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Letter from Kandahar

SooToday.com received the following e-mail from Lieutenant Colonel Eric Groulx, the former commanding officer of Sault Ste. Marie's 49th Field Artillery Regiment.
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SooToday.com received the following e-mail from Lieutenant Colonel Eric Groulx, the former commanding officer of Sault Ste. Marie's 49th Field Artillery Regiment.

The local soldier writes from Kandahar in Afghanistan, where he is now serving in operation with the Canadian Forces.

************************* Dear friends at home,

I am becoming quite well adjusted to life here at the Kandahar Airfield.

You should know that Canadians serving in Afghanistan can be in a number of different locations throughout the country.

The majority of Canadians are located throughout the Kandahar province.

Kandahar Airfield, or KAF as we refer to it, is one of the largest military installations in the country.

Most countries have all of their supplies flown into KAF, and then move on from here.

The airstrip is very busy. Cargo planes - including the Canadian C130 Hercules - form a big part of the air traffic.

Helicopters of all makes and sizes are constantly coming and going.

The helicopter is the most used form of local travel.

You have all heard in the news about the improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that make road travel so dangerous.

In addition to the IED's, the road infrastructure here is weak, and in some cases dangerous.

As Canadians in Afghanistan, we must rely upon other countries' helicopters for travel.

Of course, the air strip is also busy with fighter aircraft that are frequently dispatched to help ground forces when they need it.

On top of all that, there are also civilian commercial flights.

I am told that the area surrounding the Kandahar Airfield once had a forest.

However, today a tree is a very rare item.

The clay-type soil that covers the earth here is very dusty when dry, and holds water on the surface when wet.

For whatever reason, I had heard a lot about the dry dusty heat of this part of the country.

I have experienced a bit of the dust since arriving here, but mostly it is mud.

Temperatures drop below zero Celsius at night, and are usually around five to 10 during the day.

Rain is very common. This is known as the rainy season, and it will apparently get worse, and flooding is common throughout the country.

I will attach a picture to show how wet it can be.

Afghanistan is broken into five regions: North, South, East, West, and Capital.

Kandahar is in the middle of Southern Region. Southern Region is by far the most dangerous within the country.

Kandahar was the traditional home of the Taliban, and it is the region that they continue to fight most for to control.

Many find refuge in Pakistan, and then cross the border to fight in Afghanistan.

It is a large country with far too few forces to keep eyes everywhere all the time, and the difficulty is that the enemy does not wear a name tag to identify themselves.

In one minute, they can be standing with a shovel as farmers, the next minute they have a rifle and are combatants.

I work in Regional Command South Headquarters.

My position is to act as the liaison officer from the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Headquarters to the region headquarters.

Effective February, this region will be commanded by a Canadian – Major-General Lessard.

Some folks from the military will remember General Lessard when he commanded Land Force Central Area.

The Region South Headquarters is a divisional headquarters that commands all of the forces in Southern Region.

The staff in the headquarters primarily come from Canada, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands.

There are also staff from many other countries – United States of America, Denmark, Norway, Australia and many more.

At my headquarters, there are usually two flags flying – the Afghanistan flag, and the NATO flag.

When a soldier from one of the nations is killed, that country will fly their flag at half mast in place of the NATO flag.

Since arriving, I have seen the Canadian flag [pictured], USA flag, UK flag, and Netherlands flag flown at half mast.

I have also attended the ramp ceremonies here – a very sombre event that I don't look forward to.

I have had the good fortune to travel to different parts of the country.

As they say, the getting there is half of the fun.

I have flown on Hercules aircraft from Canada, UK, and USA.

I have flown on U.S. Blackhawk helicopters, and Dutch Chinook helicopters – that were escorted by U.S. Apache attack helicopters - and I have also driven in British armoured land-rovers that were operated by the Royal Ghurka Rifle Regiment from Nepal.

When I was in Kabul, I drove in an armoured suburban to and from the airport.

It was my first real first-hand look at people living in Afghanistan.

It is one thing to see pictures – I have been doing that for years and have included one for you that I took - it is a very different thing to see it in person.

Two images stick with me. The first was a small boy of about eight years old who was filling water containers at a pump.

The pump was a manual pump, and who knows the water quality, and the containers were assorted – but mostly had an initial use for industrial purposes.

This small boy was obviously filling two large containers that would weigh more than himself to carry back home for his family to drink from.

The other image was a small boy – maybe 10 years old who was crossing the highway between vehicles, and he was carrying a very large bag with something heavy.

Discussion with the drivers guessed that it could be fruit to bring to market, or stones to bring home to build with.

The bag was far to heavy for this young boy, and when he got to the meridian in the middle of traffic, he was struggling to lift it again, but could not.

We drove close enough, that I could see the pain in his face as he began to realize he was not strong enough, and was considering the consequences.

I will remember his face.

I have been into the city of Kandahar. I was surprised to see that a few of the people walking or riding bicycles had no footwear – the temperature outside was minus-five celcius.

I am proud that we are working so hard to create a security so that reconstruction and development can happen here – the people here really want and need our help.

Take care,

Eric

P.S. The pictures attached include: a view out of the door of a Blackhawk, the wet situation we find ourselves in, the market in Kabul, and the flags at my headquarters.