First group of local soldiers return home from Kabul
After nine months deployed with the Kabul Military Training Centre, Master Cpl. Brad Studham, a member of 2 Field Ambulance, embraces his wife, Trista. The first of 95 local soldiers deployed with Operation: Attention, the current Canadian training mission to Afghanistan, returned home Tuesday night.
The arrival home of base soldiers deployed for nine long months to assist the rebuilding of Afghanistan’s military marks the end of Petawawa’s engagement in that war-torn nation.
Anxious family and friends expressed joy as 17 personnel, still wearing their desert camouflage combats, stepped off the bus in front of Korea Hall late Tuesday night.
Since February, 95 local soldiers have been in southwest Asia as part of Operation Attention, the Canadian participation in the complex NATO Training Mission - Afghanistan (NTM-A). Their assignment was to deliver training and professional development to Afghanistan’s fledgling security forces including the Afghan National Army (ANA) and the Afghan National Police.
This was the initial rotation for Operation Attention which stood up after Canada’s combat role in Kandahar province ended in July, 2011. Maj. Jeff Donaldson, the officer who commanded the contract management cell for the contingent, said the trainer and mentoring role was a natural progression for a Canadian military still invested in Afghanistan’s future.
“It’s very rewarding to see them learn a skill and then turn around and teach the skill to their own soldiers,” said Donaldson.
The rotation’s 950 trainers and support personnel were led by the 2nd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment, based out of CFB Gagetown. Petawawa’s contribution included combat service support soldiers, technicians and medics mostly from 2 Service Battalion, 2 Field Ambulance and 1 Canadian Field Hospital. They were stationed not only in the Afghan city of Kabul but in Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif provinces in order to develop medical and police competencies among the Afghan security forces.
Their time working alongside the officers and professionals who make the Afghan army had been very productive, noted Donaldson. However, the important skills sets went beyond learning how to use assault rifles and heavy weapons. The major remarked they became proficient at applying tactics and the operational planning process to the extent that ANA junior and senior officers could plan out the deployment of a brigade. He added Canada’s efforts there remain as consequential as ever.
“We’ve put so much time, effort and so much unfortunate loss into those parts of the country,” said Donaldson. “But when you are on the ground on a day-to-day basis you do see the benefits of it. You see the natural progression for the Afghans.”
While the news headlines back home paint a pessimistic outlook for Afghanistan, Donaldson remarked they witnessed real and sustaining progress in their time there. However, the hard work remains.
“It’s not going to be a simple struggle,” he said. “It’s going to be a difficult struggle.”
This was the first overseas tour for Cpl. Christina Lewis, a member of the Royal Canadian Dragoons. She worked out of the Consolidated Training Centre at Camp Blackhorse situated east of Kabul where she had the opportunity to mentor Afghans in administration. The Niagara Falls native said she couldn’t wait to get home to see her family and friends noting she won’t soon forget that country.
“The landscape was beautiful,” said Lewis. “They were really nice people and willing to learn. It was a really good experience.”
While it’s anticipated that small groups of Petawawa personnel will be attached to other rotations between now and the end of the Canadian training mission in 2014, this will be the last major Afghan deployment for the base. The remaining local personnel from Operation Attention will be home by the end of the month.
“We’re always excited and worried when we’re sending them out the door,” said base commander Lt.-Col. Chris Moyle. “We’re equally excited and happy when they are back safe and back with their families.”
Over the next few weeks, the current contingent will be replaced by soldiers from CFB Valcartier’s 5 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group, who will be there until the rotation ends in June 2013.
Sean Chase is a Daily Observer multimedia journalist