It?s 4:00 pm EST, Thursday, December 21st as Leah pulls up to drop me off at the Ottawa airport to catch my flight.
This is far from unusual as over the past seven years she?s done it dozens of times. But this time is different, and we hold each other extra tight and a little longer than normal for our customary ?goodbye hug.?
I imagine that at least in some small measure this is what it?s been like for thousands of other couples. For although I?ll be gone less than a week, NOT months, my destination is war torn Afghanistan!
Leah has been unusually quiet during the drive, no doubt perhaps second guessing her support for this particular trip, but it?s with a brave smile that we part company with her final cautionary ?be careful? hanging between us.
It?s a little after six pm when the fuel laden Canadian Forces Airbus finally claws her way into the darkened Ottawa sky.
In addition to myself, two of my Conservative colleagues have also ?lobbied? to be allowed along. Treasury Board President Minister, John Baird and Laurie Hawn, MP for Edmonton Centre (and a former fighter pilot) comprise the political contingent of our diverse group. Our leader is no less than the Chief of the Defense Staff, General Rick Hillier …. a true ?soldier?s General?, universally loved and revered by the men and women of the Canadian Forces. And a man I?ve already grown to have tremendous respect and admiration for.
Along with some of his staff and a security detail we?re also joined by media and entertainers. Max Keeping of CTV, Rick Mercer and Mary Walsh of CBC fame, singer Ms. Damhnait (Dav) Doyle, and the rock band ?Jonas? from Montreal.
Following a brief stop in Zagreb, Croatia for fuel we arrive at Camp Mirage after nearly fifteen hours enroute. And, with the loss of an additional nine hours it?s now six pm, Friday, December 22nd.
Since the location of Camp Mirage is highly classified, I cannot divulge where we went or what occupied our time on the 23rd. That is, other than recovering from ?jet lag? and relaying our heartfelt message from Canadians that we?ll repeat over and over again over the next five days …. (THANKS and MERRY CHRISTMAS!)
Although there was insufficient room on the Sea King to take all of us, General Hillier and a few ?lucky? souls did use the day to fly out and visit the 245 sailors aboard the HMCS Ottawa on patrol in the Persian Gulf.
It?s now six am, Christmas Eve and I?m sitting squished like a sardine in the cargo hold of a C-130 Hercules aircraft enroute from Camp Mirage to Kandahar, Afghanistan.
In addition to the flak jacket and army helmet we?re all required to wear as we enter the combat zone, Mercer is decked out in a full desert camouflage uniform identical to the soldiers. Somewhat to our surprise we learn he is an ?Honourary Colonel? for the 423 Sea King Squadron.
However, unlike the ?real? troops on board, we?re all relieved that ?Colonel Rick? hasn?t been issued a firearm!
(to be continued next week….)