A journey of geographic proportions
As a Queen’s grad and an artillery officer in the Canadian Armed Forces, I currently find myself in Kabul, Afghanistan, on the last rotation of Canadian soldiers deployed in support of the training and advising mission known as Operation ATTENTION.
Based out of Camp Blackhorse, on the eastern edge of the city, my job is to mentor the Afghan National Army (ANA) department heads responsible for candidate instruction at the Officer Training Brigade (OTB). I work with six senior Afghan officers who oversee the “specialized cells” – weapons, tactics, topography, signals, engineering, and first aid – with ranks ranging from Major to Colonel. The OTB is training approximately 650 Afghan officer cadets to form the future leadership capacity of the ANA. An instructor cadre, based upon the six aforementioned specialties, is responsible for all instruction relevant to their areas of expertise.
With an undergrad degree in geography, I was assigned to work as an advisor for Colonel Mohammed Nabi, the department head of the Topography Cell. An imposing man with decades of military service, Nabi exemplifies the very best of Afghan culture – gregarious, hospitable, and passionate about his role in training young officers. Under his tutelage, students progressed through a demanding curriculum of map reading, orienteering, and estimations based upon cartographic study. It was impressive to watch Afghan cadets transition from a basic understanding of navigation to complex night maneuvers, all without the aid of GPS.
While working with the OTB’s topography cell is night and day from navigating the labyrinth of corridors found within Mackintosh-Corry Hall, the lessons I learned as a student of geography have served me well on my deployment. As a subordinate officer employed as an advisor, it was extremely important that I establish a working relationship built upon both respect and credibility. The first information I provided my Afghan counterparts revolved around my academic and military qualifications as an artillery officer and a graduate of Queen’s. As education is highly valued by the Afghan culture, Colonel Nabi was quick to ask what subjects I’d studied in university. I spoke to him in considerable depth regarding my favourite course, “Maps and Society,” which he found very interesting.
In my capacity as an advisor to the ANA, it’s critical that I possess a broad knowledge of the cultural, historic, and economic realities of Afghanistan and the Muslim world of the greater Middle East, in addition to general military knowledge. Naturally, a Queen’s education is a vital asset; it has allowed me to traverse a complex and nuanced relationship while advising my Afghan counterparts.
Serving as a military advisor in Afghanistan often requires the ability to articulate an objective, substantiated with fact and conveyed with passion, in order to maintain credibility and respect. My education within the Department of Geography prepared me for success while deployed, and I feel it’s an honour to work alongside the ANA as its officers continue to develop their capabilities for providing safety and security for the citizens of Afghanistan.