Steve Skulmoski’s Story
Modern War is so bizarre. First you train for a year then go to the airport. You then board a Boeing 747 that is literally like a civilian airliner complete with stewards, in flight entertainment, and you even watch a safety video, you actually feel like you are going on a trip. This trip is exciting, as for many of us, it was first real trip away from home. You have layovers and even have a snack bar. You then fly thousands of miles to a bizarre but friendly country called Dubai. You get a break in this theme park of a country, and then do a briefing. Then you are handed a weapon and a little bit of ammo.
Now you board a CF Hercules in armour and you are all kitted up. You are now flying over Pakistan and land in a country so different that it could be called Mars, but it is actually Afghanistan. To understand Kandahar Airfield is a difficult thing unless you see it for yourself. It is massive, and contains 30 000 plus personnel from 50 different nations, all in the International Security Assistance Force with the same mission, to stop one group called the Taliban, probably some Al Queda supporters as well.
KAF has all the luxuries of home, although be it a much hotter climate. There is a Tim Horton's, a gym, Subway, Burger King, a pizza joint, an ice cream parlour, all the counter fit movies you can think of, trinket shops to get souvenirs, computer rooms, including one for gaming, concerts, an outdoor hockey rink, and even a TGI Fridays complete with waitresses. For a second, you actually forget you are in a war zone. At the time, Afghanistan was known as the most dangerous country on earth, according to the UN. The only difference is when you go get your Ice Cap or pizza, you have a weapon with live ammunition. It goes with you everywhere attached like a third limb. Very few people ever forgot there weapon.
Now we go to our Camp that will be our home for 8 months. This camp is much smaller then KAF and does not have the fast food, but the rules are much more lax, there is even a Pool, a store, a library, a TV room, internet and a place were you can rent DVDs. You are now living in a room with 6 other people no bigger then an average living room. It was not so bad, you got serenaded by the Call to prayer from the local Mosques, and you make friends.
You then go on patrols, or hang out in a tower for 12 hours looking at nothing, almost forgetting that at any time you can be killed by an RPG, a Sniper or even a random rocket attack. On patrol however it hits you, especially when you get a good glimpse of Kandahar. You go from a life of being spoiled to a world of absolute poverty and misery. You cant help but feel for the people of Afghanistan. The country has been devastated by 20 years of war. People are starving, the dogs are as well; rife with disease, women are covered from head to toe and look like Pac Man ghosts. People that are 40 look like they are 90, from years of the harsh environment and poor nutrition. The smell of Kandahar City is hard to explain. Imagine burning tires, diesel, baking bread, poor sanitation and garbage all mixed in one.
I did not think much of this until I met several Afghan children that are in such need for help that it actually broke my heart. People in Afghanistan are so desperate it is almost hard to fathom. I give thanks to all the brave women of Afghanistan that refuse to bow down to to oppression, fatwa and the pressures of everyday life. I have learned to love again after many hard years coming back from Afghanistan.
I am not a hero, the girls and women that continue to pursue education in a world of hardship are my heroes.
This is what I am thankful for.
Note: This story was written by Steve Skulmoski in support of AFCECO for #MyGivingStory contest in 2016.