It?s about 0800, Christmas Eve, and Minister John Baird, Laurie Hawn MP and I continue our lobbying efforts while inbound to Kandahar aboard one of our CF C-130 Hercules aircraft. We?re arguing to be allowed to accompany Chief of Defense Staff (CDS) General Rick Hillier when he visits the forward troops currently engaging the Taliban in ?Operation Baaz Zuka.?
He informs us that due to the risk of IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices, ie. roadside mines) and suicide bombers, it would be too dangerous to travel by road. So our request is contingent upon favourable weather conducive to transport by helicopter. And, since our new heavy lift, troop carrying helicopters have yet to be ordered we?re also reliant upon the availability, and generosity, of our American allies.
At this point my ?whining? is interrupted by the load master inquiring whether I would care to join the pilots on the flight deck for a turn at the controls. Do I ever!
Upon landing at KAF (Kandahar AirField) and following a very comprehensive briefing on the current situation, we?re relieved to learn we can be choppered in to the FOBs (Forward Operating Bases) to visit the soldiers of the main Battle Group.
We?re quickly outfitted with the necessary kit and transported back to the tarmac. With it?s huge twin rotors chopping the air above our heads we run up the ramp into the hold of the waiting U.S. Army Chinook helicopter.
Flying an erratic, terrain hugging course, a half hour later we?re deposited at ?Patrol Base Wilson?. This is our first FOB stop and home to the 350 soldiers of Charles Company, 1st Royal Canadian Regiment (RCR) Battle Group and Battalion Headquarters.
The troops enthusiastically welcome ?their? General and us with warm smiles, banter and firm hand shakes. Despite the stress of recent action, constant enemy threat, and their primitive living conditions, their morale is high. They inform us, in no uncertain terms, they know why they?re here, they?re fully committed to completing their mission and there is no way in h___ they intend to give an inch of the territory they?ve paid such a high human cost to capture!
It?s a sentiment we?ll hear expressed over and over again as we continue our FOB hopping tour.
The troops gather round us, some perched on their circled armoured vehicles in order to see better over the heads of their comrades, listening attentively to our Christmas Eve message. As the day will unfold we will perfect our presentations through repetition, but this is our first effort.
First, General Hillier delivers a powerful inspirational speech full of personal anecdotes, then he asks Rick Mercer, Minister Baird, myself and Laurie to say a few words. We three politicians keep our remarks brief, but never have our words been more heartfelt!
They courteously applaud and unanimously express their appreciation that we?re here but these young Canadian men and women are so impressive it is we who truly feel honoured to be in their presence.