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Afghanistan 2009


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« Reply #40 on: May 20, 2009, 09:36:25 am »


Pte. James Hogan spent eight months based out of a forward operating base in the Panjwaii district of Afghanistan.
BY Kurtis Elsner, Staff   May 19, 2009 14:05

When Alliston resident Pte. James Hogan first got to Afghanistan he was greeted by 55 C heat, sandstorms and enemy mortar shelling. It was an eye-opening experience. It was the first of many during his eight-month tour of duty.

"It was hot, dusty, dry and a very different world, that's for sure," he said.

Hogan is one of many soldiers returning home from Canadian troops' latest tour in Afghanistan. Another local resident, Maj. Adam Barsby, returned to his Thornton home recently.

While both soldiers shared an ultimate goal - ousting the Taliban and bringing stability to Afghanistan - their individual missions and experiences in the country were vastly different.

Hogan was a front-line soldier. As a member of the 3rd Battalion Royal Canadian Regiment, the battle group deployed to the region, his role was to help provide security to the country.

Stationed at a forward operating base in the Panjwaii district, 60 kilometres west of Kandahar City, Hogan spent his time running security for convoys and VIPs, and as part of a rapid-response team that would respond to enemy activity, vehicle accidents and roadside bomb incidents.

He also spent about half of his time on active patrol outside the camp, sweeping compounds and looking for Taliban fighters.

"Once we left the wire and we were on operations, things were very different and things could change very, very rapidly. Flexibility is the name of the game when you're outside the wire," he said.

Hogan came under rocket attack, was shelled by the enemy, and was involved in firefights. He watched as some friends were injured and others were killed.

He learned the challenges associated with losing a friend and then having to turn around and not let it affect the task at hand. He said it was difficult.

The reality of where he was and what he was doing really sunk in after the first time he watched a friend get seriously injured.

Hogan said life at a forward operating base is not like some images of Kandahar Airfield (Canada's main base in the country) people see on television. There is no Tim Hortons, no television feed to watch Hockey Night in Canada, and no celebrities flying in to meet the troops. There are only tents, beds, and showers - all of which he said is a comparative luxury to life patrolling outside the camp.

"When we were on operations, you're basically sleeping in the dirt. There are no tents or anything, you're basically sleeping under the stars and you hope it doesn't rain," he said.

Despite the hardships, Hogan doesn't complain. He said it is all part of his job.

Barsby knows Hogan's mission well, and he knows how important it is to his own. The 41-year-old officer has been in the Canadian Forces since he was 18. He has been on five tours of duty overseas, two in the Former Yugoslavia, one in Eritrea, and now two in Afghanistan.

His latest mission in Afghanistan was to impart the knowledge he has learned during his career. He was part of a team helping prepare the Afghan National Army (A.N.A.), with the hopes that one day they can fully take over security, so the role of Canadian soldiers like Hogan is no longer necessary in the country.

"The battle group is in there to provide security today, and we (A.N.A.) are working to provide a little security today, but more for tomorrow... it's the long-term solution," said Barsby.

The A.N.A. has been fighting alongside the coalition forces during the recent campaigns. They share patrols, and they work together, said Barsby. His job was to act as a mentor to the second-in-command officer of the portion of the ANA that was responsible for Kandahar district. It meant spending several hours each day working one-on-one with his counterpart. Sometimes work had to do with planning and logistics, while other times it meant work in the field. But as much as his job was to mentor his Afghan counterpart, Barsby said the learning was a two-way street.

"Some of these guys have been fighting for 25 years, so they have a lot to teach us," he said. "They have a lot of experience out in the field doing the hardcore stuff, and we bring education, a different sort of experience, more of a global perspective, but the combination works out very well."

The sharing didn't stop with military tactics. Barsby said he learned a lot about Afghan culture, politics, religion and family. He said it's that kind of sharing that makes both countries' armies stronger.

This was Barsby's second tour in Afghanistan, and he said it was one that complemented his first well. He first deployed to Kabul in August 2006. His mission then was to train the Afghan soldiers before they were deployed. He is now joining officers in the field to continue with their training. He said in the two-and-a-half years between tours he has seen a marked improvement in the local armed forces.

For Barsby, it's seeing that growth that makes his job rewarding. He said it's what makes the sacrifices Canadian soldiers and their families have made worthwhile.

Hogan agrees. For all its hardships, he said his tour was rewarding, and that he gained a lot of satisfaction knowing that he was helping people.

Now back in Canada, both men are trying to adjust to their lives back home. For Barsby, who came back to his wife and two children, returning home is something that never grows old, even after five tours of duty. He said family is by far the number-one thing he misses, but there are also the little nuances of life back home that people often take for granted.

"Sitting here watching a Blue Jays' game, taking a walk over to Tim Hortons, or teaching my daughter how to ride a bike, my son just turned 16 when I got back, so teaching him how to drive... it's the little things."

Both soldiers are now home and unwinding from over eight months in a war zone. But it won't be long before they're back on duty again. Hogan said he is planning on making the Armed Forces a career.

Barsby's next assignment will keep him a little closer to home, as he's been assigned to a position at Land Force Central Area headquarters in Toronto.
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« Reply #41 on: May 20, 2009, 01:15:16 pm »

Two really interesting bios of soldiers with different jobs, a nice read.. thanks Mike.. rong
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