Saturday, December 26, 2009

Far From Home - but not Forgotten

An open letter to members of the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan:

I have wanted to write someone 'over there' for a good while now, and a recent mention of a remotely known fellow re-enator, now serving in Afghanistan, served as a spark. So yesterday I sat, just up on Christmas morning, gifts delayed while I typed this note. The post here is edited from that letter.

I served four years in the Canadian Reserves, just after the Viet Nam War. Split between the Hastings and Prince Edward in Peterborough and the Toronto Scottish. Maybe not the best of soldiers, in terms of following BS orders. The times were significant, as a goodly number of the older hands who taught me had served in 'Nam, and I did pay attention to the lessons that leaked out. This did not sit well when I transferred to the Toronto regiment, which was full of real armchair types, who as urban dwellers had not one clue about life in the field. When these bozos started enforcing their obsolete paper manual regulations on personal kit, I just figured I had about enough. I just could not face the (remote) possibility of ever having to actually enter combat with any of these people at my back.
In those days, they used to give away even remote, much less foreign, postings like special 'atta boy' prizes. If you bucked the system, you were just never were going anywhere. At the time the UN component was in Israel / Egypt and in Cyprus. I had close friends who did tours in both, but I never got the chance.
So I guess you could say I'm slightly better informed about the life of a Grunt than the average Joe Canadian Public, but admittedly both limited in scope and a good generation out of tune with the modern day. I have listened close to (once Major) Dr Neil Pritchard, who I know somewhat through a mutual close friend. Neil served in one of the field hospitals in Kandahar, and was openly honest and critical about Canada's and NATO's role. "Ether get frightfully serious - or get the hell out". He was busted back to Captain when he got back after his last rotation, not surprising if you know him (yet another shit disturber from way back).

Anyway, the point of all that background is this:

Sent far from home, not understood by the public, and not given clear orders by the politicians, there you and your comrades squat in the dust. May the gods keep you all.

A good while back (last year?) the CBC had aired a documentary centred on a section operating as security along a section of road between two of the major 'secured' towns. The reporter just didn't get any of it. With a little experience, you could clearly see what the troops had clearly been instructed NOT to say. When your on patrol and walking through four inches of liquid dust, through land cut with 1000 year old irrigation channels, when you sleep with your webbing on - well, I felt the unease. What a fucking situation to send soldiers into!

So, some of us know - or at least can put the pieces together enough to suspect and understand. I would like to see you all come home. No outside force has ever been able to make a mark on that place, going back at least to the British of the 1800's, and more like for thousands of years. If neither the Brits or the Russians in their time could alter the life patterns of the Afghans, its just typical American Government* arrogance to think they and their 'Collation of the Willing' can make a dint. The cost in your blood is just too high.

But the politicians decided to send you, and young and willing, our soldiers have never failed to 'answer the call'. Now you ARE there, in my opinion, Canada's support has to be total. Both while you are in that rat hole, and for long after. For me, it is the sacred contract between the pampered civilian and the warrior who stands in harms way: Never to send the troops unless you are willing provide absolutely everything that is needed. Allow the soldiers undertake their tasks with massive frightfulness if that is called for, never attempting to micro-manage from the sidelines. And when its over, never to forget the price paid on our behalf, rewarding that service for as long as required.

I am heartened, back here 'in the World' how despite increasing discomfort about Canada's role in Afghanistan, the support for the soldiers themselves has never wavered. As the butchers bill is added too, the public still understands that the men and women themselves deserve our honour, and everything we can provide them.

So stay loose. Catch zees when you can. May your rations be fresh and hot, your mail get to you quickly, and showers plentiful. May the odd beer find you, cold and crisp.

Get home.

(once MCpl) Darrell 'Monk' Markewitz

* Addition :
I would invite any readers to check the well considered comment left by Sean Valdrow.
He says in part:

" As an American, I take exception to your remark about American arrogance. ... specifically: 1) the American government is what shows the arrogance, and not so much the people of America. ..."
He is of course, absolutely correct. It is not reasonable for me, or anyone, to attribute to my many American born friends, as personal qualities, attitudes which particularly the recent Bush administrations pretty much rammed down the mouths of the American people. I have changed the text to reflect this.
Few of us in Canada (at least within my group of friends) would want to be blamed for the attitudes of OUR current (Harper) government either.


Ann said...

Very well said.

Polymarkos said...

As an American, I take exception to your remark about American arrogance. For two reasons, specifically: 1) the American government is what shows the arrogance, and not so much the people of America. Our government seems to have taken on a life of its own, doing whatever it wants without regard to our populace or our own long term need to coexist in this world with all the other nations. And (2) is that nothing is impossible. Once you decide something is impossible, only then is it truly impossible. Making a dent in Afghanistan is indeed possible, but it will take (IMHO)a multigenerational approach requiring a long term occupation. That is not tenable to the current state of things, but it does not mean it is impossible.

I defend neither the long stretch of bad American government policy over the last 2 decades or any current policy. Neither do I defend actions in Afghanistan.

I too am an old soldier from the days of yore. I served with our troops in Somalia, in Army Intelligence. I quit our Army because I saw our government would waste our lives for their short term political expediency. Specifically, I refere to Clinton's use of troops every time he was caught in flagrante delicto with some woman.

I respect your other remarks and laud you for making them. I knew just a few Canadian soldiers and we relied on their help in Somalia when our own supply train could not provide us what we needed.

Also, as an Alaskan, I have traveled through your country many times via the AlCan Highway. Never have I met a Canadian who was arrogant or rude, with only a single exception. I certainly have not altered my respect for Canadians because of that one man.

I hope you can see that the American people are often as much victims of American governmental arrogance and excess as anyone else. It is a sad state of affairs that cannot and must not endure.

With respect,

Sean Valdrow

Old Soldier


February 15 - May 15, 2012 : Supported by a Crafts Projects - Creation and Development Grant

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