War Poet.ca - A CFAP Project by Suzanne Steele

morale

cigars & coffee = good morale

sms and POMLT soldier share a smoke and a cup of non-rats coffee at “Spin Boldak”/June 2009



thanks to the OC of Delta Coy. I had the opportunity to spend a few days with CIMIC at “Spin Boldak,” the village closest to our FOB.

bundled into a G-wagon with a pair of impossibly tall soldiers, themselves heading down to Spin for their own reasons, we convoyed out of the FOB with half a dozen LAVs in front and behind, and headed down the road to the village.

a journey which in normal times would take 15 minutes to drive max. took an hour to make. an hour is, relatively speaking, a quick pass of the road. normally it is seeded with an IED or two which will result in either casualties, or the sappers being called out to diffuse. I guess it was our lucky day as all we did was drive very, very slowly, stop every so often, have the soldiers get out and check the area for anything unusual, then back into vehicles and drive on another distance.

the thing is, when one heads out with the infantry, or anyone in this environment for that matter, one never assumes it will be a simple journey. for this reason, I pack 72 hours of necessities (including water and food, sleeping bag etc.). a 20 minute trip can turn into 36 hours waiting in the back of a LAV or leaguer, or maybe much, much longer.

we made it into Spin and entered the JDC compound situated in the centre of the village. a 20’ by 40’ pressboard building with three main rooms and a CP room, it was inhabited by 15 soldiers 24 hrs, 7 days a week. cosy. organized. the show run by a senior air force officer. an original, whose yell, TERP!” out the front door for his interpreter to come help, reminded me of the call to prayer which sang out five times a day.

the building had no windows, bare light bulbs, and was surrounded by a notional 11 ft wall. the compound itself was protected by a section of young soldiers from the POMLT who themselves had gone out for a 5 hour “stroll”. the “dirty dozen’s” routine patrol had turned into an unintended 10 day sleep over due to road closures, attacks, IEDs etc.

with no sleeping gear, no extra change of clothes, no toothbrushes, the section had named themselves the dirty dozen because although there were 10 of them, they had two members who they claimed were so stinky, they smelled like two extra soldiers. I have to admit that when I poked my head into their mod tent parked outside the compound’s back door, that there was a distinct dozen-like smell to the place. I think I met the dirty dozen on day 10 or 11 and none of us had had a shower for as many days. having said that, I was given 4 250 ml bottles of water with which I had a bird bath a few days earlier.

life, for the 48 hours I was in the compound, was fascinating. watching the tender balance of personalities – both large and small and medium – under a fair amount of stress, was an interesting insight into rank and reality. the Sgt. Maj did a good job of smoothing the edges of interactions. low key to the Capt’s high key.

one day I was taken on a patrol through the village with the POMLT boys protecting me. a number of incidents occurred which were later evaluated and which left the section feeling low spirited. even more low spirited than their general filth, boredom, and frustration at being stuck far from their home base had left them. fortunately, before I left home, I had bought a dozen cuban cigars and a dozen black cherry cigars. I grabbed them from the pocket of my frag vest and made my way outside to the dirty’s quarters.

“anyone want a cigar?” I asked. they looked up from where they were stretched out on their borrowed sleeping bags (no cots, not mats) and said, “are you kidding? quick, grab the coffee cups.”

they all grabbed their homemade coffee cups, trench art of the 21st century they had made from water bottles cut in half and dressed heavily in gun tape, complete with handles, and decorated, headed into the compound where there was an urn of “Tim’s” (a gift from the villagers), filled the cups and came out for a smoke.

“Cuban or black cherry?” I offered them a choice. all eight of them lit up, but not until they asked me if the two on sentry could also have a cigar, “of course, I was going to go give them one after we had ours.” I reassured them.

we lit up, sipped our coffees and the dirty dozen suddenly smelled a whole lot better. nothing like a Cuban or a black cherry to lighten one’s load. and though I don’t smoke, I loved every drag of my cigar.

“you’ve really raised morale ma’am,” one soldier thanked me.

“no, you’ve raised mine soldiers, you’ve raised mine.”

so I promised them a poem, and I’m still working on it. I just hope I’ll get a chance to read it to them some day because I never had a chance to read it to them before I left. the next day, while they took me on a patrol that was impeccable in planning and execution, a suspected IED was found near the compound. they hived me off to safety back to the compound where we grabbed gear and were evacuated to the edge of town where we sat in a safe house until the Patricias came in their LAVs to swoop me up and take me out of there, far away, the 15 minute, maybe 2 day drive, to safety back at the FOB.


2 Comments (Closed)

B

sound exciting… wish i could have been there

Jul 06 2009 · 18:35

Alex VanderWoude

One thing that would really help our people would be UAVs/satellites in constant patrol with sufficient resolution to “see” bad guys placing IEDs. Sort of like a 7-11 security camera — it’s on 24/7 but it can use IR. I know, I know, the cost is currently huge. Still, doing that on the major routes and towns would help a lot I think. Ideally software could be (has been?) built that does pattern analysis and highlights suspicious activity. I hope somebody is working on stuff like that, and that our government is funding it…

Jul 06 2009 · 19:58

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The page you're reading contains a single diary entry entitled morale. It was posted here on July 06, 2009.

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