Thursday, January 31, 2008

On political correctness...

I have gone on record as stating that I despise, loathe and otherwise dislike 'political correctness'. This buzzword is no more, no less than the gutting of our language and our culture, in order to pander to those who are 'different' than the greater majority of us. Practising 'Political correctness', is basically equivalent to having your spine removed.

In our speech, it is the omission or 'toning down' of the words we have grown up with, because they might 'cause offense' or 'hurt someone's feelings'.

Let me be as plain and as succint as I can with this one. Possibly the very last thing in this world that any one of us is responsible for, is another person's feelings. I know... I know... many if not most of us were raised to believe just the opposite. I have come to find out in later years however, that those who had a hand in raising us, or were responsible for our 'social conditioning', were probably amongst the most dysfunctional and fucked up individuals to be found.I'm not saying they meant any ill will, I'm just saying they didn't have the appropriate tools or skills for the job they were handed.

We are not responsible for the emotions of others. Each of us chooses to feel however we do, at any given moment in our life. If there is a person amongst us who would turn over control of their emotions to someone else, then I will say they deserve any and all misery which comes their way, as a result of having done so. Letting other people dictate how we feel, either by their words or by their actions, is the very definition of insanity and dysfunction. If you think on this for even a few seconds, you cannot but agree with this line of reasoning.

Being offensive? What are you kidding me? The North American, never mind that, the languages of the World, have always thrived upon the art of the insult. It is one of the basic purposes of communications. The outward display of displeasure or outrage, when confronted with unacceptable behaviour or beliefs. The humility-inducing put-down. The timing and savagery of the cutting remark. The inuendo of the double-entendre. There are times when a person should be insulted! When they should be submitted to a barrage of epithets, cussed roundly and at length, simply because their lack of intellect, their braying stupidity, their unparalelled arrogance, or their absence of social graces, would demand nothing less of a man. To water down a much deserved verbal thrashing, leaves such a reproachment devoid of spirit or purpose. The message, as well as the importance of the tirade... are lost. So to all you politicos out there, stop fucking with our language!

Idiots are still idiots, fat people are still fat people. Describing people as "something-challenged" to describe a physical defect, is nothing short of ridiculous. Short people are short and tall people are tall. What the Hell is a foreigner? Someone who is "geographically-challenged"????

And that's totally without getting into the whole: "Don't say Merry Christmas to a Muslim" bullshit. Oh, and news flash... I will never elevate the customs or cultures of another race/nationality/religion to the same level, much less above my own! Savvy??? Why? Because this is not your country... It is my country. I don't give a rat's ass where you came from, how you got here and I certainly don't give a shit how you did things when you were back home! We don't do it like that here and if you want to fit in (the whole end point of immigration...), you'll bloody well do it the same as we do.

A welcome in this country is not an automatic thing. A welcome has to be deserved in order to be worth anything. It has to be earned. I don't care what the government stooges are telling new arrivals here. It's us that you have to work and live with. It's our communities that you're infiltrating. It is by becoming Canadians, not simply living here, that you will earn that welcome. I don't think anyone should change their religion in order to live here, as I believe all religions are not worth the paper they were invented on. By the same token, I would not expect any immigrant, to look down on whatever religion is practised in this country. In this country, you are the infidels, the unbelievers, the godless ones. Suck it up and carry on. In this country, religion and politics do not mix. There is a clear division of church and state. That is why I believe that an immigrant whose religion also constitutes his political views, should never be allowed to run for political office in this land. Much less be elected...

While we're on the topic of 'correctness', if I read one more office memo entreating us to 'avoid wearing fragrances due to the over-sensitivity of your co-workers', I'll probably blow an aorta! I like the smell of fragrances in the office. It's one of those wonderful reminders that I don't work with a bunch of smelly, hairy ol' matelots. Don't get me wrong here... I'm not talkin' about folks that wear perfume or cologne like it came out of a shower head. For those people, they just send the message that they're trying to cover up something really nasty. In the animal world, those who are born with such flaws in their immune systems, that can't cope with their world around them, are either eaten by their mothers or abandoned to starve. Don't think the entire herd of gazelles gets a memo on the fact that: "hey, we're all gonna have to move slow through lion country, because little Tommy has a cleft hoof". Little Tommy is lion fodder. By the same token, I'm not gonna work in an office that smells like ass, because someone cheated nature and survived their birth.

Give me a break!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A message for Cpl. Rob Furlong, et al...

It may be doubtful that young Mr. Furlong or his comrades will ever read these words. This is intended not only for Robert Furlong, but also for Graham Ragsdale, Dennis Eason, Arron Perry and Tim McMeekin. To you all who, for however long formed such a cohesive, disciplined and lethal unit. I want to go on record as stating the following:

There is no rhyme or reason, for the abuses you and your fellow soldiers have suffered at the hands of your so-called superiors. What precipitated the accusations you faced, one can only guess. Was it jealousy? Bad blood? Who can say... It would take a small, small man indeed who would seek to tarnish the records of such consummate professionals, simply because they themself are not up to par, or perhaps simply did not get to partake in the tasking that fate ordained was to be for you and you alone. It seems supremely ironic that our training system (run by NCOs...) is still capable of producing such outstanding warriors, but our military has no idea what to do with them after the mission has been completed.
The hypocrisy of such a situation is almost unbearable. Perhaps if we had a few more real soldiers and/or military men in our upper echelons, as opposed to scads of political appointees. Your exploits, the manner in which your team carried out it's assigned missions, all reflect nothing but the highest credit on yourselves, your unit and on the Canadian military in general. Your particular engagement with the enemy did not win the war, or even perhaps a battle. What it did accomplish however, was to serve notice that we are back as a fighting nation. As a worthy contributor to world stability and peace. You had singlehandedly at that time, restored the combat credibility of the Canadian Military.

You already know the gratitude and admiration in which you are held by our American allies. Surely you must know that all enlisted ranks of the CF are equaly proud of you, as one might imagine. I would even go so far as to speculate that most of the officer cadré (Combat Arms) would have to accord you your due, if they were the least bit worthy of their commission. Any serving member who would not accord you the accolades of which you all are so richly deserving, or who would do so begrudgingly, is not worthy of the uniform they wear.
You know as well as any one can, that the chance of an officer admitting to any wrongdoing in the fiasco which followed your deployment, are infinitessimal. We have had some senior officers who were willing to shoulder responsibility in the name of others, in recent memory... but they are all gone now. So for as much as an official apology would be welcome, I'm sure... I don't see it in the cards. The egos of those involved are simply too big and fragile to be overcome. Typical, really... They are those who can only think that they're you. They can only hope and wish to leave the type of imprint on Canadian, on World military history that you have.

You, gentlemen, are legend!

I salute you, as well as those who have followed you since into Afghanistan, ever broadening our reputation. Who carry out their patrols on a daily business, unknown to the multitudes here at home, who endure the tedium, the boredom, punctuated by moments of terror, fear and pain. Who soldier on in spite of everything, committed to one another, their unit, the regiment, the mission. To them I wish a safe and speedy return to our home soil.

For you, Mr. Furlong, Mr. Ragsdale and Mr. Perry, I thank you for your service and wish you all a peaceful and rewarding life on civvie street. Please remember that for as important and praise-worthy as your performance in the Shah i Kot Valley was, it is not nor should be, the single moment that will define your lives. That moment still awaits you, as you reintegrate yourselves into the non-military world. You all still have so much to contribute to this country, which you served with such gallantry and distinction.

The Betrayal of 3 PPCLI...

And as our leaders have no idea how to deal with those who conduct themselves in an exemplary fashion on the field of battle, what do we do with them? Do we recognize their deeds of valour...? Hah! Not here in Canada...

"We were abandoned".

An elite unit of snipers went from standouts to outcasts -- victims, many say, of a witch hunt driven by jealousy and fear.

Michael Friscolanti
May 15, 2006

Lying low beside the rifle, his stomach touching the ground, Cpl. Rob Furlong concentrated hard on his breathing. In, out. In, out. In, out. Deep, but not too deep. Slow, but not too slow. The tiniest twitch -- a heavy exhale, perhaps, or a breath held one second too long -- could jerk his weapon ever so slightly, turning a sure hit into a narrow miss. In the sniping world, where one shot should always equal one kill, steady breathing is just as crucial as steady aim.
On that March afternoon in 2002, Cpl. Furlong squinted through the scope of his McMillan Tac-50, a sleek bolt-action rifle almost as long as he is. In his crosshairs were three men, each lugging weapons toward an al-Qaeda mortar nest high in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan. Master Cpl. Tim McMeekin, hunkered behind his fellow sniper, saw the same trio through the lens of his Vector, a binocular-like device that uses a laser to pinpoint targets thousands of metres away. Speaking quietly, both soldiers agreed on the obvious: take out the biggest threat first, in this case the man in the middle carrying the RPK machine gun. According to the Vector, he was exactly 2,430 m away -- nearly 2 1/2 kilometres.

A Newfoundland boy with pale blue eyes and a chiselled frame, Furlong adjusted the elevation knob on his scope, the barrel of his gun pointing higher and higher with each turn. He knew the routine, had practised it a thousand times back at the base in Edmonton. The farther away the target, the higher the rifle should point. Wind blowing to the left? Aim slightly right. Most snipers will tell you it's not much different than a golfer and his caddie lining up a long putt. Calculation. Instinct. And a little bit of luck. "You can teach a certain amount of it," Furlong says. "But there is a large percentage that you must have naturally. A good shooter is born. You can't teach someone to be a good shot if they don't naturally have it."

The 26-year-old stared through the scope, his left finger tickling the trigger. In, out. In, out. Behind him, McMeekin gazed through his Vector, reconfirming the precise distance one last time. "Stand by," Furlong said.

The first shot missed. A second round missed too, but not by much. It pierced the man's backpack. "They had no fear," Furlong recalls of his target. "They didn't run. I guess they've just been engaged so many times." He immediately reloaded the chamber and lined up his rifle for a third try, checking to make sure his grip was flawless. Furlong knew exactly why that second shot missed; instead of following a perfectly straight line, he had squeezed the trigger a tiny smidgen to one side. Even a fraction of a millimetre can make a huge difference on the other end -- in this case, the difference between a man's knapsack and his heart.

"Stand by," Furlong said again. Another loud pop echoed through the valley, sending a .50-calibre shell -- rocket-shaped, almost as long as a beer bottle -- slicing through the Afghan sky. Four seconds later, it tore into the man's torso, ripping apart his insides.

By that point, Rob Furlong, Tim McMeekin and three other Canadian sharpshooters -- Graham Ragsdale, Arron Perry and Dennis Eason -- had spent nearly a week in the rugged terrain of Afghanistan's Shahikot Valley, reaching out and touching the enemy from distances even they had never trained for. But that shot was something special. Rob Furlong had just killed another human being from 2,430 m, the rough equivalent of standing at Toronto's CN Tower and hitting a target near Bloor Street. It was -- and still is -- the longest-ever recorded kill by a sniper in combat, surpassing the mark of 2,250 m set by U.S. Marine Gunnery Sgt. Carlos Hathcock during the Vietnam War.

It should have been a moment of pride for the Canadian army. Five of its most talented snipers -- men trained to kill without remorse, then turn around and kill again -- did exactly that. They destroyed al-Qaeda firing positions, saved American lives and tallied a body count unmatched by any Canadian soldier of their generation. U.S. commanders who served alongside the snipers nominated all five for the coveted Bronze Star medal. "Thank God the Canadians were there," is how one American soldier put it.

Yet days later, their heroics on the mountain would be overshadowed by suspicion, including stunning allegations that one sniper, in a subsequent mission, sliced himself a souvenir from the battlefield: the finger of a dead Taliban fighter. Military police launched a criminal investigation, but uncovered nothing but denials. As the months wore on, there emerged so many conflicting accusations and supposed explanations that no charges were ever laid. Even Rob Furlong's record-breaking shot became lost in the confusion. In fact, until now, a different sniper has been widely -- and incorrectly -- credited with pulling the trigger on that long-distance kill.
Today, more than four years later, three of the five decorated snipers who served in Afghanistan are no longer in the army, brushed aside by a military machine that seemed all too willing to watch them go. Persecuted instead of praised, they fell victim to what many still believe was a witch hunt driven by jealousy and political correctness. Arron Perry was pushed out the door. Furlong left on his own, so disillusioned that he could barely stomach the thought of putting on his uniform. Graham Ragsdale -- the leader of the unit -- suffered perhaps the worst fate. Stripped of his command and later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, he has spent the ensuing years battling deep depression.
How those snipers went from standouts to outcasts is now the focus of another investigation, this one by Yves Côté, the Canadian Forces' independent ombudsman. For more than 19 months, his staff has revisited the saga, trying to determine whether the army's chain of command deserves some of the blame for the demise of a few good men. An answer is expected in the coming weeks.

"It's sad to see what happened over there," Furlong says now, recalling how the accusations ripped apart his unit. "It took the shine off what really took place there, and I think in the long run destroyed people's lives."

It was still dark on March 3, 2002, when hundreds of camouflaged troops piled into the Chinook helicopters humming on the runway at Bagram Airfield. Dressed in full battle rattle, their pockets and rucksacks stuffed with food and ammunition, the soldiers were minutes away from being dropped into the heart of America's boldest combat mission in more than a decade.

Among those waiting to climb aboard the choppers was a small contingent of Canadians, including Master Cpl. Graham Ragsdale. "Rags," as the boys called him, was the leader of a small cell of snipers, part of the 3rd Battalion of Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry. He was a popular boss, revered as much for his patience as for his talents with a rifle. "I only wished that I could have an ounce of his knowledge," one fellow soldier recalls. Those who knew Rags best considered him a shoo-in to one day reach the rank of "master sniper," a fraternity that includes barely two dozen sharpshooters in the entire Canadian army.

Ragsdale's unit was a tight-knit bunch, a small group of Type A personalities who respected one another simply for having reached the rank of sniper. Completing the training course -- a gruelling combination of classroom work and on-the-job drills -- is so demanding that in a typical batch of a dozen recruits, maybe three or four will walk away with a passing grade. The few who make the cut share a special bond.

That bond soon extended to Afghanistan, where 900 Canadian soldiers deployed as part of the U.S.-led retribution for Sept. 11. Like most of the troops, Ragsdale's sniper cell spent its first few weeks in theatre guarding the fenced perimeter of Kandahar Airfield. It was mind-numbing work. For days on end, they stood watch in the towers, their .50-calibre rifles ready to engage an enemy that never appeared. But as February blended into March, the brass ordered the snipers to pack. They were flying north to Bagram, hand-picked as Canada's lone contribution to Operation Anaconda.

Simply put, the goal of Anaconda was to kill or capture al-Qaeda and Taliban warriors cloaked in the Shahikot Valley, an enemy hideout protected by towering snow-capped mountains and sympathetic locals. U.S. special forces, bolstered by a small army of Afghan fighters, were to do most of the fighting, while hundreds of other conventional troops would guard any possible escape routes. After weeks of precision air assaults, Anaconda would be the biggest ground offensive in the war on terror. The Canadian snipers were asked to come along, just in case. "It was incredible," recalls Master Cpl. Arron Perry, who was among the Canadians squished inside a Chinook that morning. "We were in the right place at the right time and lucky enough to do it."

At 30, Perry was a massive man, a relentless weightlifter who moonlighted as a bouncer in downtown Edmonton. Born in Moncton, he joined the reserves at age 17, and by the time he landed in Afghanistan he had already served one tour in Croatia and two more in Bosnia. He had been a paratrooper, an instructor in unarmed combat and, most recently, a sniper. But he was also a recurring thorn in the side of his superiors, an outspoken soldier with an intimidating frame. Just weeks before deploying, his regimental sergeant major complained -- in writing -- that Perry had "an attitude problem" that "has gone unchecked for a long period of time."

Nevertheless, Perry was in Afghanistan, about to be lowered into a combat zone for the first time in his career. Following standard protocol, he would be one of three snipers working in tandem around a single, high-powered rifle. Each member of the trio was more than qualified to pull the trigger, but for this mission, Perry would be the primary shooter. Ragsdale would be his spotter. And Cpl. Dennis Eason, another Newfoundlander, would stand guard behind them -- the eyes in the back of their heads.

Down the runway, the other half of Ragsdale's cell -- a second trio of snipers -- hauled their gear toward a separate chopper waiting in the early morning darkness. Carrying his team's .50-calibre rifle was Furlong, a soft-spoken infantryman who seemed destined for sniping from an early age. At 10 years old, back home on the East Coast, he and his friends would spread rotten fish on a piece of wood, wait for the flies to show up, then try to shoot them out of the air with their pellet guns. Born a righty, Furlong even learned to fire left-handed. It reached the point where he actually preferred it that way. In fact, when he took his sniper course in 2001, he performed all his target practice left-handed.

Furlong's spotter for Anaconda would be Master Cpl. Tim McMeekin, a Manitoba-based sniper who was seconded to the unit just before the tour. Though an outsider, McMeekin -- tall, with a rock-solid build -- fit in right away. Sgt. Zevon Durham, an American soldier, rounded out the trio.

The Chinook carrying Perry, Ragsdale and Eason twisted its way onto the mountain just before dawn. Within minutes, enemy fighters opened up, feeding the new arrivals a steady stream of small-arms and mortar fire. Perry, hauling his rifle on his back, headed for higher ground. "Anyone who says they are not scared is crazy," he recalls. "But it was great." In that first hour, Perry fired at target after target, some as far away as 1,500 m. "His shots were incredible," says Sgt. Maj. Mark Nielsen, a veteran of America's 101st Airborne Division. "One shot, one kill. If I had to send him a sweatshirt, that's what it would say."

McMeekin and Furlong were minutes behind their friends, but as their Chinook approached the landing zone, an unseen enemy opened fire. The pilots immediately veered right, turning the chopper all the way around. Furlong was furious. His friends were in the centre of a hornet's nest, and there he was, on his way back to Bagram.

When the helicopter returned to the mountain a few hours later, dozens of troops spilled out the side doors and onto the valley floor, scanning the horizon as they sprinted through the dust kicked up by the rotor blades. The enemy was nowhere to be found, but that didn't mean the troops were alone. "We were nervous," Furlong admits. "You can feel it. You know when something is wrong."

His instinct was right. As dusk approached, mortars and muzzle flashes lit up the sky, hammering the ground all around their position. Furlong planted his head in the dirt, shielding his face. "McMeekin had already started to grab the rifle and engage targets," he remembers. "The guy was an absolute machine." Amid the onslaught, the snipers pummelled at least one enemy hideout. Everyone else took cover.

For the next nine days, the Canadian snipers disposed of rival fighters with diabolical precision. They became an all-star unit of sorts, shuttled from hill to hill as needed, sometimes by foot, sometimes by four-wheeler. Their bullets destroyed enemy lookouts, protected U.S. troops as they moved through the valley, and, in those moments when all hell broke loose, annihilated the source of fire. Along the way, they reset the bar of their elite profession, breaking -- then rebreaking -- the record for longest-ever combat kill.
First it was Master Cpl. Perry, hitting an enemy forward observer from 2,310 m. Days later, Furlong took out the man with the RPK, eclipsing his friend's mark by a mere 120 m. "These guys -- regardless of what country they were from, what flag they fought under -- they were just excellent military professionals," says Capt. Justin Overbaugh, the commander of a U.S. scout platoon that worked alongside one of the sniper teams. "We didn't want to give them up. I would have brought them home with me if I could."

By the time the snipers flew back to Bagram, their American commanders were already filling out nomination forms for Bronze Stars, a U.S. medal that recognizes heroism on the battlefield. All five names were submitted up the American chain of command: Perry, Ragsdale, Eason, Furlong and McMeekin.

Lt.-Col. Pat Stogran, the Canadian commander in Afghanistan, was waiting to meet his snipers when they touched down in Bagram. He was like a proud father, boasting and patting them on the back for a job well done. All they wanted was a shower and a phone call home. They'd had neither since heading overseas more than a month earlier. Furlong was so filthy he tossed most of his clothes in the trash. "They had been on for so long they kind of stood up on their own," he laughs.

The two sniper teams had not crossed paths during the nine-day mission. Reunited, they exchanged a few hugs and a few tales. They also made a vow, promising never to reveal -- outside the circle -- how many people they actually killed. That was for them to know. To this day, none has broken that pledge.

Hours after their showers, the snipers and hundreds of their Canadian comrades departed for another mission: Operation Harpoon. Their destination was "The Whale," a mountain range where, according to intelligence reports, dozens of al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters had fled for cover during Anaconda. Canadian troops were assigned to find them, but after five days of sifting through caves and blowing up bunkers, they came up empty. The few enemy fighters they did encounter were long dead.

As uneventful as the mission was, it would be that assignment -- not Operation Anaconda -- that would forever define the snipers' tour in Afghanistan. Everything they had accomplished just days earlier was about to be destroyed.

As soon as the sniper cell returned to camp, an officer pulled them aside, warning them that one of their own -- Perry -- was under investigation for allegedly desecrating an enemy corpse. Among the gruesome accusations were that he cut off a dead man's finger, stuck a cigarette in the corpse's mouth and posted a sign on his lifeless chest. "Fuck Terrorism," the note read. Military police also suspected that Perry defecated on a second body.

The allegations were devastating, not just for Perry, but for the entire team. "Five days earlier I got off the plane and was met by the colonel who said: 'You guys are outstanding,' " Furlong remembers. "And then five days later you're told you're under investigation, so everything that happens before goes to shit. You can build a hundred bridges and rob a bank, but you'll never be known as a bridge builder. You'll be known as a bank robber. It only takes one bad thing to erase every good thing you've ever done."

Lt.-Col. Stogran called in the National Investigation Service (NIS), the major crimes unit of the military's internal police agency. Investigators dove in. On March 21, 2002 -- under heavily armed guard -- a team returned to the mountain to exhume one of the two corpses at the heart of the case. They took notes, snapped photos and collected a swab of DNA. They also found the "Fuck Terrorism" sign.

As investigators searched for clues, senior officers stripped Graham Ragsdale of his command, giving control of the sniper cell to Tim McMeekin. Then the NIS showed up at Perry's tent with a search warrant, tearing apart his barracks box and seizing a knife. A Canadian chaplain later claimed that Perry swore at him in a threatening manner -- an allegation that landed the soldier under arrest for "conduct unbecoming."

Three short weeks after taking lives and saving lives in the Shahikot Valley, Arron Perry was on a plane back to Canada. His tour was over, replaced by a looming court martial. "From day one, we're taught to trust," he says. "Loyalty, loyalty, loyalty. Then all of a sudden, you're abandoned and dropped."

Two days after Perry left camp, an American general visited Kandahar Airfield to distribute Bronze Stars. Included in his box of medals were five ribbons reserved for the snipers. The awards, however, never left the package. It seemed that someone in the Canadian military refused to rubber-stamp the U.S. honour, certainly not with such a sensitive investigation going on.
American troops were irate. Why aren't the snipers standing here with us? "They represented Canada's best," Sgt. Maj. Nielsen says. "It's a grave mistake to allow something like that to go unrecognized."

Morale sunk even lower. Ragsdale, still stunned by his demotion, was crushed. As for the rest of the unit, they did little else but sit around and wait for assignments that never came. As one of them later put it: "We just breathed oxygen and collected pay."

It made for an awkward few months. While the Canadian military tiptoed around its tainted snipers, U.S. soldiers regularly stopped by their tents to say hello. Many had served in Anaconda, and they wanted to personally thank the boys for saving their asses out there. As a token of appreciation, some left behind cans of tuna or bags of Mr. Noodles -- heaven compared to standard army rations.

Allegations aside, the camp was also abuzz with whispers about Furlong's record-breaking kill. The young corporal even agreed to grant a few media interviews, but only on the condition that his name never be printed. He wanted anonymity, not recognition.

Back home in Alberta, Perry chose a different approach, going public in late April 2002. His story sparked the inevitable outrage. A court martial for swearing at a chaplain? The fact that he was a celebrated sniper -- a member of a unit that now boasted a world-record kill -- only fuelled the media circus. In interview after interview, Perry denied that he swore at the padre, saying his cuss was a general rant aimed at nobody in particular. As for the finger investigation, he was adamant that he never mistreated a corpse or staged a so-called trophy photo. He even went so far as to say that although he was innocent, he still supported the words written on that sign. Fuck Terrorism? Who can disagree with that?

When Rob Furlong returned home to Edmonton in July 2002, he and most of the other soldiers who served in Afghanistan were granted a leave of absence, a couple of months off to unwind and relax. But the NIS -- still consumed by what Perry might have done on that mountain -- repeatedly phoned Furlong at home, asking if he could drop by the base and answer just a few more questions. They were always the same. Did you see anyone cut off the corpse's finger? Who wrote the sign? Was it Perry? Like the questions, his answer never changed. I don't know what happened. Your guess is as good as mine.

The men in the sniper cell did their best to stand behind Perry. He was, after all, one of their own. Around the battalion, fellow troops quietly complained that the entire investigation was a sham, a chance for senior officers to finally do what they had always wanted: get rid of Arron Perry. Few enlisted men had more run-ins with higher-ups than he did. His personal file read like a laundry list of insubordination. Maybe this was payback for years of bad behaviour?

Perhaps, but Perry's fellow snipers took as much heat as he did -- if not more. Over and over, the NIS grilled the men behind closed doors, hoping to catch one of them in a lie. "It was a really, really hard emotional time," Furlong remembers. "We fell apart when we came back."

Furlong tried to soldier on. After Afghanistan, he had set his sights on a new goal: qualifying for special forces, perhaps a spot in the military's ultra-secret Joint Task Force Two. Everything he did -- from his workout regimen to his reading habits -- coincided with that dream. And what did the army do in return? "Harassment," he says. "There were times I'd go home and I'd tell my wife: 'Look, I can't take this anymore.' I just didn't want to put a uniform back on."

Graham Ragsdale had already reached that point. He showed up for work at the Edmonton garrison, but remained heartbroken over his demotion. "He just didn't want anything to do with anything," Furlong recalls. "His motivation to carry on was gone."
As for Arron Perry, he enjoyed a small victory in the summer of 2002, when the military announced it was dropping the lone criminal charge laid in connection with his alleged threat against the chaplain. However, he would remain suspended with pay pending the outcome of the finger investigation. Barred from the base and under strict orders not to venture outside Edmonton, Perry passed most of his nights working the door at a local club. That Christmas, he spent the holidays alone, unable to leave the city and visit his family on the East Coast. "I was treated like a second-class citizen," he says.

Two months later, on a Friday morning in early February 2003, the NIS made a sudden announcement: despite a gruelling 10-month probe, investigators failed to uncover enough evidence to lay criminal charges. They never figured out who printed the sign. They never found a finger. And most importantly, the DNA from that corpse did not match anything on Arron Perry's knife.
"At some point in any police investigation, you've got to draw a line that says, 'We believe there is adequate evidence and we're laying charges,' or, 'We don't,' " says Capt. Mark Giles, an NIS spokesman. "The evidence might be five millimetres shy or it might be miles shy." Only investigators know for sure just how shy the evidence was, but regardless, Perry was exonerated, free to put on his uniform and return to work. "It's great," he told one reporter. "I am in the clear."

With the case now closed, the military bureaucracy decided it was probably time to finally give the snipers their due. All five were awarded a Mention in Dispatches, a pin that recognized their "impressive professionalism and dedication to duty." Headquarters also approved the U.S. Bronze Stars. On Dec. 8, 2003 -- 19 months after the snipers were nominated -- Paul Cellucci, then the American ambassador to Canada, flew to Edmonton for a ceremony that was long overdue.

"The whole thing took a while, and I don't know why it took so long," Cellucci, who stepped down as envoy in March 2005, recalled recently. "We were certainly proud to honour them, and I'll just leave it to others to comment about what the Canadian government should have done."

All five members of the sniper unit stood at attention as Cellucci pinned on their medals. McMeekin. Ragsdale. Perry. Furlong. Eason. For someone who did not know better, it sure seemed like a happy ending.

It was anything but. Not only were three of those five men on their way out of the army, but countless questions remained unanswered. Did someone really chop off a finger? Did the chain of command -- petrified it might have another Somalia on its hands -- jump to conclusions? Was it retribution? Envy? Or was it really Arron Perry's fault? Did his big mouth and hard head bring everyone down with him?

Pat Ragsdale, Graham's father, wanted some answers. After the tour, he watched his son suffer through an unthinkable depression, and he wanted to know why. For months, he wrote letter after letter to government officials, from the Prime Minister to high-ranking generals. "I wasn't happy with the treatment they got in Afghanistan or the treatment they got subsequent to Afghanistan," he told one reporter.

In September 2004, Pat Ragsdale finally received a response. Gen. Ray Henault, then the chief of the defence staff, personally asked the ombudsman to launch his own investigation. Unlike the NIS version, this one would focus not on fingers and signs, but on whether the military mistreated its snipers. In other words, did these men -- lauded as heroes by the Americans but treated as criminals in Canada -- deserve better?

Amid news of the investigation, another strange development: on websites across the Internet, military buffs and bloggers began to identify Perry as the Canadian sniper who killed another man from 2,430 m. The origin of the error is unclear, although it seems that a few well-intentioned supporters simply made a wrong assumption. Others followed, bolstering his legend with each new chat room posting. "I hope the record stands forever," one American wrote.

It was only a matter of time before some in the mainstream media started to repeat the mistake, crediting Arron Perry with the longest-ever combat kill. Because the real shooter -- Rob Furlong -- chose to remain anonymous, the error was never corrected.
Rob Furlong still wears a uniform to work, but not the green army fatigues he slid on every morning for seven years. He is a police officer now, a beat cop with a side arm. He loves the new job, but not quite enough to make him forget about his time in the army. Some days, he even thinks about re-enlisting.

He never does, though. Instead, Furlong -- Bronze Star winner and Canadian war hero -- lives a life of relative anonymity. Even when his world record somehow became Perry's property, he chose to keep his mouth shut. "It's quiet professionalism," he says, his Newfoundland accent still thick after a decade in Alberta. "That's what we've always been taught."

Only now, more than four years after Anaconda, has Furlong finally agreed to show his face and tell his story. He did not go searching for the spotlight. Maclean's found him, not the other way around. "Me coming here today was not to seek credit for anything, and I want that to be known," he says, sitting in a small Edmonton hotel room. "Do I care? No, I really don't. Do I need to set the record straight by saying that I was the one who pulled the trigger when that shot was made? No, I don't."

What he does say is typical Rob Furlong. The entire sniper cell -- not him -- should have been credited with the record. No names. No fame. "It's not going to make a difference if Ragsdale did it or Perry did it or I did it or McMeekin did it or Eason did it," he says. "It doesn't matter who did it. That guy was taken out and he didn't have an opportunity to kill anybody else, and that was it."

If Furlong holds any grudge, it is against the NIS, not Arron Perry. For months, he watched his once-proud unit crumble to pieces -- all because of allegations that, in the end, were never proven. Along the way, one of his closest friends, Ragsdale, plummeted into such a state of despondency that the army no longer wanted him around.

"They kicked him to the curb," he says of his one-time pal. "The way the military is -- and I've seen it for the seven years I was there -- they don't care what you bring to the table or how much talent you have or whatever. They'll just get someone else to replace you."

Arron Perry keeps his military files neatly organized in a light grey binder. Everything is in there. His Mention in Dispatches. Newspaper articles. Even the discipline reports, like the one outlining his "attitude problem" over the years. "I sometimes walked that line of insubordination," he admits, flipping through the pages. "I'm not perfect."

Nobody is. But in the sniping universe, Perry is as close as it comes. He is a household name, the standard by which all sharpshooters are now measured. Punch his name into Google and you will still uncover dozens of hits praising "his" kill from 2,430 m. "I don't want to talk about all that stuff," Perry says now, nodding his head from side to side. "It got so mixed up, the less said about that the better."

Looking at him, it is easy to think the worst, that he purposely lied in a desperate attempt to be something he isn't. Maybe he needed a silver lining, something positive to latch onto amid all the bad publicity. Or maybe he just liked the attention.
None of that is true, Perry insists. He never tried to mislead anyone. He never tried to hog the credit. Somebody on the Internet simply got his facts mixed up, and a few others followed suit. "They totally got it wrong," he says. "Rob's the one that made this great shot, and I wish people would understand."

Arron Perry is a fidgety man, a fast talker whose sentences spill out so rapidly at times that he is difficult to understand. Yet he chooses his words carefully, convinced that the NIS is still after him. "They would love to see me do something bad," he says. "They would love to see me hang myself."

After investigators stopped digging, Perry stayed in the military. But the scrutiny didn't stop. His chain of command launched an internal board of inquiry into his character. Behind closed doors, witness after witness took the stand to testify. Perry was called a bully. Disrespectful. Uncontrollable. "They put a drop of water on your forehead constantly until you snap," he says.

He hit that breaking point in April 2005, opting, at 33, to retire from the service. Since then, he has started his own nightclub (it didn't last), looked for mercenary work overseas (nothing yet), and trained to be a pipefitter. That's what he is doing now, working shifts in Edmonton and pocketing decent money. Because he lasted 12 years in the army, he also collects a half-pension.
But what happened to him in Afghanistan and in the years after continues to define his life. "There is no one I trust 100 per cent," he says. "I'm going to be very upset for the rest of my life, for sure. There is no other way around it. So if that's what they were looking for, then they won."

Perry insists, as he always has, that he did nothing wrong on that mountain. The entire thing, he explains, was a case of battlefield humour gone horribly wrong. The way he remembers it, he tossed another soldier a Tootsie Roll sealed in a Ziploc baggie, joking that it was a severed finger from one of the bodies lying around. Another soldier who overheard the conversation misinterpreted the joke, Perry says. And the rest is history.

As for the cigarette and the "Fuck Terrorism" sign, Perry says hundreds of people -- officers included -- walked by that corpse, but nobody felt the need to do anything about it. "I know for a fact that I didn't do it," he says of the sign. "And to the best of my knowledge, no one from the Canadian sniper detachment did it."
By now, Perry has pleaded his case so many times to so many people that it's hard to picture him talking about anything else. When asked about the ombudsman's upcoming report, he says he is anxious to read the findings, but not overly anxious. It might bring vindication. It might not. Either way, it won't change what already happened. "I'm out of the military now," he says. "A little too late."

Pat Ragsdale has waited 18 months for the ombudsman to finish his job. He has remained patient the entire time, well aware that answers are not always easy to find. He is so committed to the process, so careful not to jeopardize the results, that he would rather wait until it is all over before offering his opinion. "If I'm not satisfied with the outcome of their report, then who knows what might happen," he says. "But in all fairness, I've got to give them the opportunity to investigate it properly and come up with their results."

In the meantime, he remains fiercely protective of his son, declining, on Graham's behalf, repeated requests for an interview. "The results of what happened to these guys has not been told to the Canadian public," is as much as he will say. (Tim McMeekin and Dennis Eason, both of whom still serve in the army, also declined to be interviewed in person for this article.)

Whatever the ombudsman concludes, it is sure to spark a wave of unwanted negative publicity for a military that is focused on its current mission in Afghanistan -- not the one that happened four years ago. It is a safe bet that officials will try to counter any potential criticism by insisting that things have changed, that important lessons have been learned since those snipers boarded the choppers for Operation Anaconda.

Indeed, much has changed. Four years later, the Canadian public has grown increasingly desensitized to flag-draped coffins and military funerals. With 2,300 troops now back in Kandahar, newspapers are filled with almost daily accounts of violent gun battles and enemy body counts. Not so in 2002. Of all the Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan, the snipers were the only ones to actually kill rival fighters -- a reality that the military seemed anxious to sugar-coat. Speaking to the press, commanders praised the snipers for saving allied lives, not shooting people in the face.
Perhaps Ragsdale and his men would have been better suited to today's deployment, where political correctness is not the overriding order of the day. Perhaps the ombudsman will say exactly that when he finally unveils his findings in the coming weeks. His report is nearly complete, but Gordon O'Connor, the defence minister, will have a chance to review the results before the public gets a glimpse.

For his part, Mark Giles, the NIS spokesman, says he is confident that the military's police force acted professionally during its investigation. There was no "vendetta" against any particular soldier, he says, and no "predetermined agenda." Every interrogation was done in the name of discovering the truth, not harassment. "Police, whether they be military or civilian police, have a tough job," he says. "So where you draw that line between what is thorough and exhaustive in an investigation and what is over the top, it's obviously fairly subjective from different people's viewpoints."

Among the American troops who served with the snipers, the viewpoint is unanimous. "These are the type of people that I would want to put up on a pedestal and say: 'This is the very best that we have to offer,' " Justin Overbaugh says. "I am not big on apologies, but if they are owed an apology, I hope that they get one. I am quite certain that is all they want."

Staff Sgt. Corey Daniel, who marched through the mountains with Perry and Ragsdale, says they deserve much more than that. "A guy goes out and puts his life on the line, and then what happens? He comes home and he's not really recognized for what he did. That'sa rough pill to swallow."

Bolt actions speak louder than words...

Another sterling rendition of our lads' efforts and how they are viewed by our foreign brothers-in-arms. You will note that the only people in the world who have ever spoken ill, or disparagingly of the Canadian military, are Canadians citizens themselves. I particularily loathe would-be stand-up comics, who slag our serving men and women in a pathetic attempt at humour. They try to capitalize on this all-too-Canadian discomfort at actually having a military.

Read on...

Bolt Actions Speak Louder Than Words.

By Rob Krott *
From Soldier of Fortune

The abilities of Canadian snipers are well known in the international sniping community. Four Canadian Army teams won top honors at the U.S. Army Sniper School's first international sniping competition at Fort Benning, Georgia. Canadian Army snipers have seen limited deployment on recent peacekeeping operations in the Balkans, but in Afghanistan they got the chance to go "live." Two teams of Canadian snipers from the 3rd Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry Battle Group deployed in support of U.S. infantrymen from two U.S. Army light infantry battalions (2nd Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division [Air Assault], and 1st Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division), during Operation Anaconda in March 2002. The snipers are part of the 3rd PPCLI battalion reconnaissance platoon, stationed in Edmonton, Alberta.
Trained to engage targets out to at least 800 meters, Canada's snipers — there are only a few dozen — learn their trade in the Sniper Cell of the Combat Training Center's Infantry School at CFB Gagetown in New Brunswick.

The Canadian Department of National Defense (DND) officially confirmed that a team of six Canadian snipers killed several heavily armed Taliban or al-Qaeda members in Afghanistan in the first weeks of March, "taking out" machine-gun nests and mortar positions at long range — the first confirmed enemy killed in combat by Canadian troops since the Korean War. (This is in fact false, as there is no mention of actions faced by Canadian troops stationed in the Balkans/Kosovo...). In a press briefing at the onset of Operation Harpoon, a mopping-up mission to find and eliminate pockets of resistance remaining after Operation Anaconda, Vice-Admiral Greg Maddison, the Deputy Chief of Defense Staff, said Canadian snipers from the 3 PPCLI Battle Group killed enemy fighters during Operation Anaconda and they could kill more in Operation Harpoon. "These sniper teams suppressed enemy mortar and heavy machine-gun positions with deadly accuracy," he noted.

During Operation Anaconda, Canadian snipers killed enemy fighters while defending U.S. troops that were under fire. "As the American battalion was moving down the ridge and dealing with the Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters that they were encountering, the snipers were there to provide defensive capability. As they were moving forward, they would encounter various positions in which mortars were being fired at them and at the Americans and they were able to take out some of these positions and protect the Americans as they were continuing towards their final objective," he added. "Their skills are credited with likely having saved many Allied lives."

He would not say how many enemy fighters the snipers killed or provide any other details of the incident, stating, "First of all, we don't have the specific numbers from the folks on the ground. It's a very difficult thing to ascertain. The snipers were moving forward with the American battalion. Once the Taliban had been neutralized, if you will, they carried on forward to the objective and we're not in the business of actually counting how many folks they may or may not have indeed killed. So I can't tell you a specific number of how many were."

The Canadian Department of National Defense can't (or won't for reasons of political correctness) be specific or give numbers, but Soldier Of Fortune can.

"Without Warning, Sans Remorse"

The need for snipers became apparent to the Canadian Defence Department during the summer of 1990 when snipers from the then-Royal Canadian School of Infantry (RCSI), CFB Gagetown, NB were attached to 5e Groupe-Brigade Mecanise du Canada from BFC Valcartier, Quebec during Operation Salon for the Mohawk Indian uprising in Oka, Quebec.

In 1992, Canadian Army sniping underwent "rejuvenation" at the School of Infantry. The Infantry School conducts the master sniper course and also oversees the three Area Training Centers governing the basic sniper courses. The master snipers are capable of instructing basic snipers and facilitate their continual training, magnifying their impact many times over. The 3PPCLI snipers train at their Area Training Center's Basic Course at the Land Force Western Area Training Center, Wainwright, Alberta. The official motto of the snipers is "Without Warning, Sans Remorse."

For ease of administration and training, snipers are organized as a section of the reconnaissance platoon. The section consists of a sergeant section commander, two master corporals, one of which is the second-in-command, and four corporal/private snipers. The section is organized into three detachments of two snipers each, and the section driver is also a spare sniper. When deployed, each team or detachment is organized as a sniper and an observer. Team members assist each other during long periods of observation and with range estimations, adjustments of rounds and security.

The Section Commander is designated as the unit master sniper, and is responsible for advising the Commanding Officer, usually through the reconnaissance platoon commander, on all matters related to sniping including counter-sniping. He is also responsible for sniper training and testing. According to WO Rick Hills, OIC of the Master Sniper Cell at CFB Gagetown, "The employment of snipers will vary by the scale and type of conflict and the selection of weapons and equipment will also remain flexible and task-dependent. Canadian snipers will always operate, as a minimum, in pairs as a two-man detachment."

Serious Body Counts

Canuck snipers supposedly had the highest number of confirmed kills in the Shah-i-Kot Valley fight. A source in Kandahar working with the Canadian sniper teams estimates "well over 20 confirmed kills at long ranges." There is an unconfirmed, but widely circulated, report of a 2,400-meter kill (chest-shot) against the driver of an enemy resupply truck. If validated, it will be a new record for the longest shot made by a military sniper in combat (currently 2,500 yards or about 2,250 meters, held by GySgt Carlos Hathcock, USMC, near Duc Pho, South Vietnam, January 1967, with a Browning .50 HMG mounting an 8-power Unertl telescopic sight).

Two detachments of Canadian snipers entered the battle alongside U.S. units. One group of three went in with a company from the 101st Airborne's 3rd Brigade "Rakkasans." When the American grunts became pinned down, the three Canadians and three accompanying U.S. Army Special Forces shooters armed with M24 Remingtons went to work. Moving to a vantage point, they began picking-off al-Qaeda fighters engaging the 101st infantrymen. For more than an hour they fought it out with heavily dug-in al-Qaeda fighters. According to Master Corporal (MCPL) "Alex," a 30-year old infantryman from Ottawa and Halifax, "As soon as we got rid of one guy, another would come up, and another one."

With the pressure off them, the company of 101st infantrymen quickly moved into their assigned blocking positions. The Canuck snipers were in their element. They continued their long-range shooting with their McMillan TAC-50, .50-cal. Tactical Anti-Materiel Sniper Rifle System. This is the new bolt-action, Long-Range Sniper Weapon (LRSW) that was only introduced to Canadian Infantry Battalions in April 2000. The LRSW is modified for Canadian Army use with a moveable cheek piece and shortened bipods, and is fitted with a 16x Leupold optical sight. It has a five-round magazine, weighs 12 kg./26.4 lbs., and is 145cm/58 in. in length. The Canadians push AMAX Match .50-caliber ammunition through it. (They could not have pulled off the record-breaking shot with Canadian standard ammo. It is an underpowered round, if one can actually say that of a .50 round).

The spotter (secondary) or team commander, uses a C3A1 7.62mm Sniper Rifle — a Parker-Hale M82 modified to Canadian specs with a six-round detachable magazine, extended bolt handle, strengthened receiver, new trigger safety and a new match-type barrel. The C3A1 is fitted with a Unertl 10x optic (same as USMC-issue), and its usual fodder is Norma Match 7.62mm ammunition loaded with the Sierra Match King 168-gr. HPBT(M) bullet. The LRSW is fitted with Gen III and the C3 Gen II Simrad image-intensification devices for low-light work. For back up they both have the Canadian-made Diemaco C-8 5.56mm Carbine (analogous to the U.S. M4) and 9mm Inglis GP (M1935) Hi-Power pistol using standard service ammo. The teams also have 20-power compact spotting scopes, a Leica Vector binocular with built-in rangefinder, compass and inclinometer functions and a GPS uplink, in addition to normal field gear, camouflage, and ghillie suits: The Canadians put it all to use.

The LRSW, however, is the primary weapon for the sniper team. When employing the LRSW, the usual two-man team of sniper and spotter will normally be increased to three and will then be designated as a sniper team. The team will consist of the No. 1, (primary sniper) employing the LRSW, the No. 2, (team commander) employing the C3A1, and the No. 3, (team security) employing the Canadian-made Diemaco C7 5.56mm M16A2 type rifle. With the weapon systems complementing each other, this allows for a maximum of flexibility of tasks within the team.

Into The Fray

The American infantrymen, flown in by CH-47 Chinook helicopter and forced to hump over bare ground from their two mountain LZs, were taking heavy fire from the enemy. They were easy targets for well-prepared heavy machine-gun and automatic-weapons positions on the 10,000-foot ridge known as the Whale's Back on the West side of the valley, and the commanding 10,000- to 12,000-feet heights of the Shah-i-Kot mountain ridge on the East side, and even the village, Sherkankel, in the valley. The American grunts came under immediate and intense enemy fire from these prepared defensive positions sited above and all around them. American infantrymen in the fight said the enemy fire consisted of everything from small arms to mortars and heavy machine guns, firing with interlocking arcs from both the top of the Shah-i-Kot mountain range, and across the valley from the Whale. Many were pinned down by the heavy fire and needed help taking out the enemy machine guns and mortars that were inflicting casualties. The Canadian snipers were on the job.

A recent Canadian newspaper article by Canadian Press photojournalist Stephen Thorne interviewed some of the snipers. MCPL Alex recalled, "The six of us suppressed fire and neutralized the enemy. They were either dead or they ran away." Kitted-out in British desert DPM uniforms (the Canucks haven't issued desert brown uniforms yet) they were so well camouflaged they were nearly shot up by Apache attack helicopters. They heard the Apache firing and looked behind them to see great spouts of dirt in two rows. The rounds stopped only a meter from their position. MCPL Alex said, "I don't know how the .50 didn't get hit. We laughed after that. You got to."

The team had cached their 110-pound rucks. Under fire, they needed additional optics and, a testament to the amount of shooting they were doing, ran low on ammunition (the other Canadian team eventually resorted to using U.S. Army .50-caliber ammunition as they'd depleted their supply of AMAX Match ammo). Corporal "Ed," 25, of Manuels, Newfoundland, volunteered to run down into the valley and up the opposite ridge 100 meters away to get more ammo and equipment. With the air thin at 11,500 feet CPL Ed was ready to pass out after his sprint back and forth through enemy fire, but still managed to return fire with his M203 40mm grenade launcher. His rounds must have found their target, some al-Qaeda firing from a nearby streambed.

"We don't know what happened. All we know is their firing stopped," said MCPL Alex. The Canadian snipers also came under heavy mortar fire. MCPL "Warren" said, "They were bracketing us. We'd move and they'd adjust fire. Eventually they either ran out of rounds or they just gave up. I don't know. You could hear the fins rotating as they came in. It's a sound I'll never forget."

There are undoubtedly some al-Qaeda who will never forget the sound of a Canadian sniping rifle echoing over the Shah-i-Kot valley, as well.

Interview With A Sniper

MCPL Alex, the "shooter" on his three-man team, is back at his unit's home base in Edmonton, Alberta. He recently talked for three hours with Soldier Of Fortune about his experiences in Afghanistan. For their personal security, SOF has used the nom de guerre as given to the Canadian media for the Canadian snipers.

Alex, a 10-year veteran, has been a sniper for two years. He went to Croatia in 1993, joined the Canadian Airborne Regiment in 1994, then returned to the Balkans for duty in Bosnia in 1997 and 2000. Trained at the Wainwright sniper course, he was a sniper in Bosnia in 2000. During that tour he and other Canadian snipers completed a British Army sniper course as well.

Alex and the five other 3 PPCLI snipers deployed to Afghanistan with their unit. After initial duty at Kandahar on observation posts and some work with Northern Alliance troops, both of the three-man 3 PPCLI sniper teams were attached to the 3rd Brigade (Rakkasans), 101st Airborne Division. Alex and his team were with C Co, 2d Bn, 3rd Bde of the 101st (he proudly showed me his Rakkasans challenge coin). Alex was the "shooter," or No. 1, armed with a McMillan Brothers .50 caliber. Three U.S. Special Forces shooters, known only by their first names, joined them for Operation Anaconda. The solitary shooter armed with a Remington 700 (M24) and backed up by two team members armed with M4 carbines, he also laid down effective fire on long-range targets.

As soon as the Canadians were attached to the 101st they received a bit of culture shock seeing the wealth of gear and support the U.S. Army receives, in contrast to Canadian Army. They also experienced the U.S. infantryman's unique Hooah attitude and esprit. From Bagram Airfield they staged with the Rakkasans for Operation Anaconda.

On 2 March they deployed at first light via CH-47 Chinook. Unlike some other units, they took no ground-fire on the way in. However, 15 minutes after landing on the cold LZ they were in contact, receiving small-arms fire from enemy forces. They moved to a position looking toward the Whale, east of the village of Sherkankel. Alex told SOF, "I said to Joe, one of the SF snipers, 'shouldn't we put a gun up here?' He told us: 'Let these guys, they're regular infantry, just let them do their thing, if the shit hits the fan, we'll sort it out.' Next thing you know it happened, and we started moving to high ground. We were carrying C-8s, Brownings — the Americans had M4s — and I had the .50 on my back in a drag bag. My spotter had a C-7 with M203 grenade launcher and the radio." Alex and his team set up a firing position and began supporting C Company.

"We helped them by taking out certain positions so they could carry on with the primary task. Our engagement distances that day were from 777 meters to 1,500 meters." The U.S. and Canadian teams' spotters engaged al-Qaeda much closer than that, though. "We took fire from the rear, maybe 10 meters away from us; we looked at each other like 'What the hell is that!' and one of the spotters turned around and covered us." Alex's team also came under fire from an RPG from the rear. This definitely got their attention. Spotters (both Canadian and American) used their M203 40mm grenade launchers (the Canadian spotters carried 5.56mm C-7A1s with Elcan low-mount optical sights and M203 grenade launchers) to suppress enemy fire from a nearby wood-line. "We had debated taking the M203 with us. We were taking fire from a treeline (to our front) and we couldn't see where he was and I wasn't going to waste a shot there. So he (the Canadian team's No.3) came up and just started pumping-out rounds along with one of the SF guys with a grenade launcher. So I used it to mask the sound of my firing."

*Chief Foreign Correspondent Rob Krott is a former infantry officer, with time on the ground in Afghanistan.

On 3 PPCLI...

I will submit for your perusal, the following newspaper articles which provide in some minor detail, the absolutely stellar performance of a small group of men from the 3rd Battalion - Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry. These individuals, as well as the remainder of their regiment, are proof positive that we do still produce military personnel who can stand shoulder to shoulder with any of the world's finest forces.

The Windsor Star
Tuesday, March 19, 2002
Top World Newsmaker C2

Cool under fire, snipers don't miss.

Crack shots prove worth in rugged hills.
By Stephen Thorne
The Canadian Press
Bagram, Afghanistan

Canada's sniper have ducked mortars and dodged bullets in eastern Afghanistan in the last two weeks. They were nearly shot to pieces by a US Apache helicopter gunship - it stopped firing just in the nick of time.
They are said to have the highest number of confirmed kills of any regular army unit in the battle, although they deny it.
And three of them, along with three US special forces soldiers, also rescued a company of American 101st Airborne Division pinned down by enemy fire on the first day of Operation Anaconda - the mission to find and destroy al-Qaida and Taliban forces in the rugged region south of Gardez.
In an interview on a castle-shaped rock from which al-Qaida fighters gave them days of misery earlier this month, one of two detachments of Canada's snipers described an arduous first week of battle.
Because of the job they do, the three youthful but cool professional sharpshooters want to be identified only by pseudonyms with their real ages, ranks and home towns.
They landed at first light on March 2, on the first US helicopter flying in with troops from the fabled Screaming Eagles. The troops started taking small-arms fire at the top of the first ridge they hit.
The Americans were pinned down but the three snipers and three special forces troops moved forward and sought high ground.
From there, they began picking off al-Qaida fighters, who were shooting from behind rock piles. A one-hour firefight ensued.
"As soon as we got rid of one guy, another one would come up, and another one," said Master Cpl. Alex, a multi-talented 30-year old raised in Ottawa and Halifax.
Soon after that battle ended, another began. Troops from the 101st were able to move into blocking positions while the six engaged a determined enemy.
"The six of us suppressed fire and neutralized the enemy - they were either dead or they ran away," said Alex. "Most of them were killed, as far as we could see."
The snipers were in their element - free-ranging, aggressive, taking the initiative.
But their talent for concealment nearly cost them their lives at the muzzles of an Apache helicopter that came in, guns blazing, chasing an enemy target just beyond them.
Lying prone in their Britist desert fatigues with padded elbows, front torsos and legs, they were almost invisible against the dry valley floor.
They heard the sound, looked back, saw the dirt spitting up in two rows - and rolled. The pilot must have seen them at the last moment because the strafing stopped less than a metre from their position.
For the sake of speed, they were moving without their 50kg rucksacks and spare ammunition. But then they were running low and needed special optics equipment.
Under fire, Cpl. Ed, 25. of Manuels, outside St. John's, Nfld., ran the 100 metres back down one side of the ridge and up the other - and then back with their gear in tow.
They were 3,500 metres high. At such altitudes, the air was gaspingly thin even at a brisk walk. Altough extremely fit, Ed was nearly passing out after the two-way sprint, with AK-47 rounds nipping at his heels.
But Ed, who's developed an uncanny Sean Connery imitation, didn't stop there. He grabbed his M-203 grenade launcher and started firing at the al-Qaida fighters who were giving them trouble from a nearby creek.
"We don't know what happened," said Alex. "All we know is, their firing stopped."
The snipers also helped extract American troops in trouble.
Under cover of darkness, they and their US special forces comrades led soldiers of the Airborne out of the danger area, scouting ahead for enemy threats and bringing the Americans up a little at a time until they eventually linked up with friendly forces.
At one point, the three Canadian snipers were pinned down by mortar fire in a dry riverbed. They were caught in the open. The rounds came as close as 10 metres.
"They were bracketing us, walking them in," said Warren. "We'd move and they'd adjust fire. Eventually they ran out of rounds or they just gave up. I don't know."

The snipers returned to base near Kabul March 11. Two days later the three were out again.
This time they were part of Operation Harpoon, with Canadian troops on "the Whale," a mountain overlooking the Shah-e-Kot valley where al-Qaida were putting up stiff resistance.
Operation Harpoon, carried out in conjunction with Operation Anaconda, consisted of 500 Canadian and 100 US troops, under command of Lt.-Col. Pat Stogran, who leads Canadian Forces in Afghanistan in the biggest ground offensive since the Korean War.

29 December 2003
By Stephen Thorne, The Canadian Press

It is interesting to note that the United states Government wanted to give this Canadian Army sniper team the Bronze Star for their combat action. But the Canadian Government thought it was not right to give an award for the taking of human lives, even during war. It's sad what has become of a once proud and respected military force the Canadian Army once was.

Also read "Bolt Actions Speak Louder Than Words" on the same snipers.

Friday, January 25, 2008

On the PCOC...

There exists a lot of confusion out there about pleasure craft operator cards (PCOCs) and pleasure craft licenses, apparently. We receive no end of these. The call usually starts: "Yeah... I want some info on this new license we need to drive a boat...". Or: "I hear we need a license to drive a boat nowadays...".

Or better yet:

Them: "Yeah I wanna get a license for my boat...".

Me: "You mean you want to obtain a Pleasure Craft License for your boat...?"

Them: "Yeah...the one I need to drive it...".

Me: "The one you need to drive it...?"

Them: "Yeah... you know...a driver's license for boats...".

Me: "Sir, there is no such thing as a driver's license for boats in Canada... I promise you."

Them: "But it says here in this bulletin I got from our Marina that I need one...".

Me: "Are you perhaps referring to the Pleasure Craft Operator's Card...?"

Them: "Yeah...that's it...the driver's license...".

Me: "Again sir... it is not a license, by any stretch of the imagination. It is simply proof that the individual who has one, has taken and passed a boating safety exam in Canada. That's all...".

Them: "Well I need one, because they say I have to have one to drive my boat, 'cause it has a 50h.p. motor on it."

Me: "*Sigh*.... Sir, if your boat has a motor of 10 h.p. or greater, you are required by the Canada Shipping Act to obtain a Pleasure Craft License for it. For your boat. Your vessel must be licensed. That law has been in effect for decades now, it is not new."

Them: " see...I need a license!"

Me: "Sir...the Pleasure Craft License is a series of letters and numbers which you will display either side of the bow of your boat. It serves the same purpose as a license plate on a car. It is there as a means of identifying your boat, amongst the millions of others in Canada. It is used by law enforcement officials and Search and Rescue authorities, should your boat be lost, stolen or involved on some sort of marine disaster. In other words, it let's them know whose body they are looking for! That is the only license there is in Canada, when it comes to pleasure craft!"

Them: "So I don't need a license to drive the boat...?"

Me: "You may require what's called "Proof of Competency". All boaters in Canada, regardless of what size boat the operate or what age they are, will require proof of competency by the 15th of September, 2009 at the very latest."

Them: "Would I need it sooner...?"

Me: " That depends... There are 3 classes of pleasure craft operators as far as these regulations go.
1. All boaters who were born after 1983, require proof of competency before they take control of any type of motorized vessel in Canadian waters. That has been the law since the year 2000.
2. Boaters born before 1983 and who operate a boat of 4 meters (13' 3") or less in length, have required proof of competency since 15 September 2002.
3. Boaters born before 1983 and who pilot a boat over 4 meters in length, have until the 15th September 2009, to obtain their proof of competency."

Them: "And what's this 'proof of competency'...?"

Me: "Proof of competency can be one of two things. It can either be proof that the individual has passed a boating safety course anywhere in Canada, before the year 1999 (which is when these new regulations began taking effect...), or it can be a Pleasure Craft Operator's Card (PCOC) that has been issued since 1999. That's it...".

Them: "So... do I need a license?"

Me: "I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that you were born after 1983, sir...".

Them: "Wow... you're good!"

Me: "*Large sigh*... Yes, in fact you have required a license since the year 2000".

Them: "I didn't have my boat in 2000...".

Me: "Look... you are required to obtain a Pleasure Craft Operator Card before you can legally take your boat out on the water. If you are stopped on the water without one in your possession, you will be fined."

Them: " I haven't killed anyone yet, man...".

Me: "Yet" being the operative word in that statement, sir...".

Them: "Oh, yeah...? How much is the fine...?"

Me: "The fine is $250.00...".

Them: "That's not fair!! How are we supposed to know this?"

Me: "By talking to knowledgeable people like us... Sir, every single boater in Canada is required, to say nothing of expected, to know and abide by the many rules and regulations set out for pleasure craft operators, in the Canada Shipping Act. This is nothing new... And as the old saying goes: "Ignorance of the law is not an excuse...They have been advertising this through every media medium since 1998". There are rules and regulations for driving automobiles and flying aircraft...why would you assume that piloting a boat in a dangerous element should be any different?"

Them: "Well what about this license for my boat... what about that? It already has numbers on it..."

Me: "So if I understand, your boat is already licensed. When you bought the boat, did you do a transfer of ownership for the license that is already on the boat?"

Them: "What's that...?"

Me: (Left eye beginning to twitch...) "When you buy a boat from someone and there is a license on the boat, you are required by law to do a transfer of ownership for that pleasure craft license. This you can do through your local Service Canada Centre. They issue, transfer, cancel and replace pleasure craft licenses in Canada and have since 2006."

Them: "Do I have to...? I only use my boat in small lakes here in Ontario. It's not like I go out onto the Great Lakes or anything...".

Me: "Sir... the rules and regulations that govern the operation of pleasure craft in Canadian waters, apply in any body of water in Canada. These aren't just for federal waterways... By the way, how long is your boat...?"

Them: "It's a 26-footer...".

Me: "Does the boat have a marine vhf radio onboard...?"

Them: "I dunno...I thought it was a CB radio...".

Me: "So, you're telling me you're not sure, but you do have a radio onboard the boat. Is it simply an AM/FM/Weather radio, or is it a two-way communications radio?"

Them: "Oh no...I talk to people on it".

Me: "Okay...I think we can safely assume that we're talking about a marine vhf radio. Do you have a Restricted Operator's Certificate - Maritime, to operate that radio legally in Canadian waters, Sir?"

Them: "What? I need a license to use my radio...?"

Me: "Absolutely, sir. Any pleasure craft that has either a fixed or a portable marine vhf radio, the operator must have this certificate in order to be able to use that radio."

Them: "That's retarded...what if I'm in danger and have to call for help? That's what that radio is for!"

Me: "On that we can both agree, sir. But that radio is not a Ham radio or a CB. There is a very specific voice procedure that goes along with using that radio. You have to be qualified in order to use it, certainly if you want people to understand what you're trying to tell them. You must take a course, complete an exam, the whole nine yards."

Them: "Never mind...I think I'll just sell the boat. This is stupid! The government makes it too hard for people to do anything anymore.... Click...".

Me: "And thank you for helping to make our waters just a little safer...".

What is the PCOC? It's just a little plasticized card that says that you've taken a Boating Safety exam. Period! Nothing more... Does it mean that an individual is actually qualified in any way to actually operate a motorized vessel? Absolutely not. It just means that the individual has been exposed to a very basic amount of boating safety rules and regulations. This is designed for their own survival on the water. It means that he or she can no longer feign ignorance. It is an introduction to the Canada Shipping Act and the various sections that make it up.

"Where can I get a Captain's License...", is another question we get a lot. This is asked by those who have a pleasure craft that might be over 20 feet, so they have delusions that they are now qualified to 'captain' a vessel. In the USA, they have training institutions that offer 'captain's license courses'. Americans are big on living in a world of make-believe, it would seem. Here in Canada, if you hold the title of Captain, it means that you are a bona fide, honest-to-God Captain onboard a commercial ship, or a Navy or Coast Guard vessel. For commercial vessels, this certification is issued by Transport Canada - Marine Personnel Standards and Pilotage Branch. For the military, it is of course through DND.

People who play around with pleasure craft, do not merit and are certainly not qualified to bear such a title. There are many civilian training institutes and nautical schools across Canada, which provide many levels of proficiency training courses, for boaters. They issue civilian accreditation, depending on one's actual proficiency in handling and navigating a boat. These qualifications are not issued by any branch of the federal government. The PCOC does not 'qualify' an individual to operate any class vessel. For anyone to think that this very basic introductory course gives them the 'instant expertise' to sail a 60-foot yacht... well, good luck with that. When you kill someone and are faced with civil lawsuits and federal negligence charges under various sections of the Canada Shipping Act, you can certainly take solace in the fact that: "you didn't know any better".

Thursday, January 24, 2008

On beaches in December...

On December 1st of last year, at about 1620hrs Atlantic Time, I was stepping onto the hot and sunny tarmac of the Punta Cana Airport, along with my better half. This trip had long been anticipated by both of us. Her, half looking forward to it, half dreading it, as she was not keen on the flying experience. Myself? I anticipated this trip with nothing but glee. I have been very fortunate in my life that travel has been a large part of it. True, it was part of my profession as a Navy man, but it was never something that I took for granted or grew tired of. Even when it meant being separated from my loved ones.

I remembered very well how much I had enjoyed every trip down South. Whether it was to Bermuda, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Brazil, the Virgin Islands, Martinique, San Lucia, the Florida Keys... I loved them all and cannot honestly recall a bad experience in any of them.

My joy in this trip, revolved mainly on how my better half would enjoy her initial introduction to this wonderful climate. Notably in December... I was not disappointed. We stayed at the Bavaro Princess All-Suites Hotel and Casino. The resort itself was immaculately well maintained, the grounds were beautiful and well laid out, the food was superb and never-ending, the staff was friendly and courteous, and the beach... Aaaaahhhh, my God the beach. It stretched on forever, soft sand with a hint of pink to it, marvellous turquoise waters which maintained a constantly ideal temperature for swimming or wading... and it wasn't overly crowded. It was simply paradise. I know that some people need a full daily agenda to keep them happy. They need parasailing, skydiving, shark wrestling, aerobics and limbo classes... and that's just in the forenoon.

I'm not anywhere near that hard to please. Give me the ocean, the beach, the occasional cold drink to keep me hydrated... and I promise I'll be as happy as the proverbial clam. If I wanted to do all kinds of running around, I'd do it here at home, fer chrissakes! I have learned how to relax over the years. Don't get me wrong, it's taken a while... but I finally got it cased. I was pleased to see that my wife was following my lead. Not once did she come up with any renovation suggestions for our room. Briefly put, she loved the experience as much as I had hoped she would. She is now a convert. A firm believer in the mantra: "I can't believe we haven't done this before now!! Omigod!! We have to come back here!!!"

We walked for miles every day during the week we were there. Good thing too, as we did so love sampling the twenty-some-odd desserts they made available every evening, to say nothing of the delicious 'huevos revueltas con jamon' I invariably had for breakfast each morning... "y dos café con leche, por favor!" The pair of us have totally different tastes when it comes to food, yet we never failed to find something we loved on the menu. Between the many local dishes, fruits, vegetables and of course desserts, which were available daily at the main buffet restaurant, there was never a shortage of good tasty food.

There is something sinfully delicious, even other-worldly if you're Canadian, about walking along a sun-drenched beach in the month of December, while fully cognizant of the fact that back home in Ontario... they're getting their ass kicked by yet another snow storm. No matter how you do it, or what you might have to pass up to get there, it is something that as a human being, you owe yourself if only once during your lifetime. But be warned... it's kinda like sex. Once will definitely not be enough for you...

However if you were to ask either one of us, the highlight of the trip was the people we met. The staff were affable, friendly beyond belief. I can recall a time when folks in my neighborhood were something like that... but clearly things have changed a bit since then. I can't see how some people look at resort staff like their personal slaves. We are in their country as visitors. They work incredibly long hours for little pay, yet are the kindest folks you could hope to meet.

We made some real friends down there and we both look forward to going back, hopefully next winter. In the meantime, we have plenty of photos and memories to keep us warm for the time being, but hey... they can only hold us for so long. You really gotta be there in person to fully appreciate it!