Friday, March 13, 2009

Maintaining Hercs at KAF

An Air Force aviation technician (not a "soldier") returns to Napanee, Ont.; he's had quite a career with the CF--and note link to his Afghan blog at end (via Spotlight on Military News and International Affairs):
Napanee soldier reflects on tour of duty in Afghanistan

A long, well-earned rest is what Cpl. Mark Maclean of Napanee is enjoying now. He just finished a six-month tour of Afghanistan that was stretched out over 10 months.

Tour is a strange word for MacLean’s work overseas, as he is an avionics technician, based at Canadian Forces Base Trenton, who works on Lockheed C-130 Hercules aircraft, and there was no touring involved at all in his hot days.

In fact, MacLean ventured outside Camp Kandahar only twice in six months. Each time one of the birds leaves the airfield, and is scheduled to land at an unprepared runway, a technician and a mechanic are on board just in case. MacLean got to make two of these flights.

The big cargo crafts make flights every day, sometimes several, to forward operating bases, delivering supplies...

In all, 30 technicians are in Kandahar working on the three C-130s [emphasis added]. These are divided into three crews of 10, two of whom are technicians like MacLean, and the other eight are mechanics. They rotate, so the planes can be repaired 24 hours per day, and MacLean said he’s worked 20-hour shifts to keep the giant cargo planes on task.

The biggest challenge for the planes in Afghanistan, besides being hit by enemy fire, is sandstorm damage.

Any malfunctions or damage is called a snag, and when the technicians are not working on snags, they are helping the mechanics work on their own snags, sometimes even just handing them wrenches.

“It comes together in teamwork. I’ve never felt more a part of a team than when I was over there for six months,” he said...

MacLean, 40, re-enlisted in the Canadian Forces in 2003. He had been in the navy during the first Gulf War in 1990, doing a five-month tour of duty patrolling the UN embargo on Iraq. He worked on the HMCS Athabaskan as a hull technician doing welding, carpentry, plumbing, and pipe fitting. During this tour, the ship he was on was fired on once. He also had shore leave in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

He left the navy after five years and spent six years working at Home Depot in Kingston.

In 2003, he began to think about the forces again, and continued to think about it, until he was sure he wanted to sign up. At that point, he told his future fiance, Lana Fortin, and MacLean says, aside from an initial fear for his safety, she is “a really supportive military wife.”

The timeline of his deployment to Afghanistan is a little complicated. Over 10 months he was away six – over two, home two, over two, home two, over two, and home for good.

It’s different from the schedule he experienced during the Gulf War in 1990, and he found it harder.

“Coming home and trying to re-integrate in that two-month period, and knowing you’re going back again is hard,” he said, “You have to say goodbye three times.”

While he was away, he was in daily contact with Fortin, either by video-conferencing or type chat.

His description of the base food was “not very desirable.”

There are about 20,000 people inside the heavily-guarded multi-national border of Camp Kandahar. (To put this in perspective there are about 3,000 Canadian Forces in total in Afghanistan.)..

As for the mission itself, his impression is that is succeeding in baby steps.

“It’s a slow process…the war, so to speak, on a small level is being won. It’s going to take more than just the military. Redevelopment of the Afghan community is being done, too.”

One example is the rebuilding of a school, just outside ‘the wire,’ a project he likened to a Habitat for Humanity project at home.

“It’s little things like that. I didn’t get a chance to see a whole lot outside the wire, but saw small stuff like that.”..

Now that he’s returned from Afghanistan, MacLean is looking ahead to his own career progression. New models of the C-130 will be acquired soon, so some re-training will be necessary. When he returns to work in a few week’s time, MacLean will also be working with an entirely new crew. He’s looking forward to sharing his experiences, and says he’s a much a better technician thanks to his six-month trial-by-fire.

He also said that the ‘Support Our Troops’ (SOT) campaign as well as Red Fridays have meant a lot to him [emphasis added].

“One thing that kept me going, besides the support of family, is the support of others. “

He especially noted when his step-daughter, Victoria, included ‘S.O.T.’ at the end of her MSN identification. And he waves at everyone who sports a yellow ribbon, whether or not he is in uniform.

For more information visit Click on Current Operations. To read the blog Mark MacLean wrote for friends and family while he was away, visit


Blogger Alex said...

They really bungled the job titles. As far as I can tell, the guy is probably an Avionics Technician (a.k.a. "box changer"). They're the ones who screw around with radar, radios, and instruments. The "mechanics" in the article would be Aviation Technicians - the guys who work on everything else.

Oh, and, while I appreciate you making the distinction, we're all soldiers first :) Some of the zoomies might get pissy about it, but ex-combat-arms remusters like myself actually like the "soldier" label!

12:56 a.m., March 14, 2009  

Post a Comment

<< Home