View Full Version : Canadian choppers get workout in Afghanistan

10-06-2009, 11:43 AM
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Getting from Kandahar Airfield to any of the forward operating bases in this troubled province has always been hazardous for the Canadian military.

Road convoys loaded with fresh troops and supplies were the lifeblood of the remote outposts -- and a constant and easy target for the Taliban, who would attack with suicide bombers, small-arms fire and improvised explosive devices.

And then came the Chinooks.

Long awaited and much anticipated -- even though they were "previously enjoyed," as one Canadian soldier joked -- the six Chinooks purchased from the Americans have been seeing almost non-stop action since they began flying in Afghanistan in February.

On a recent day, a Chinook flanked by two CH-146 Griffon escort helicopters made about 15 stops, each for just a few minutes. It transported close to 200 Canadian and American soldiers to locations in the dangerous Panjwaii, Zhari and Arghandab districts, as well as one load of water.

"It is pretty cool when we see the actual results of the job we're doing," said Maj. Darryl Adams, 34, who has logged 60 missions in Afghanistan.

"You see the smiles on the faces. You see the effect on the ground as well, making sure the guys are getting from one place to another safely. I can't think of anything better than that."

"It is actually a career highlight for us because for years in the air force we've been saying as helicopter pilots that we knew we could make a contribution over here, and finally we're being able to do that."

The Canadian army began calling for Chinook helicopters in 2006 to get troops off the bomb-sown roadways of Kandahar, but they weren't forthcoming until the independent Manley commission made buying the helicopters a condition of continuing the mission.

"Between the troop rotations in and out, we're doing a lot of deliberate ops (operations)," Adams said. "That really has a big impact as well because when a convoy comes out of the gate there's someone on their cellphone calling their buddy down the road saying this is coming."

"We got five or six Chinooks that take off in all directions and they can land in the bad guys' backyard in a matter of minutes, and it catches them off guard. That effect is pretty amazing," he added.

At each stop for the Chinook, the coalition soldiers crammed in tightly, their dufflebags and backpacks stacked almost to the ceiling. Each time one of the gunners writes the name of the destination on a white board and holds it up, letting the passengers know whether it's time to get off.

"The numbers over a six-month period is by the thousands," said Lt.-Col. Marc Bigaouette, the commanding officer.

"I think we're coming close to 10,000 soldiers being moved. And it's not only the people that we move -- it's the fact that we bring equipment, we bring supplies, food, all that stuff to them which they would have to get by road otherwise."

Adams and the rest of his five-man crew have come under fire on their way to and from missions. He remembers his first experience in late May while dropping troops off during a military operation.

"We had 40 some guys in the back, pitch-black dark and the aircraft in front of me starts taking tracer fire and it's about 200 metres off my nose," he said.

"A half hour later, we went back into the same area and I'm looking at where we were going to land, and I see bullets coming out to our helicopter from that area," said Adams.

"There were guys on the ground already and we had to drop these guys off, so we just changed our landing zone, and took fire."

Adams said after eight years of flying, he will likely be looking at a job on the ground once he returns to Canada. He downplays the danger of the job he and his crew have been doing.

"The people we're supporting are heroic for all the risks that they take for us. They're the guys and girls who are spending 12 to 14 hours on the ground, going knocking on doors and taking fire on the ground," he said.

"Ours is just a small portion of that, so you compare what we're doing to what they're doing and they're definitely the heroes."