (42) years old come from a small town in New Brunswick called Pigeon-Hill.  I was raised by my mother Celine and my father Theophile who are currently retired and still reside in Pigeon-Hill.  I have three siblings, my sister Diane who lives in Moncton, New Brunswick and my two brothers who are fisherman, Marcel and Steve who live in Pigeon-Hill.   

I finished high school when I was twenty (20) and enrolled in college for two years taking a course to become a correctional officer, however knowing I was not completely ready I decided to pursue other options.  When I turned twenty-five (25) I decided it was time for a new journey and moved to Kitchener, Ontario where at twenty-nine (29) I joined the army.  I served twelve (12) years and did two tours in Afghanistan.  When I returned from my second tour I was medically released and retired September 1, 2013.

Here is a history of some of my encounters during my two tours.  While in Afghanistan, Kandahar, 2007 on Tuesday, March 20th, we were trying to recover a Coyote surveillance vehicle that had struck a mine.  I was the gunner of C/S 61C we were staying in the rear for security; the dog handler (Shaun Parker) and his dog (Alex) were with us. Sgt Sheldon, called for Alex and Shaun to inspect the area.  Alex smelt an IED, but de stepped on the IED before he was able to alert us.  The bomb went off, Alex was killed immediately and Shaun was very badly injured.  I was roughly 50 feet from the Bomb; the blast almost threw me off my feet, when I looked at what had happened, I couldn’t see anything with all the dust in the air.  I ran to see if everyone was okay but by then I knew it was going to be bad.  I could hear someone crying for help and when I got in the impact area, I saw Shaun in a bad position and a couple of soldiers that were confused by the blast, in a second I took charge and went to give first aide to the dog handler that was in a very bad state, to this day, it’s too hard for me to describe the details but I did succeed to open his airway until the evacuation took place about an hour later.  That was the first incident happening to me in my tour.

On April 11th, 2007 after three (3) days on an OP we were relieved by C/S 62.  On our way to our location, 62D struck an IED.  We turned down from the OP and moved to 62D location to provide security.  On the way to the IED strike, the vehicle in front of me was also hit by an IED (61B).  I immediately jumped off my coyote and went toward the crew of 61B to give first aide.  However, despite the help of my friends and me we lost two great soldiers

 

On June 11th, 2007 we were traveling about 40 km north of Kandahar City, when C/S 61D hit an IED.  I was the second vehicle C/S 61C in the rear, when we saw the blast we stopped and I jumped off to go provide first aide.  When I got to the vehicle I saw the crew was in very bad shape, upon investigating further I saw one of the crew was still in the vehicle it was the driver, my good friend (Caswell) however, it was too late, after we secured the location me and two more of my crew removed Caswell and put him in the helicopter for evacuation.  For the Dragoons, and myself this moment was very difficult, it was unforgettable has stayed with me.   This was the final incident for me during this tour. 

When I returned home from Afghanistan everything had changed for me and it was a very difficult process to adjust to a normal life.  I served my country and my crew to the best of my abilities, however for everything there is a price and nothing remains the same. 

 

Medal of Military Valour Citation:

“For extraordinary courage while under threat of fire, explosions and enemy attack during the rescue of fellow soldiers from a burning vehicle following an improvised explosion with the 2 Royal Canadian Regiment Battle Group, Task Force Afghanistan on 11 April 2007.”

“On 11 April 2007, Private Dolmovic and Corporal Gionet saved the live of a fellow crewmember after his vehicle struck and improvised explosive devise in Nalgham, Afghanistan.  After freeing the trapped driver, Private Dolmovic and Corporal Gionet performed life-saving first-aid, despite imminent risks of fire, explosions and enemy attack.”

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:

“Truth.”

 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. 

The Afghanistan Veteran Project: From the Fire: An Account of War by Damian Jungermann

About a week ago the project was contacted by a the non for profit organization Martial Arts Community of Veterans (MACV) looking for some support raising awareness for their cause.  The organization focuses on helping veterans who are diagnosed with PTSD and operational stress injuries specifically through the study and practice of Jiu Jitsu.  I think this is a great cause and something that more veterans should look into.  I highly suggest that you take the time to check out some of the work they have been doing and give them some love or inquire how you can be a part or learn from what they have been doing.  You can check them out here: http://www.macvproject.org/#macv

Through our connection we have started to meet some outstanding veterans who are looking to share their story.  Damian Jungermann, an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician, has deployed on several deployments to Afghanistan in many harrowing situations.  Overcoming the horrors and stress he experienced during tour Damian is a testament towards the work that is being done by MACV.  Through their work he has regained his life and we are proud to bring you his account.  Please take the time to read it and show him some support!

I suppose I will share the experience that really changed how I approached my missions.  I was on a night time village clearance with an Army SF ODA.  It was our second mission partnering with the Afghan commandoes.  The first had gone off without a hitch, which worried me.  We were doing these missions in a notoriously difficult part of Kandahar province called Panjwai.  We inserted off of a CH-47 with the Commando element and made our way to the compound we had decided to hit first.  After making our way through the dense marijuana field and grape rows, I placed an explosive charge on the wall and blew a hole large enough to breach the compound.  Unfortunately it did not lead into the compound and we were now relegated to using the doorway.  Our Afghan Commando engineers cleared the doorway of any explosive hazards.  Then I went up, kneeled in the doorway and cleared it quickly.  I found no signs of any IED hazards.  We made entry after I called it good.  After most of us had made entry and were inside the compound, there was a large explosion.  And for all of you who have heard an IED go off, it's sometimes hard to know where it happened initially.  Especially at night.  It turns out that the last two Afghan commandos had initiated an IED in the doorway that I had cleared.  I tried making my way back to get them.  Once we managed to get them inside we saw how bad the damage was.  One had lost both legs and one arm.  The other had blast injuries to his face and hand.  He would live. The triple amputee was begging us to kill him.  We attempted to medevac him by helicopter but by the time they arrived, he had passed away from his massive injuries.  His teammates wrapped him in a blanket and we brought the body back with us when we were extracted. It was my second IED strike I'd been involved in in the first 6 weeks I was in country.  At first light I made my way back to the doorway to investigate. The blast hole was exactly where I'd been kneeling just a couple of hours earlier.  How the fuck did I not function this thing.  What the fuck had happened?  There was little evidence to gather that helped me paint a picture.  This was still early in my first combat deployment in fall of 2010.  I had a lot to learn and it was this mission where I knew I had to change how I did this job.  I had to develop new ways to do our job.  I made it through 8 months of that deployment and did two more deployments to Afghanistan in the two subsequent years.  The last I was doing the same mission with the Commandos in Kandahar once again.  I have an incredible amount of respect for the Afghans who fought with us and a lot of love for the country of Afghanistan.  It is a tragically beautiful place and culture.  That mission haunts me every night.  I replay it daily and wonder how I missed that.  What could I have done differently so that didn't happen.  And I am sure I'll continue to go over that and see that Afghan's face and hear him moaning in pain.  That sound is always the same.  Every time I've been around someone who has stepped on an IED, there is that moment of silence after that blast, and then the moaning starts.  It's most definitely a sound I don't want to hear again.  

The Afghanistan Veteran Project: From the Fire: An Account of War by Luke Martin

As the project has grown so have our ambitions...Its time to bring some new soldiers into the fold and make this project an international project!  I'm super excited about this one, Luke is a super humble guy but he absolutely deserves the recognition for everything he has done.  His story truly speaks to the reality of war and the bonds that our military family create.  Please take the time to time to read Luke's story.  Specialist Luke Martin served in Afghanistan from May 2007 - August 2008 as part of Task Force Fury.

My name is Luke Martin. I was a Specialist with the 173rd Airborne Brigade, 1/503rd, C Co, 3rd Platoon (PL). My job was as a Forward Observer (FO) for my Infantry platoon. A job that was crucial in the fight, it was to provide the Artillery with the location of the enemy. I was in the US Army for 4 years. I was with the same unit the whole time and only went to Afghanistan once from May of 2007 to August of 2008, a 15 month deployment. For the most part we did missions our whole time there, a few breaks for refit but for the most part we were out of the wire for 300 of the 400+ days in country. We saw a lot of fighting, death, poverty, hate, appreciation, and disgust. We would look into the eyes of some men in a village and be able to tell that they would be fighting us later on. It truly was the strangest place I had ever been. 

My team mate Robbie Neary, from Illinois, and I were the 3rd PL FO's. He was one of those guys that could do anything, complete any task, and learn anything types. We hated each other when we first met, and I think that was why we were put together, some kind of character building test.  After getting into country we quickly became inseparable. It's hard to get shot at, and choose to not like one another. Over that year and three months we went through just about anything that two friends could in that desolate environment. We would set up targets along our routes, make the Fire Support op orders for what ever mission was going on that day, watch movies or play video games in our down time, eat chow and go over our job books. Well, after we made it home, all the way through a long, adventurous tour, Robbie went to Ranger School, and I started the process of getting out of the army to come home. He ended up getting out a bit after I did, within a day of being home he flipped the car he was driving and died. 

This is where my true battle began. I had no clue how to handle such a devastating blow. He was my best friend and teammate. We went everywhere together. I understood that Afghanistan was War. And as the saying goes, War Is Hell. I knew that the killing, fighting, shooting, rockets, mortars, and all the other stuff we had to deal with, was War. For the most part, I loved it. I loved the feeling of getting the quick reaction force call to roll out and help with the fight. I loved getting on a helicopter to get dropped some place in the middle of the night.  Walk down riverbeds tripping over everything because our night vision sucked. But a car accident? After all of the things we had been through I couldn’t accept that a car accident could be a cause of death. How was that fair to take such a great man in that way?

I lost it. I wanted to die. I couldn't get back into the fight fast enough and I knew that I would never be doing the things I had once done again.  I drank till I blacked out every night. If I had ran out of beer or liquor before I fell asleep I hopped in my jeep and drove to buy more. Sometimes just hoping I was going fast enough that if I hit a telephone pole it would be enough to kill me. Long nights of staring at my Smith and Wesson .40 cal wondering if I had the guts to kill myself. It was the constant question in my mind not of if I would kill myself but when. All of the drinking got me out of shape. All of the self-loathing turned me lazy and un-ambitious.

I was stuck in this hatred for myself, for not doing more. Not taking those steps to stay in the army, maybe me being there would have saved my best friends life. I kept thinking that I gave up on my team and myself. Perhaps if I had gone back for another deployment I would have felt better about myself, or maybe if I had tried out for something else that it would change how I feel now. But what-ifs get you killed. What-ifs take from what I did, I did sign my life for my country.  Had I died in combat, or if I die at 99 years of age with my wife by my side, I am going to remember that I went to a country that had no hope for help.  I went over with one of the best Units in the US Army and fought and made the difference we could. One tour isn't much at all. I'll never say that I did as much as I wish, but dammit Robbie, we did it, we survived, and I will never forget the fight. My fight’s not over, my life is a gift again and I am happy I brought the fight to their land, instead of letting it come this great land. 

The Afghanistan Veteran Project: From the Fire: An Account of War by Angela Clark

When Angela contacted me about participating I was very excited as she is our first female participant.  I was taken aback when I had the chance to read all of the blogs she wrote and posted during her tour.  They are very deep and insightful and I believe an important piece of this conflicts history as for one of the first times we are seeing a first hand account of combat from a woman's perspective.  I am honoured to be able to share with you an excerpt from her blogs.  I highly recommend you take the time after reading this except to read through the rest of her blogs. You can check them out here: http://ang-ghanistan.blogspot.ca . Now a JAG officer, Captain Angela Clark deployed as a corporal in the role of force protection on task force 1-08.

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Boats and Burkhas

I have been keeping my day timer up to date with the events of each day. But I always struggle to fill up the small space during night shifts. We work all night until 7am, I check my email and am in bed by about 0800, sleep until 1230, eat lunch, go to the gym around 1500, maybe take another nap 1600-1700, go for dinner, go to work.

But I guess instead of writing about what has (not) been going on, I could write about some of the things I have been meaning to, but have ended up replacing with things that have happened that week.

I mentioned a couple of posts ago the stories the interpreters tell us of their life and their ambitions. A couple of weeks ago when I was on nights I spoke with Wally (good Wally) for a long time. I asked him tons of questions about life in Afghanistan and want to relate some of our conversation as best I remember it.

For example:

“Have you ever been on a boat?” I asked.

“Boat?” He seemed to be trying to place the word.

“Yes, you know, a vehicle that floats on water and you ride in?”

“Oh yes I know the word. Boat. No, I have never been on a boat. I have never seen a boat. Also, I do not know anyone who can swim.”

I spoke with him for a long time about women in Afghanistan - the conversation mainly revolved around his family’s experiences and that of his wife.

His grandfather (we’ll call him Baba Wally) is a well-known village elder who is, apparently, over six feet tall and 110 years old. He had four wives (only one is still alive now) and fifteen children. Baba Wally married his first wife as a result of a tribal blood feud. I can’t remember all of the details, but one of Baba Wally’s brothers unjustifiably murdered a man from another village. This man’s family was insulted and dishonored, so were obliged to kill Baba Wally’s brother in return. Baba Wally retaliated by murdering the dead man’s brother. This back-and-forth volley for honor would have continued until both of the families were completely decimated, but another solution was found. Baba Wally married the dead man’s sister in order to heal and unite the families who hands were already stained with each other’s blood. This woman was to become Wally’s grandmother.

Wally’s family is very strict and traditional, he explained. In Kabul, young men can date who they please, and sometimes can spend time alone with their girlfriends (!). But Kandahar is mainly the home of the Pashto. Pashtuns are the honorable warriors who formed the anti-Soviet Mujahedeen and who fostered the Taliban. Most are by no means Islamic Fundamentalists, instead all have their origins in the very important Pashto code of honor. (I will look up more on this and elaborate at a different time). 

Their views on women’s rights, or more correctly, the rights a man has over a woman, are intrinsic in these codes of honor. Wally has been working with Westerners for many years now, but his personal life is still dictated by the traditions and the family he grew up with.

His wife is his brother’s wife’s sister. It was arranged for them to be married by their parents. They had only met once before they were married, at his brother’s wedding. He said their marriage was good, though, and more sacred than most Western marriages. They tolerate each other’s bad moods like any marriage, and compromise like any marriage, but the fact that separation is not an option creates a devotion and bond much stronger than those who know deep down, “I can always get a divorce.” (Divorce is possible however, if a man requests it, not a woman, but it is dishonorable). I am sure not all arranged marriages work as well as Wally’s, but his sounds all right.

I asked him if his wife wears a burkha, and he said yes. He said they live in an apartment complex in Kandahar City and if any woman who lives inside is standing in the doorway without a burkha on and a man passes, she must run back inside and cover herself. His wife does not leave this building without his explicit permission. If he grants this, he must accompany her wherever she goes. If she wants to go see her mother and father, she must ask Wally for permission and be escorted by him to her family’s home.

Wally’s wife had a baby girl four months ago. His wife is very tired all the time, he said. Even if he is home and the baby cries, he does not help her. If the baby is up all night, Wally would not even think of getting up in his wife’s stead to rock the baby back to sleep. “That is the woman’s job and I must not interfere. But….the baby cries a lot,” he said.

Once in a while he will hold the baby and play with her. But he does not change her or wash her or make dinner so his wife can have a break. “That is not our way.” I asked him if he will try to send his daughter to school. “Well yes,” he said, “women can go to school for maybe one year to learn the Koran and learn how to be good wives.”

Wally is the one who is trying to get American citizenship so he can move to California. I mentioned to him that things are very different in California, and wondered if his wife was excited or nervous when they discuss the possible move. Education is mandatory, I explained, and women wear miniskirts and bikinis and show more skin than is hidden. I think he knows this, but is more concerned about providing a good life for his family than the cultural taboos that will be broken for him. “It is my family that is strict,” he said, “and they are why I live they way I do. But they too understand the importance of leaving Afghanistan if I can.”

MCpl Neilsen was also there and the conversation moved to how different dating is for us. Neilsen laughed and said, “I met my wife in a bar on a one night stand! Now we have been married for five years.” I told Wally I had had many boyfriends, had even been engaged once and lived with two different guys in relationships that didn’t work out. I couldn’t help wondering how Wally looked at us, and more specifically me….sitting there with all my rifle and frag vest and helmet and combats on, laughing and burping and farting like one of the boys, telling him stories about my relationships and university days and how I could do anything men were allowed to do. Was he disgusted? Curious? Fascinated?

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Most likely, I think, he sees me as a separate species than an Afghan woman. I think that goes for most, if not all, Afghan men I have dealt with on KAF. I thought they wouldn’t listen to me, respect me, and maybe even hate me for being a woman and doing what I do. But I don’t think they feel this way. Most don’t act the opposite either, which is like me a little TOO much… Yes, they stare, but not the way they stare at an Afghan woman who walks by, or even a civilian woman. I think they see me more as a novelty, a curiosity. I don’t think I am seen as a woman first and foremost - I think they see me first and foremost as a soldier, the one with the rifle and pistol. Next, as a Westerner. And finally, as a woman. It is the combination of all of these that makes me a curiosity, and which allows me to get away with saying and doing things that could get an Afghan woman stoned to death.

But what of these women? What would they think of me? Would they be ashamed of me, for me, if they heard some of my stories? Would they be envious of my freedom? If they could take off their burkhas and shed Afghanistan like a skin, what parts of it would they say good riddance to and what parts would they miss?

A separate thought – after talking to Wally about his life and his wife, and picturing them moving to California, I can understand why you hear of so many immigrants whose lives end violently once they finally establish themselves in a Western nation. You hear of fathers who murder their daughters for not listening to them or heeding their culture or religion. You hear of wives murdering their husbands, and murder-suicides, and people kidnapping their children from their spouses and taking them back to their home country. It all makes much more sense after talking to Wally. Wally is a wonderful person and would do great in Canada or the US, of that I have no doubt. But what of those that want a better life, but then end up unable to adapt to the culture that inevitably influences the life they have immigrated into? Of course I believe immigrants have a right and a need to hold on to who they are at the root, but they have to be flexible and adaptable with certain manifestations of who they are. A man like Wally will have a difficult time if he tries to make his wife wear a burkha down to the beach in L.A., or if he sends his daughter to school for just a year only to learn how to please a man and a god.

Just heard three big booms, so I think we just got rocketed. Yup, the sirens are going off so I better end this. Good night all.

The Afghanistan Veteran Project: From the Fire: An Account of War by Dave Gionet

This week I had the Pleasure to meet Dave Gionet and I must say he is an awesome down to earth guy.  Ever since he contacted me weeks ago I had been excited to meet him and I felt honoured that he asked me to help tell his story.  So, without adieu here is Dave's account.  He is a true Canadian Hero so please take the time to read this and send him some love via comments and likes. Master Corporal Dave Gionet served two tours in Afghanistan, from February 9 - September 7, 2005 and January 21 - August 30, 2007.

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My name is Dave Gionet and I am forty-two (42) years old come from a small town in New Brunswick called Pigeon-Hill.  I was raised by my mother Celine and my father Theophile who are currently retired and still reside in Pigeon-Hill.  I have three siblings, my sister Diane who lives in Moncton, New Brunswick and my two brothers who are fisherman, Marcel and Steve who live in Pigeon-Hill.   

I finished high school when I was twenty (20) and enrolled in college for two years taking a course to become a correctional officer, however knowing I was not completely ready I decided to pursue other options.  When I turned twenty-five (25) I decided it was time for a new journey and moved to Kitchener, Ontario where at twenty-nine (29) I joined the army.  I served twelve (12) years and did two tours in Afghanistan.  When I returned from my second tour I was medically released and retired September 1, 2013.

Here is a history of some of my encounters during my two tours.  While in Afghanistan, Kandahar, 2007 on Tuesday, March 20th, we were trying to recover a Coyote surveillance vehicle that had struck a mine.  I was the gunner of C/S 61C we were staying in the rear for security; the dog handler (Shaun Parker) and his dog (Alex) were with us. Sgt Sheldon, called for Alex and Shaun to inspect the area.  Alex smelt an IED, but de stepped on the IED before he was able to alert us.  The bomb went off, Alex was killed immediately and Shaun was very badly injured.  I was roughly 50 feet from the Bomb; the blast almost threw me off my feet, when I looked at what had happened, I couldn’t see anything with all the dust in the air.  I ran to see if everyone was okay but by then I knew it was going to be bad.  I could hear someone crying for help and when I got in the impact area, I saw Shaun in a bad position and a couple of soldiers that were confused by the blast, in a second I took charge and went to give first aide to the dog handler that was in a very bad state, to this day, it’s too hard for me to describe the details but I did succeed to open his airway until the evacuation took place about an hour later.  That was the first incident happening to me in my tour.

On April 11th, 2007 after three (3) days on an OP we were relieved by C/S 62.  On our way to our location, 62D struck an IED.  We turned down from the OP and moved to 62D location to provide security.  On the way to the IED strike, the vehicle in front of me was also hit by an IED (61B).  I immediately jumped off my coyote and went toward the crew of 61B to give first aide.  However, despite the help of my friends and me we lost two great soldiers

 

On June 11th, 2007 we were traveling about 40 km north of Kandahar City, when C/S 61D hit an IED.  I was the second vehicle C/S 61C in the rear, when we saw the blast we stopped and I jumped off to go provide first aide.  When I got to the vehicle I saw the crew was in very bad shape, upon investigating further I saw one of the crew was still in the vehicle it was the driver, my good friend (Caswell) however, it was too late, after we secured the location me and two more of my crew removed Caswell and put him in the helicopter for evacuation.  For the Dragoons, and myself this moment was very difficult, it was unforgettable has stayed with me.   This was the final incident for me during this tour. 

When I returned home from Afghanistan everything had changed for me and it was a very difficult process to adjust to a normal life.  I served my country and my crew to the best of my abilities, however for everything there is a price and nothing remains the same. 

Medal of Military Valour Citation:

“For extraordinary courage while under threat of fire, explosions and enemy attack during the rescue of fellow soldiers from a burning vehicle following an improvised explosion with the 2 Royal Canadian Regiment Battle Group, Task Force Afghanistan on 11 April 2007.”

“On 11 April 2007, Private Dolmovic and Corporal Gionet saved the live of a fellow crewmember after his vehicle struck and improvised explosive devise in Nalgham, Afghanistan.  After freeing the trapped driver, Private Dolmovic and Corporal Gionet performed life-saving first-aid, despite imminent risks of fire, explosions and enemy attack.”