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Afghanistan on TF3-08

Cpl Josh Smith and I arrived in Afghanistan in late August of 2008, we were the first platoon from the 3RCR Battle Group to arrive in theatre. We were call sign “21” a.k.a. “Black Jacks”, formally known as 4 Platoon, November Coy. After the excessively long briefings at Kandahar Air Field, where the more popular questions asked by non-infantry types were “how do I get internet without leaving my room?” and “when will the mess have strawberry ice cream again?”, we moved to Forward Operating Base Wilson in Zhari District. We left on our first ‘patrol’ to a mountain side to test fire all our weapons, which included 9mm, C6, C7, C8, C9, M72, Grenade, 84mm, and the 25mm. Sadly that day would prove to be one of the worst days as 3 PPCLI soldiers were killed by a recoilless rifle less than 2km from our position. It would not be our last memorial. The platoon commander from the outgoing PPCLI platoon took us into the volatile Pashmul area just south of our FOB, and taken to an intersection where we sat for 4 hours listening to the early warning signs from the locals. Later, he informed us that if we had walked 100m further west, a gun fight was guaranteed.

Cpl Banks watches down a roadway on OP Array during his deployment to Kandahar with the 3RCR BG

We spent most of September doing Quick Reaction Force duty at FOB Ma’Sum Ghar. On my second day on QRF, I was slotted for OP duty, but as I was not on shift, I was sleeping in the bunker when the FOB, known as “The Catchers Mitt” due to it’s propensity to catch incoming mortar fire, was hit with RPG’s. A road crew working outside the wire and just below us was engaged in a small arms battle. As you would expect, I responded by leaping out of bed and heading to my battle position at the double. As with all things, Murphy’s Law kicked in, (no offense RSM) so naturally, a crusty CSM from the Engineers came up to my OP wanting to watch the unfolding firefight. He proceeded to exhibit displeasure at the state of my uniform, and insisted that no mater what was happening, I should take the time to ensure I was properly turned out. Taking his advice I did up my boots and helmet, adjusted my body armour and strike plates, and counted myself lucky that I had pulled on a pair of Moosehead Lager shorts as I brushed the dust off them. My Pl 2i/c loved it when he got wind of the story. I wonder what happened to that CSM? We never saw him again after that day. We had daily IED finds and weekly IED strikes we responded too in the district, which usually involved a 15 hour cordon and the occasional clean up. I was sent to take a 4 day Tracked LAV (M113) drivers course in KAF. In October, we launched a massive operation in a city called Nakahoney where we patrolled for 4 days, found a massive IED cache and destroyed it. This find was published in the National Post. Being bold and looking for a fight, we went back into Pashmul and crossed the intersection that we were warned about. Two of our attachments from CIMIC were sent into a house, which exploded launching a massive ambush on our platoon. Thanks to excellent skills by our medic, they survived. One month later in November, 3 platoons plus 1 US Army platoon and our Coy HQ went back in to clear out the Taliban. On day 1 of this 2 day operation, no less than 7 fire fights were fought, 4 involved our platoon. Our first chance to call in artillery and call sign 22 called in a 500lbs bomb from an overhead jet. On day 2, a massive attack was launched against the US platoon, wounding 1. My platoon was sent in, under cover from danger close arty, we made it most of the way before we came under fire. We were pinned down and were able to return fire, I remember the rounds skipping beside my feet the most. Aside from the obvious, ultimate moral boost: a pair Kiowa attack helicopters coming in overhead bringing 50 calibre and rockets down, with the classic stand up and cheer by my fire team partner and I, finding the local who supplied the Taliban with our positions using his cell phone, and detaining him would be the largest gain of the day. That was our last engagement of 2008, during the winter months, the fighters went home, while the IED cells kicked into high gear. In late November, Cpl Smith and I, as well as a few more reservists took part in the first Air Mobile Combat Insertion in the history of our units. The OP took our platoon on board two British Chinook Helicopters escorted by two US Apache Helicopters deep into Zhari, while the remainder of the battle group moved with the LAVs and Tanks to surround the area. The 3 day operation kept us in waiting for Taliban to move past our positions.

On December 26, 2008, call sign 22 took over a tasking for our platoon, and their lead LAV struck an IED and killed Michael Freeman who was driving. This was our first casualty in our coy and took a massive toll on the coy. This came weeks after an IED wounded two members of the same platoon. December was one of the worst months, not only for our tour but the entire mission as it claimed a lot of Canadian lives. On Feb 12th, we began operating in a town called Kolk, a.k.a Contact Corner, and encountered the first bad guy stupid enough to shoot at us while we were mounted in our LAVs. Nothing remained of him after 2 of our LAVs returned fire. 2 Days later, Valentines Day, we went back with coy HQ. Expecting a firefight, I was tasked to bring a second C6, I was left in an over watch position with a CDN Sniper Team and a US Sniper Team at the Coy HQ location. A few “shoot & scoots” gave us an interesting morning, but when we pulled out, my platoon minus myself came under fire, with the CSM as my #2, the snipers and I were able to engage and destroy the enemy firing on my platoon, with the help of two attack helos. We continued to pull out and an overhead Reaper UAV destroyed a 6 man RPG team following us. The end of February sent us on another 3 day patrol with rucks into the village of Siah Choi.

On the second day an ambush was launched against us, we moved further up the road after winning the firefight and went firm, next to a pile of marijuana set on fire by the retreating bad guys. A few hours later a second attack was launched against us. March kept us occupied with routine patrols and an op at the end of the month, which put my platoon, not once but twice, in the beaten zone between the Afghan National Army and the Taliban, unable to expose ourselves we had to wait it out. On the second day, the last patrol our platoon took part in, we came under another shoot & scoot in which the Afghan Police mistakenly fired on their own Mentors believing they were the Taliban. Believing our hardship was over our platoon returned to our FOB to pack our kit. We were awaken by a massive blast we later learned claimed the lives of 2 more soldiers from our coy. Scott Vernelli and Tyler Crooks were killed on 23 March 2009. The blast also killed a terp and wounded the FOO and our OC. Later that day, 2 Dragoons were also killed in the Shaw Wali Kot District. My platoon was ordered to clean our LAVs to a level they have not been at since the factory and drove the LAVs carrying our fallen to the tarmac on their final voyage home. A few days later, we flew to Cyprus and finally Home.

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