General Hillier once said, quote “When soldiers experience unsure military experiences, it produces uncertainty, which causes them to lose confidence in what they do and actually causes some fear. That's normal in the military.” unquote.
That’s nice but what about that young guy that just came home from that “God Forsaken” place called “Panjway District”, who was put through the “wringer” and had all the juices from his body squeezed till he’s got nothing else to give. How are we supposed to make things right by him? Oh for sure, the Department of National Defense and Veterans Affairs have contingency plans to deal with these psychologically affected individuals but after not experiencing but surviving such an ordeal shouldn’t we do more for them? But then again you might ask, “What do you expect us to do?” We wave the patriotic flag. We wear the “Support the Troops” pin. Hell, some of us even pour cement bags. What else, do you expect us to do? Well at this stage of the game, I’ll honestly tell you that I don’t really know the answer to that one but can see that there is a problem and it needs to be fixed.
If any of you followed the news recently, “good old boy” Peter MacKay just announced that Canada might not be pulling its troops out of Afghanistan as scheduled in 2011. Rather they would most likely stay and be employed in a less dangerous role such as mentoring and training programs. This to most of us with half a brain is not really news as we were expecting it but did anybody notice that the Canadian population never took the bait. You would think that if we were that committed to bringing the troops back home that at least one or two protesters would have charged “Parliament Hill” with their “No more war” placards. No, that news segment turned out to be a simple blur that vanished never to be challenged. Now that to the “Tories” was probably a good thing. You see, they’ve been strategizing to get a majority ever since they’ve been elected. By checking the population’s pulse, they realized that the patient is sleeping comfortably numb and to further commit our soldiers passed the deadline might not affect the outcome of an upcoming election. So, armed with these realities and behind “closed doors”, they can now negotiate some “shady deal” with our cousins south of the border.
“Whoa!” Stop the press and let’s rewind the tape a bit. There needs to be a little history lesson injected in here. If we recall, in 2002, then Liberal Prime Minister, Paul Martin, agreed to send troops to Afghanistan as part of the coalition force. This seemed to satisfy the spoiled needs of then US President, “Georges W. Bush”. By pure coincidence if you want to believe this, they suddenly relaxed the surtaxes on our lumber and allowed our meat to be imported as our cows were no longer mad. As for our steel industry, it was no longer sub-standard and hell yes, “Alleluia”, the famous “red P.E.I. spud”, was again good to eat. Years went by and all of a sudden, the same dilemma appears but under a different name. Last year, when “Obama” introduced his “Buy American” policy, this sent our politicians scrambling as here we were after pulling through the first one, we were being subjected to a second round of “blackmail”. Thus probably the reason why we have troops over there. Not because, we’re fighting for their freedom but rather because we’re fighting to keep ours. We are at the mercy our largest trading partner and if we want to keep our families fed, we have to “play ball” with the Americans. The Canadian Soldiers assigned to the violent Taliban heartland are a key component to this complicated political chess game and will be used and abused till this so-called war against terrorism is over. These are the arrangements that we are stuck with and in all fairness to “Stephen Harper”, he basically has no choice but to stay the present course of action which probably can be loosely translated into a bastardized version of “Co-operate or else.”
From the beginning, General Hillier was the architect and main driving force behind Canada’s mission of taking the responsibilities of “Panjway District”. While between 2002 to 2005 (four years) Canada lost eight (8) troops, since their move to Kandahar in 2006, a staggering number of one-hundred and twenty-two (122), have fallen for this country and the fourth year (2009) is not over yet. That folks, averages to about 30 individuals a year. Just thought that I’d bring these surreal statistics so to show what kind of sacrifice these soldiers are making…
Anyway, when the CDS decided to retire in Jul 08, I for one really thought that he had dropped the ball and left the “Boyz” to be fed to the wolves. To say the least, this did not sit well with me. Although I now apologize to him for what I called him, at the time, I was fit to be tied and promised myself that retribution would be paid. So in my devious twisted mind, in Dec 08, when they announced the 100th casualty, I concocted a ploy where I would send my Canadian flag on a mission to the “Big Sandbox” and when it did return, I was going to mail it as a “retirement gift” to General Hillier in Newfoundland with a note that was going to tell him to hang this in his plush University office as he should also share the burden of living with the ghosts of all those lost soles.
The plan was set in motion and it went without a hitch. Without a hitch, yes but as soon as that flag hit the ground running over there, I started doubting it as I could see that it had serious drawbacks that could be catastrophic. One of the purposes of the flag was to give the opportunity to a young man to have something else to think about other than the drudgeries of war. What I never thought of was that it might just draw unnecessary attention to this individual and that being in the spotlight like that might just bring some additional danger to him. Add to that the fact that “Bobby” was doing such a bang-up job of promoting the “morale boosting flag” and this to the point where he was drawing media attention and you know what? I was getting worried that he might not be focusing on the true nature of his real mission. So for well over six months, I just sat back and prayed that nothing bad would happen to him. Every time they announced that “a NATO soldier was killed”, I swallowed hard, hoping that it wasn’t “Pte Buteau”.
So you can imagine how glad I was to see this young “combat veteran” safe and sound when he showed up on my doorsteps last Saturday and get this, two days after arriving in Canada. For him and the guys in his section, I guess it was important to make sure that the flag made it safe and sound back at “Ciment Hill”. From what he related, his tour of duty was “no cake walk” and if hell does exist on earth then they have found it and it’s located downtown in the “Panjway District”. Until the American Marines showed up, next door in Hellman province to relieve some of the pressure, the two outposts manned by the Canadians reported close to 75% of all contacts with the enemy in the area. Considering that their “Strong Point” was involved in more than fifty (50) close quarter firefights, I guess for them the flag acted as some sort of security blanket and gave them a sense of reality of who they were and what they were fighting for. It’s kind of ironic that this bond and sense of loyalty towards an old fool that lives in the backwoods of New-Brunswick developed but what the hell, “Whatever spins your bowtie, I guess”. Anyway, I didn’t care too much about the flag at this point as I previously mentioned, the thing had brought me nightmares. This till, “Bobby” presented it to me complete with its traveling case. From what I could gather, the personnel of the Funeral Guard in Kandahar had taken the time to neatly fold it in the traditional triangle shape before retiring it to the wooden box. When I opened the lid and saw this honorable gesture, tears filled my eyes and I just couldn’t find the right words to say. All I could do was look into this soldier’s eyes and see that here stood before me a kid that really needed a huge hug at this stage of the game. So without further ado, I opened up my arms and we held each other and this for a serious long time. I don’t know who needed it the most, me or him. All I can say is that nothing else needed to be said. He had just survived probably the worst experience in a soldier’s career and contrary to the fifteen colleagues that didn’t make it home safely during that particular rotation, he had lived through the ordeal and this according to him, would get the occasion to go back and fight another day.
When I embarked in this adventure with the “Keepers of the Flag” last spring, my motivations were somewhat of a narcissistic nature. To “stick it” to the man and really rub his nose in it sounded like a good plan at the time. However, after listening to a few individuals that have lived the Afghanistan experience for the last year, I’ve come to recognize the fact that General Hillier was indeed a “Soldier’s General” who was most likely the key element that kept the politicians in check. We’ll never be privileged enough to find out what really transpired between him and the Prime Minister just before he unexpectedly decided to “pull the plug” but one fact remains uncontested. Since he was sidelined, the operation has taken a completely different direction. From what I have been told, the DND chain of command is taking orders from “civies” that don’t have a clue as to what it takes to win this thing. The order of the day seems to be, “Just make us look good and there won’t be any heads served on a platter”. Gentlemen, it sure isn’t my place to run the boat but this smells like something the Canadian Forces experienced in a recent past. It seems that the more it changes, the more it resembles our involvement in the Bosnian/Croatian conflict. And that part of our military history is nothing to brag about. We can’t be fighting this thing with our hands tied behind our back. This sends the wrong message. There is nothing worse than having a front line soldier second guess his true calling. We seem to forget that the “Boyz” need our complete support and undivided attention and this should be a given. If this is not to be the case then there is but one other solution. “Bring them back home!” It’s that simple.
As for the tattered flag, I don’t really know what I’m going to do with it. It seems to mean a lot more to those few Royal 22e Regiment soldiers who took it out on patrol than it does to me or for that matter, the “General”. I’ll have to sit on this one and think about this for a while. Who knows? Maybe I’ll keep it around for a fourth generation of “Buteaus”. I don’t really know. Let’s just say that for now it is resting safe and sound in “My slice of Heaven” and we’ll see what the future holds. = -)
Peace on earth to one and all and remember collectively we can make a difference.
P.S. Oh by the way “Boyz”, GREAT JOB AND WELCOME HOME!