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Kandahar

GLENNA SMITH-WALKDEN IN KANDAHAR – 2010-2011
 
I first went to Kandahar in 2008 as a travel coordinator, however, I didn't last long as I got very ill and had to return home. I got another opportunity to go back in early 2010 with a different Canadian company who was offering six-month contracts. I did two six-month contracts, back-to-back, but this time as a civilian cleaner. Leave was approximately every three months and I came home in July and December for Christmas. 
 
The first thing that you notice when you step off the airplane at the Kandahar airfield is the heat and the second thing is the powerful stench of rotting garbage combined with decaying defecation. Outdoors, the odour is permanent and never goes away. Eventually, it permeates into all of your clothing and most clothing is trashed when you get home.
 
Quarters for most of the military personnel are now mostly apartments or ‘hard’ quarters while civilians live in tents or ‘soft’ quarters. In either case, both are air conditioned in the summer and are heated in the winter.
 
Tents have eight tenants with individual private spaces. TVs, radios or any personal items had to be supplied by each individual. All we got was a bed, sheets, blanket, pillow and a foot locker. Toilet facilities are basic with clusters of portable ‘johnny-on-the-spot’ toilets for the norm plus ablussion areas with showers and more ‘johnnies’. There is a tented club house in the civilian compound area called the ‘Oasis” and it is open only to the civilian staff.
 
Canada House, in 2008 was a tent where there was an internet cafe, wide-screen TV and movie rentals. However, it burned down 2009 so it was converted into a ‘hard’ building which added a library, pool tables, Canex, and a movie theatre. Anyone can use it during the daytime but from 1700 until closing it is strictly for Canadians.
 
The Canadians built a boardwalk and this is where all of the action takes place. It was built around the dirt-hockey rink (hockey night in Kandahar). There are benches around where people can sit and chat. There is a Tim Hortons along with shops carrying TVs, radios, mini-fridges local jewelry and crafts. There was also a pizza restaurant and a Burger King.
  
Civilian employees are not allowed to leave the fenced area of the airfield area or cross the ‘wire’. There are strict regulations about photography and all telephone calls are monitored in case some information inadvertently slips out that might lead to an opportunity for the Taliban to strike.
 
The market is for the local Afghans to sell their goods to the personnel from the airfield. It is located beside the airfield and is opened only after a search for weapons and bombs. The locals are herded into a small area and held at gunpoint while sniffer dogs carry out a search. Market day is on Saturdays and Saturday – it is usually the one day of the week that rockets are not launched into the airfield.
   
Over the length of my visit 155 Taliban rockets were fired into the airfield. There is a system that picks them up on the way in and sounds an alarm but if you live near the launch area there is very little time to react. The rule is that when you hear the siren, you ‘hit the dirt’ for two minutes – even if you are in a vehicle or at the market. You can hear the rockets zing over head and then explode. Fortunately, only about half explode. One did explode in a tent near our tent just after the occupants had vacated for ‘hard’ quarters. Every Wednesday at lunch time, the rocket alarm system was tested.
 
The tented area was separated from the airfield by the main street “Screaming Eagle Blvd.” One side was hangars and
the other side was the tent line. So we lived very close to the aircraft and there were aircraft coming and going all the time, even in the middle of the night.
 
Everything was beige, the mountains, the terrain, the trees, the sand, the aircraft, the uniforms, even the wild animals, tents and buildings. So when you got back home and saw all of the colours, it was a real treat. And the water – there was no water over there except our cesspool with its fountain.
 
We always attended the ‘ramp ceremonies’ whenever a Canadian was sent home in a casket. Hundreds of Canadians were on parade for the loading of the aircraft. Unfortunately, the ceremonies were within range of the Taliban rockets. To avoid being targeted, the ‘ramp ceremony’ times were always varied at different times of the day or night. There was a high hill behind the runway and the Taliban used this area for their rocket launches.
 
During my duty at Kandahar, and one day while working in the Transient Quarters section of the airfield, I met another fellow ex-member from 400 Squadron. He was on his way to Kabul.  But that’s another story.