Part 1 is here
Day three was uneventful for C Coy. and we prepared to go back to our FOB. Which would have been good because I had come down with a cold… not what I needed in combat (umm, I mean state of armed conflict!) Unfortunately that was not to be. A British Company from 3 Para had been isolated and surrounded by Taliban in the Helmand Province in the Sangin District Center. They were running out of food and were down to boiling river water. They had tried to air drop supplies but they ended up landing in a Taliban stronghold (thank you air force). C Coy. was tasked to conduct an immediate emergency resupply with our LAVs. We headed off to what can only be described as the Wild West. The Company (B Coy) of the Paras that was holding the District Center had lost four soldiers there and was being attacked 3 to 5 times a day. We rolled in there after a long and painful road move across the desert. When we arrived in Sangin the locals began throwing rocks and anything they could at us, this was not a friendly place. We pushed into the District Center, and during the last few hundred meters we began receiving mortar fire. They never taught me on my LAV Crew Commander course how to command a vehicle with all the hatches closed using periscopes in an urban environment. I truly did it by sense of touch, meaning as we hit the wall to the left I would tell the driver to turn a little right!! We resupplied the Brits and unfortunately it turned dark and we couldn’t get out of there, so we had to spend the night. We were attacked with small arms RPGs and mortars three times that night, I still can’t believe that the Brits have spent over a month living there under those conditions. They are a proud unit and they were grateful but embarrassed that we had to come save the day. And as good Canadians we didn’t let them hear the end of being rescued by a bunch of colonials!!
We left Sangin again thinking we were headed home. We made it about 40km before we were called back to reinforce the District Center and help secure a helicopter landing site. As we sat there we received orders that we were now cut to the control of 3 Para for their upcoming operation north of Sangin. This was turning out to be the longest three day operation ever!!! Enroute we were engaged by an 82mm mortar from across a valley. I engaged them with our artillery, it felt a lot more like shooting in Shilo as they were 2.8km away as opposed to the 100m or less my previous engagements had been. We went round for round with them in what Rob, the Troop Commander firing the guns for us, called an indirect fire duel. In the end he said the score was Andrew 1 Taliban O and there is no worry of that mortar ever firing again. We rode all through the night (with my LAV on a flat tire) and arrived right as the Paras Air Assaulted onto the objective with Chinook helicopters. There were helicopters everywhere. It was a hot landing zone and they took intense fire until we arrived with LAVs, and the enemy ran away. It was a different operation as we were used to a lot more intimate support tanks to shoot the Paras in. It was impressive to watch them though, they are unbelievable soldiers.
We left the operation about 25 hours later (still3 going on no sleep) and thought that for sure we were now done this “three day op”. But as we were withdrawing to secure the landing zone for the Brits (under fire from 107mm rockets and 82mm mortars) we received Frag orders to conduct a sensitive sight exploitation where the Division had just dropped two 1000lbs bombs. Good old C Coy. leading the charge again!
We drove to the sight and saw nothing but women and children fleeing the town. I thought, “here we go again.” Luckily this time I found a good position for observation with my LAV and did not have to go in on the attack. The Company quickly came under attack from what was later estimated as 100+ fighters. For about 15 minutes we lost communications with the Company Commander and a whole Section of infantry as they were basically overrun. The Section had last been seen going into a ditch that was subsequently hit with a volley of about 15 RPGs; I thought we had lost them all. I had Brit Apaches check in and they did an absolutely brilliant job at repelling the enemy. The only problem was I couldn’t understand a word the pilot was saying because of his accent! Luckily I had the Brit Liaison Officer riding in the back of my LAV. I ended up using him (a Major) as a very highly paid interpreter to help me out. After about an hour long fight the Company broke contact (but lived up to the nickname the soldiers had given us, “Contact C”) and we leveled several compounds with artillery. Somehow we escaped without a scratch, truly amazing.
We were again ordered back to the Sangin District Center with 3 Para and spent the next few days fighting with the Paras. For four days I did not get a chance to take off my Frag vest, helmet or change my socks, etc. We were attacked 2-3 times a day, and always repelled them decisively. I also discovered during this period that exchanging rations with the Brits is a really bad idea. Not only were they stuck in this miserable place but their food was absolutely horrible!
After saying our good byes to our Brit comrades (the enemy learnt their lesson and finally stopped attacking the place), we again prepared to go back home. Alas, it was not to be again. We were ordered South to take back to towns that the Taliban had just taken. Luckily this time after 11 straight days in contact, C Coy. was the Battle Group reserve. We headed to the British Provincial Reconstruction team (PRT). We rolled into the town to the strangest arrival yet. This was coalition country. The locals (unlike Kandahar and even more so in Sangin) were excited and happy to see us. We had kids offering us candy and water instead of begging. There were no Burkhas. The women were in colorful gowns with their faces exposed. The town was booming with shops everywhere and industry flourishing. We went to the PRT and it didn’t even seem real. I took off my helmet, Flak vest and I had a shower and changed my clothes for the first time in two weeks. I ate a huge fresh meal (until my stomach hurt), and then went and sat on the edge of a water fountain in garden and watched a beach volleyball game between the Brits and Estonians. I laughed as I had supper and watched the BBC (British Broadcasting Company) which was reporting that we had taken back the towns, but H Hour was still 2 hours away, so much for the element of surprise. After what we had been through it was hard to believe this place was in the same country. I slept that night (still on the ground beside my LAV because they did not have enough rooms) better than I think I have before in my life. The next couple of days were quiet for us as they did not need to commit us as the reserve. On day 14 of our 3 day op we conducted the 10 hour road move back to KAF, literally limping back as our cars were so beat up (mine was in the best shape in the entire Company and we had a broken differential … again).
Things look like they will be quieter for us now, and I will be home soon. Sad news from the home front, our little Yorkie, Howitzer, was in an accident the other day and didn’t make it. It won’t be the same going home without him, he truly was one of our kids (furkids!). We had three great years with him though and my only regret is that I wasn’t there to comfort Julianne who has been through so much lately. But she has some great friends there who have looked after her. To those of you who have been with her through this and the events of the last few months, I am forever indebted to you.
There are more stories I could tell of these last two weeks but this email has become long enough as it is and if I did that I would have no war stories (I mean state of armed conflict stories) to tell you when I get home. I will end by saying that I have truly enjoyed this experience. Combat is the ultimate test of an officer, and on several occasions I did things that I didn’t know I was capable of. I am so proud of my crew and the entire Company Group, we soldiered hard and long and showed the enemy that messing with Canadians is a really bad idea. We accomplished something in the last two weeks that Canadian soldiers have not done since Korea. The Afghan Government, elected by the Afghans, requested our assistance and we were able to help. We were the equal, if not superior of our allies in everything we did. I hope that I gave you all an appreciation of what these young brave men and women are doing over here, and even if the media can’t find the time or effort to report what we are doing and the difference we are making, hopefully you can pass it on. I will see all of you real soon. I hope all is well with all of you, and please keep the emails coming, I read every one and enjoy hearing from you, even if I cannot respond individually.