Holding the Fort - A Strathcona at the ‘The Alamo’
By Capt Don Morison
What’s with the black beret, are you in the Navy? What does “LdSH(RC)” stand for? That’s a Reserve unit, right? Are you lost? Where is your tank? Shouldn’t your hair be longer? Where is your British accent? YOU’RE a Strat? What’s that cutting down the tree on your cap badge? Are you going back to your regiment after this? Where is North Bay? Is it OK if we conduct this meeting in French?
These are a few of the hilarious questions I’ve been asked since joining Task Force 4-12 otherwise known as Op Attention Roto 2. Based out of Camp Alamo in eastern Kabul, Afghanistan, I am working as the S5 in the Kabul Military Training Centre Training Advisory Group (KMTC TAG). As the lone Strathcona in a “Vandoo”-centered task force and one of the few Anglophones I tend to stick out a little. Thankfully, it’s not just because of my beret or my rusty French but rather my “regimental upbringing” and what I, as a Strathcona, bring to the table with that combination of style and substance that is so uniquely ours. The aim of my article is three-fold: to let you know that there is still one of “us” serving in Afghanistan, to do it briefly and, hopefully, to do it in a manner that makes you laugh along the way.
For those of you who have no clue who I am, that’s OK; when I look at the regimental roll most of the names on it are altogether unfamiliar to me as well. As a means of introduction then, I’ll orient the ground by recounting some good memories I have about the not so distant past of our fine unit; this should enable you to determine which “class” I belong to.
When I first joined the Regiment it was stabled at Harvey Barracks in Calgary. The Sarcee Training Area & the Rocky Mountains were in our “backyard” and Spruce Meadows was outside Calgary city limits. At that time, the Queen’s Royal Lancers were the 17th/21st Lancers and we still had “RV” exercises in Wainwright. “Fort Recce” was a ruthlessly tough place...unless you were fortunate enough to be the Troop Leader of C/S 11 in which case C/S 12 & 13 presented more “attractive targets” and the seriously deranged collection of bodyguards in the troop provided adequate protection...WO Darrell Peters, WO Marvin MacNeill, Sgt Scott Irwin, MCpl (Retired) Derek Trask & Cpl (Retired) Rich Matvij. Canada still owned and used Suffield, we were equipped with the Lynx and Cougar AVGP and had so many of them that it didn’t adversely affect one’s career to set one on fire and burn it and all your crew’s kit to the ground. We wore olive drab combats & webbing and Happy Hour football behind the Officer’s Mess every Friday afternoon was a religion (even the Brigade Comd came to play despite being pushed through the hedge on several occasions). The Regimental 2IC, Maj Harv White, used to regale us “younglings” about his time as a subaltern when BGen Harvey, VC, was still active with the Regiment and teach us how to properly eat peas with a knife and fork and generally behave at the table (“Strathcona officers NEVER lean their cutlery...we place it as such!”). “Miss Helen” was a regular at regimental functions, Maj Chris Mariner drank beer, played a mean game of hockey, had a young, beautiful family and had the warmest smile I’ve ever seen to this day and Capt Tom Copplestone was our “ancient, old-school” Adjt (may they all rest in peace). BGen Craig Hilton, Col (Retired) Craig Fletcher, LCol Peter Hauenstein, LCol (Retired) BJ Walsh and LCol (Retired) John Stuckart were OCs. Col Jamie Cade, Maj Mike Froess, Maj (Retired) Chris Bijl, Capt Stu Maclean and Capt (Retd) Paul Ellard were among the hard working, second tour Captains. Doc Raj “DSBRP” Raina was our MO (ask the CO to explain, he’ll remember). Col Derek Macaulay, LCol Paul Peyton, LCol Dwayne Parsons, LCol Robin Steward, Maj Clayton Fifield and I (among others...sorry brothers) were Subbies. Capt Russ Ells, CWO Kevin Mulhern and MWO Ray Labrecque were Troop Warrants and mentors. Lastly, MWO Rob Clarke & WO Marcel Chenier were Troopers. The year was 1991. OK, perhaps 20+ years is a long time ago!
During my second tour at the unit (this time in Edmonton), I decided to take another path. It was a pretty good path but a very different one. Fast-forward 10 years. In 2011, for a variety of reasons, I appealed to our leadership and requested to come home. Thankfully, Col Dave Rundle and Col Trevor Cadieu saw enough honesty & merit in my request to authorize my transfer (as a Personnel Selection Officer I may have been able to secretly transfer myself but that may have been pushing it). We are all extremely and justifiably proud to wear the black beret and our cap badge. Trust me when I tell you it felt “other worldly” to put them back on after spending 10 years outside of the regimental family in a “purple” trade. There is no place like home! Now that you know where I fit, back to the present.
Thanks to our fantastic website, I have read previous articles written by Strathconas who have served at KMTC, the Consolidated Fielding Centre and several of the Regional Military Training Centres. These articles were informative, detailed and outlined the business here in a far funnier manner than I will ever be able to. Thus, I’ll avoid a lengthy reiteration of what KMTC does and how KMTC TAG operates and just say that the hard work started before our combat mission ended is being carried on in earnest today. Canadians, side-by-side with a host of coalition forces, are making a difference with our ANA counterparts at institutions that matter within their army. If we as a coalition get these pieces of their puzzle right, they have a chance to field properly trained, effective soldiers and units to fight their enemies. Undoubtedly, our work will have a positive impact on the security situation and, in time, the daily lives of all Afghan people.
Unfortunately, in the near future there will no longer be any Canadians serving at Camp Alamo as it is scheduled for closure and we will have been transferred to Camp Blackhorse. For those who have had the pleasure of serving in ‘The Alamo’ you may fondly recall the close-knit, family-oriented atmosphere of the camp. As Camp Alamo is turned over to the ANA and Op Attention nears its inevitable end, I am proud to represent our regiment and bear witness to the end of another chapter in that large “book” that is our collective effort to assist the Afghan people back on their feet and down a better road.
In closing, I would like to extend my best wishes to all Strathconas, currently serving and retired, across Canada and around the world, as we all reflect upon and celebrate that pivotal part of our shared history; the Battle of Moreuil Wood.