Week 1 at Kandahar Airfield

10/08/2018 Posted by admin

by Crystal Goomansingh

I feel as if I’m living a strange/exhilarating/sad dream.

Everywhere I look, there are Camoclad individuals with rifles slung over their backs or handguns strapped to their legs. Cars and trucks have been replaced by tanks and other armoured vehicles. Smooth black asphalt has turned into bumpy clay-coloured roads. Yet, I can eat some of the Colonel’s famous fried chicken or get a Double Double – yes, there is Roll Up The Rim to Win at the Kandahar Airfield Tim Hortons.

I know many people are tuning out the war in Afghanistan. Some don’t think foreigners should be here. Others are simply numb to the fact that Canada is at war because we’ve been fighting now for 10 years along with our international partners. All fair comments – but where does that leave the men and women still here? They’re still fighting, putting their lives on the line every moment of every day. Great strides have been made in terms of security, infrastructure and overall well-being for the locals, but this is not a safe place, especially for those working operations “outside the wire.”

“Inside the wire,” it’s as safe as it can be given you’re in a war-torn country. For a newbie like me, the first couple of nights were, to be honest, freaky. Media crews sleep in big tents divided into individual living quarters.

Ours is near a road and close to the airstrip. Some nights, there are training exercises so you wake up to, gunfire or screeching aircraft, or tanks rolling by.

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On my second night, I got the shock of my life and realized I’m not in Winnipeg anymore. I heard an alarm, accompanied by an automated female voice announcing a rocket attack. I didn’t know I could get out of bed, put on my shoes, grab my jacket and ID badge so fast. Heart racing, my cameraman Jeff told me where to go and what was happening. (He’s been here multiple times and was very calm about the entire thing.) I, on the other hand, was hunkered down beside a massive barrier, the sound of my heartbeat pounding in my ears, when I noticed a soldier walking by. He was carrying four Tim Hortons coffees in a tray. He smiled, said “Good morning” and kept walking.

I’m told that you get used to the rocket attack warnings. I am getting used to the sound of high velocity weapons, so maybe it’s true.

On the base, an extensive effort has been made to provide soldiers with the comforts of home. Soldiers from all of the participating countries can be found at KAF. There are coffee shops, a barber, little stores and people playing ball hockey or football in an open space inside the boardwalk.

Yet the reality of war hangs in the air. Maybe it’s trapped close to the ground by all of the dust. Every once in a while, you see a soldier using a crutch or walking with a bandaged hand and you wondering if it’s a combat injury. You never see sad eyes and shrunken shoulders here. Everyone has a poker face.

Our work tent is just metres away from the war memorial. To me, the site is a very emotional place. I don’t personally know any of the fallen but it still makes me sad.

Many believe it’s bad for morale to talk about the dead and the injured…that it will cause the families more heartache. It’s something I’ve been thinking about. I’m not sure what’s worse – being talked about, or not be mentioned at all?

I’ve also been thinking about what I’m doing here. When I told my friends and family about the assignment, many wanted to know why I wanted to go. I decided I wanted to cover the war and the impact Canadians were having in Afghanistan after reporting on my first troop homecoming.

That was about five years ago. I was in a hall at the base in Shilo, Manitoba waiting for the soldiers to arrive. The energy in the room was electric. There were little kids playing, husbands standing around, parents looking nervous. I was taking it all in when a young woman let out a yell as if someone had plunged their fist into her gut. I turned to see a blonde head running full throttle to the doors. She jump up into her loved one’s arms the second his foot was across the entrance.

I thought to myself – whatever is happening over there in Afghanistan, it’s important enough for that guy to have left that woman to take part.

Crystal is Global National’s Manitoba correspondent, based in Winnipeg. She is currently covering the war in Afghanistan. Follow her on Twitter: @CGoomansingh.

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