May 23, 2009 – It was a nice quiet evening with a good breeze to keep us cool, which was nice because temperatures were already reaching 40 degrees Celsius in May and the sun was setting slowly. All we were hearing on the ICOM (a small two-way radio used by our interpreter to listen to the Taliban’s conversations) through our interpreter was that they were finally done with the poppy crops, and were talking about getting ready to start the fighting season.
The fighting season normally starts right after the spring crops, and it ends normally around October/November. It is during that time that the Taliban will fight the “infidels,” aka NATO troops. The Taliban were getting organized somewhere to the south of our strongpoint. A strongpoint, called combat outpost (COP) by the US military, is normally the first line of defense against the Taliban. These strongpoints (SP) can be as close as 100 meters from the enemy. We were eight Canadians and 50 Afghan National Army soldiers on ours. It was a square of about 100×100 meters protected by four guard towers and hesco bastions (barricades filled with sand to protect from small arms fire). The third wadi (wadis are ditches dug by the Afghans to contain the rain water that they use for irrigation during the crop season) was to the far west, so they were probably around that area, approximately 700 meters south. We knew they were moving weapons, ammunition and all the things they needed to do what they do the best: IEDs.
I was sitting in the C6 pit on top of our small tower, wearing my frag vest and my helmet, with Roberge, enjoying the view and having a nice Redman chewing tobacco dip with a Nescafe 3-in-1 coffee. The Redman dip was something I started using when I got in Afghanistan. It kept me alert and steady, even though I knew it was very bad for my health.
The pit had a perfect view over the south up to about 400 meters and was a good place to go and seek Taliban movement. I could see some of the ANA soldiers playing soccer inside the strongpoint and having a lot of fun, especially that some of us were playing with them and they really were kicking our asses. Other soldiers were also playing volleyball a bit further alongside the Afghan civilian workers we had. The ANA had a “mandatory” sport session everyday where they would play both soccer and volleyball. We were told that it was good for their cohesion and to take their mind off the constant stress they had. The civilian workers were building some barracks for the ANA, but they worked so slowly that they weren’t even done before we left seven months later.
Suddenly, a loud muffled sound came up from the north, followed by an echoing boom. As I looked up to see what it was all about, I could see a dust cloud going up. I immediately thought of a mortar attack and I started yelling at the ANA to go get cover. At first they didn’t even care, until a second round hit inside the strongpoint near their playground. “Holy fucking shit, they are accurate now!” I said to Roberge, who was with us for a few days. Roberge was normally with 71B but he was on a transition to his team through us.
71B was at Lakokhel, a strongpoint that was about 5 km from us right in the middle of a field. They had a rough one as well, let me tell you. The ANA was finally getting some cover in their bunkers and all of our guys on the ground were donning their frag vests and helmets to get into position. I told Roberge to stay on the C6 and to scan to find the firing point, while I would go downstairs and tell the captain that they were zeroing our position really quickly.
Foggy immediately took his C7 and got up inside the tower, on the second story, to take a firing position, and also scan to find where the rounds were coming from. Poirier, who was smoking a cigarette on our balcony, ran inside the RG31 on the southern run-up and also started scanning with the RWS (remote weapon system) equipped with our .50 caliber HMG. I can tell you that he was scanning madly and if he would’ve seen someone with a weapon, that guy was done.
Another round landed inside the strongpoint and it was getting closer to our CP. Up until now I was feeling a bit anxious as we didn’t know where we were getting fired from, but I knew the guys outside were working hard to find the sneaky bastard. Another round, again getting closer as I could judge by the sound. Captain RG called in the contact report and asked for chopper support to try to spot the firing position, which was quickly refused. We were convinced that it was mortar shells that were falling on top of us.
I was standing right in the corridor between the main door and the CP room, where some of our guys’ bunks were, along with the radio and the maps. For some reason, something told me to move in the CP room and as soon as I did — BOOM! — shrapnel from a shell that just hit right outside the door flew through the door. Had I not moved inside the CP room, I would’ve been completely peppered, as we found lots of shrapnel in the water bottle cases at the end of the corridor after they stopped firing at us. I can tell you that I was a bit shell-shocked then, I could feel the fear going through me and wondering what the fuck I was doing there. But I told myself that fear was normal and that courage meant to keep going even if I was afraid. Anyone who says that they weren’t afraid at least once while doing a combat mission is a pure fucking liar let me tell you that.
Two minutes after the shells exploded near our door, Bruno came in yelling “Wade, let’s go we have wounded ANA!” “Fuck, here we go boys,” I said. All the anxiety was replaced by adrenaline, and I got my TCCC pouch ready to do what I learned back in Canada. They kept telling us on that course that it WOULD happen and they were right I guess. I got outside to help Bruno, and we picked up the ANA captain and brought him inside for a bit of safety. He was about to go on the rooftop when the shell that exploded near our door hit him on numerous spots. He was in a bad shape but he wasn’t complaining at all. That was fucking weird at first.
The first apparent wound was a slash on his forehead that was bleeding through the bandage. Bruno, our warrant officer, did it outside before we got him inside. I reapplied another one over it and moved to the wet check. I could see his elbows were in a bad shape but I still needed to make sure there was no hemorrhaging that could be life threatening. I felt blood underneath his pants near his thigh, so I used my scissors to cut them open and I found a shrapnel wound that looked really deep. I couldn’t just apply a shitload of pressure to stop the bleeding as I could’ve caused more damage, so I took the decision to remove it and pack the wound with cotton packing. That made the captain moan a bit but it needed to be done quickly to stop the bleeding. I applied an olaes bandages over it and went to the elbow. The elbow was not that bad, there was a lot of blood but it looked really worse than it was. A simple bandage did the job and the same was made on his right ankle.
The other ANA soldier suffered minor shrapnel wounds that Bruno treated quickly and effectively. I have to say that Bruno had already started on the ANA captain when he found him injured, and I finished the job. Once both our patients were all “patched” up, he then went outside and got the ANA to call for their medical extraction. It didn’t even take 5 minutes and it was there, so we got the two WIA ANA in and two civilian workers who were lightly wounded walked by themselves in the ambulance as well. They probably called it before Bruno told them to do so.
Our ANA were really proactive and knew their shit. Their sergeants were very professional and I have to say that we’ve learned more from them than we thought. We didn’t even know at first that the civilian workers were wounded. I still think that the ANA medic gave them first aid. Their medic was a very good guy and knew his shit. He told us he was trained by the American SF medics up north near Herat, so we knew we could count on him, as well.
Everything went quiet from there on. What we believed happened over two hours really was about half an hour. After a quick sitrep with all the team gathered, we counted 10 GP25 grenades were fired at us EFFECTIVELY but we weren’t able to get the air support. Our door was peppered and the wall just outside of it as well. So we quickly decided to work on a sandbag wall to protect our door and inside our CP from future attacks. We had a rough idea what their firing position was and our C6 fired a few hundreds rounds in the suspected compound. I am sure we were dead-on since when it started firing, the grenades stopped coming in.
Late September, during an operation with the British, we found an AGS-17 and knew that this was the weapon they used on us quite a few times. It was the start of the fighting season and a very good wake-up call for us, as we had been slacking the past few days. All the boys did well and everyone got into their fighting positions and scanned. It was my first real experience with combat-related wounds and all I can say is that my TCCC course before deployment really helped me sort my shit out! Our team was already getting some combat experience that would prove very helpful during our deployment.