Posts Tagged ‘Suzanne Steele’
The following was passed along to me by Suzanne Steele of warpoet.ca to share:
Any former Peacekeepers out there, who’d be good enough to get in touch?
My name’s Tom; I’m from Germany, I’m working on a research-paper on Canadian Peacekeeper Poetry & I’m interested in your opinion. You do NOT have to be a poet to contribute to this project! If you’ve served on a Peacekeeping Mission and would be prepared to answer one or two questions, get in touch & help me to understand. …. or: send me your poems! I’d be happy to explain more & would appreciate your help enormously.
If you want your contributions or poems to remain anonymous, they will – that’s guaranteed.
all the best to all you people out there. big greetings, T.
please get in touch by March 1st: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- CF Ombudsman to CF: You’ve gotta do better by familes of the fallen: “…. we found that the Canadian Forces continues to refuse to give family members standing at Boards of Inquiry convened into the death or serious injury of a military loved one. I have seen first hand how much this participation can assist families and help them understand and gain closure. We also found that the Canadian Forces has not yet put in place a national policy for support to families of deceased Canadian Forces members ….” ‘Budman’s most recent letter to the Minister, with names and specific examples of problems, here and more from the media here, here and here.
- Defence Minister’s Response to CF ‘Budman: We’re working on it: “The well being of our military members and their families continues to be of the utmost importance to myself and the government. I know it is also a personal priority for the Chief of the Defence Staff. We are always striving to do better and appreciate that some families feel they have not been well-enough informed about boards of inquiry conducted by the Canadian Forces into the deaths of their loved ones. I have responded in detail to the Ombudsman’s specific concerns. My letter reiterates our commitment to improve how the Canadian Forces communicate with families about sensitive issues related to the deaths of CF members …. It is important to include family members throughout the board of inquiry process to ensure transparency on all matters. We will continue to work to make this better. To that end, I have designated an official, Colonel Gerry Blais, to contact the six families indicated by the Ombudsman and to be a single point of contact for them. Col Blais has already contacted the six families (mentioned in the Ombudsman’s statement)….”
- Speaking of how people are being treated, while the American military struggles with how to deal with gays in its ranks, Canada’s past treatment of gays in the military could come back to haunt the government: “A Halifax lawyer and veteran of successful class-action lawsuits believes the Canadian government could be held financially responsible for military discrimination against homosexuals. John McKiggan — who helped launch the successful class action for victims of Native residential schools, as well as the $13-million sexual abuse settlement for victims in a Roman Catholic diocese of Nova Scotia — says recent cases have set a precedent for compensation for breaches of charter rights. “Sexual orientation is protected by the charter,” McKiggan said. “If there are people who had their charter rights breached by being unfairly terminated from the military, the potential exists for a claim for all of those people.” Until 1992, Canadian Forces investigators would track down homosexuals as a potential security risk and have them fired. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms was adopted in 1982, so there’s a 10-year window of potential legal responsibility ….”
- Another sign of Christmas approaching – NORAD prepares to keep track of Santa on his big road trip in a few weeks: “He is preparing for his biggest night of the year and NORAD is getting ready to track his journey as he leaves the North Pole, bound for millions of homes across the globe on the ever magical Christmas Eve. The count down for Santa’s big arrival has officially begun. In the days leading up to Christmas, www.noradsanta.org features daily holiday games and activities in seven languages, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Spanish and Chinese. Starting at 12:00 a.m. MST on Dec. 24, visitors to the website will follow Santa as he gears up his sleigh, checks his list and makes his final preparations. Once he leaves the North Pole, children of all ages can track him with updated Google Maps and Google Earth reports ….”
- The good news (and it is “news” because of its rarity): an article in a university paper supporting Canada’s mission in Afghanistan: “…. Departing Afghanistan outright would constitute an abdication of responsibility. The mission is sanctioned by the United Nations and Canadian personnel are there on the invite of the Afghan government. The Canadian Forces have spent the last five years trying to build trust and establish security in communities that depend on their protection. Diplomats and NGOs are actively trying to bolster democracy, and countless volunteers and CIDA employees are trying to bring infrastructure, health and education to the citizens of one of the most dangerous and impoverished countries in the world ….” The bad news: it was going so well until that last paragraph: “…. I don’t like the idea of fighting an American war any more than the rest of you, but cleaning up after them might be the best thing we could do. Our time for fighting will soon be over, but we should continue to help Afghanistan establish its institutions and security.” If it’s sanctioned by the U.N., it’s no more America’s war than it is that of any other member of the Security Council, no?
- The latest from Canada’s war poet, Suzanne Steele: “it’s not their hoar-frost beards, it’s the black hole bargain/they’ve made with their gods and their skin ….”
- A Liberal MP is calling for more oversight over Canada’s Special Forces following the investigation of some allegations (some going back to 2006 with no charges laid after looking into them) recently shared with the CBC: “Canadian military forces should be subject to the same level of oversight as law enforcement agencies, a Liberal MP said Thursday. Dominic Leblanc, the party’s defence critic, made the comment following a joint investigation by CBC and Radio-Canada that revealed details of two military probes into the behaviour of Canada’s covert elite Joint Task Force 2 (JTF2) unit in Afghanistan …. Leblanc said oversight could come without compromising JTF2′s ability to do its job. “Nobody’s suggesting that the operational details of a unit as important as JTF2 need to be made public,” Leblanc said. “Nobody is suggesting that security needs to be breached or compromised and the lives of Canadian Forces put in danger by having an adequate oversight.” ….” More on that from the Toronto Star here. The back-and-forth continues at Army.ca, where a reporter who’s been following the story is explaining a few things (and hearing from those reminding us Canada’s military already has civilian oversight).
- Remember this on the CF working on a new military health research network from about 2 weeks ago? Here’s Postmedia News’ take: “A network of university researchers has launched a Canada-wide program meant to improve the health of military personnel, veterans and their families. Canada was one of the only NATO countries not to have a national academic pool dedicated to military health research, the director of the new program, Alice Aiken, said yesterday. “Most of the research that was being done around the country was ad hoc, and not really co-ordinated,” she said. “And sometimes the Department of National Defence and Veterans Affairs wouldn’t even know what research was being done.” ….” Macleans.ca is also catching up here.
- Taliban Propaganda Watch: Taliban accuses U.S. of chemical warfare in AFG (kinda again). and what the Taliban’s been trying to say about Kandahar with recent statements (with a cross-posting to the Long War Journal’s Threat Matrix blog).
- Pentagon to Canada: We need your help with Mexican drug cartels: a future mission for Canada? “The Pentagon’s point man on continental security is asking Canada to step up its efforts to fight Mexico’s drug cartels. “So much of what we do in the U.S. military must be done from a distance. I think Canada has a future in working with the two American neighbours to fight a common corrosive and growing threat to all of our societies,” Admiral James Winnefeld said during a Toronto speech on Thursday ….” Nobody appears to be talking out loud about troops at this point, and according to the article, we have Mounties in Mexico helping out. That said, when a senior military official says “we should work together on this”, one is drawn to the thought of others also in uniform from here helping out.
- New study out of Simon Fraser University’s Human Security Report Project: “(The report) examines the forces that have driven down the number of international conflicts and war deaths since the 1950s, and the number of civil wars since the early 1990s (and) the paradox of mortality rates that decline during the overwhelming majority of today’s wars, as well as the challenges and controversies involved in measuring indirect war deaths—those caused by war-exacerbated disease and malnutrition ….”
…. Her most devoted audience includes the soldiers themselves, including those of the other NATO nations who served in Afghanistan and who contacted her through her website.
That is an unusual audience for poetry. The members of the hypermale culture of the combat arms are not known for reading books of sonnets by female poets.
The response from the soldiers themselves has been amazing,” said Steele, who went in like a journalist, with no military censorship or approval of what she wrote and who grappled with the same issues of trust, confidentiality and responsibility to both her readers and her subjects.
She has received hundreds of telephone calls and e-mails from families of soldiers and their next-of-kin and her work has been read at soldiers’ funerals and ramp ceremonies.
The material inevitably touched upon violent death of soldiers she knew, the way war ages young men, the effect on families left behind — and the reunifications that are far more difficult than the ecstatic televised hugs at the airport will lead you to believe.
“The only negative comment I have had was from someone with whom I have since become friends, and he wrote me a very scathing message asking how dare I write about what it’s like to lose a buddy because I had no idea what that was like,” she recalled.
“I wrote him back and said you’re right, of course I have no idea. I’m a nobody over there, I’m neither friend nor enemy, I’m just trying to put into words what I saw. I don’t know what it feels like and I don’t pretend that I do.” ….
this morning a big surprise. a letter from desert diver. expert in underwater. fish and tides. expert in electronics, wires. things that go big boom. when you least expect.
I met him at WWx. out in a FOB. wandering back to my biv. he was pacing days pressing weights. a naval diver training for a desert on a prairie. this guy built to last…muscles, abs… the art on his body brilliant as the new spring budding out all around us. pure beauty in motion. and a heart to match. he was counting down days til leave. til overseas.
“you need to write about desert divers” he said. and I promised I will (and I will).
we chatted, promised to stay in touch. said goodbye. and never saw each other again until A’stan and I flew outside the wire. down to X. somewhere at the pointy end.
and at the pointy end I met so many I’d grown used to over the past year. it was like a weird class reunion in a hesco’ed resort (no toilets, no swimming pools, no comfy beds, roofs just replaced after mortar attacks) catered by the CF (rations and one hot meal per day). everywhere I looked I saw someone I knew… Lt. X, Cpl. Y., even Capt. J-A (the rooster I’d spent 48 hrs with in Wainwrightistan… he used to stick his head out the door and yell “terp” like a cock crowing for his girls) and the Angel of the FOBs…all of them getting ready for a big Op. and there was the desert diver. tuning up his gear. we hugged.
the night before I flew out I lost my nerve. circumstances in my life made me want to bail (a Padre friends told me he’d have DAGged me red). but a knock on my door from a reccie who came in, sat on the end of my bed urging me not to quit, urging me to go see “the real Afghanistan, not this shithole KAF”, telling me I’d regret it all my life if I didn’t. a reccie who’d just taken a very long stroll. changed my mind. next morning I hopped into a chopper. took the best flight of my life. landed at the pointy end. found so many I know.
my time out at X was too short. but not fast enough in some ways (the tick tick of the mortality clock loud in my head). anyway, desert diver and I chatted and laughed and cried. let me get his t-shirt wet with tears. then he told me about his first time with an IED. like a nervous bride. he was old-school with it. bayonet in sand. and he was stoked really stoked. and he told me how much he loved his wife. his kids. asked me to phone them when I got home (I did) and tell them how much he loved them. we hugged, kissed goodbye.
now this morning news from him. busy. and that’s good because every time he does his job he saves lives. lots of lives. Afghans’ and ours. (imagine coming home from the office every day and being asked how was your day and being able to respond, “oh the usual. I prevented 30 people from being killed or maimed”… intense stuff). and I’m so grateful for him being there for me. desert diver.
a long, long way from the sea. being kind. helping me. holding me. in the middle of a war.
The bad news: not quite on, according to Steele herself:
here is a paragraph that is entirely incorrect:
For much of her time here, she did as soldiers did: riding in Taliban-targeted convoys; scurrying from a rocket attack; sleeping in tents; learning to make an IED; even waking at 4 a.m. to flip pancakes with army cooks – all to capture in verse an experience that many Canadians will never see and, in some cases, don’t want to.
most of this stuff I did at Wainwright, Suffield and Shilo. I made a FAKE IED at Wainwright, with talcum powder and air propellant and had a chance to “detonate” it. at WW they use FAKE ordinance to SIMULATE theatre. the Canadian Forces would NEVER endanger me or anyone else or let me near real ordinance. NEVER NEVER NEVER. I certainly did NOT MAKE AN IED in A’stan.
also, in A’stan I did not covoy because it was too dangerous. I flew or was driven. and was always safe and well-cared for, protected, never allowed to endanger myself or others.
There you go, then. I’m sure the correction’ll be in very soon.
Here’s an initial overview of the country, “this country”:
Afghanistan. the red desert. mud wall villages, mud kilns 50 feet high. fins of purple-blue mountains, ragged. I want to climb the night sky. we fly, we fly. whirly bird. the dust, the heat of props. frag vest. helmet. my ballistics tight. scarf wrapped over nose and lips. Captain by my side here to protect me. we fly. we fly.
then night watch. dawn watch. we watch the wadis. village. the village watches us. little girl rolling her broken tire down the dust road with a stick. herds of sheep. donkeys. the grape harvest done, the beating of basil for next year’s seeds, I see over compounds women adjust their scarves.
and in the CP your voice. over the telephone. green man tired already. now I understand your love. of this country. Pashto. you so near yet so far. this is not a country for strolling. maybe some day when you are an old man you can return to Afghanstan. light a pipe. share some tea.
maybe someday green man.
this country. you.
Even shorter and sweeter, “Soldier’s Words From Outside The Wire”:
More, as it comes out.
Just spotted this recently in the Scottish media:
A Scottish soldier has written a book of war poems from the front line in Afghanistan.
Sergeant David Stenhouse, 44, laid bare the horror of life in Helmand in a series of heart-felt verses.
The married dad wrote about carnage caused by deadly roadside explosives, suicide bombers and the constant threat of attack soldiers face.
David, from Glenrothes, Fife, was inspired to start writing when Army top brass were impressed by notes he jotted on a pad during work breaks.
He now hopes to have his collection of 30 poems published after returning from his second tour of duty in Afghanistan.
David said: “I wrote about what I saw going on around me and what I felt.
“When someone dies over there, we all feel it. We attend vigils and hear details about this young person’s life. It’s so sad.”
Here’s some examples of his work:
The Hidden Killer
“The chaos and confusion that occurs straight after the blast, your comrades will have to act quickly; they will have to react fast. The smell of burnt flesh and the horrific pain at first sight, you will have to hang onto your life brave soldier, now begins the fight.”
Stand And Fight
“Twenty-two brave men lost their lives within the month of July, yet ourblood-stained flag still blows in the desert sky. Is it time we were leaving theAfghanistanplains, before more of our men are so cruelly slain? But no we are British, and we will stand and fight,hunting down the Insurgent day and night.”
“To him this is a Holy War, and you the infidel must pay, if you don’t recognise and eliminate him, he’s going to blow you away.”
As I share poetry, let’s not forget Canada’s war poet, Suzanne Steele, is getting ready to head downrange through the Canadian Forces Artist Program to share her experience of seeing what Canada’s troops are doing via warpoet.ca. She’s already spent some work-up time with troops in Wainwright, Alberta. Here’s one of her works, “Stab Runs”:
Boys, it’s time. Let’s blaze the Battle valley.
Shoot all her ghosts, her sizzling diesel moons,
the frying sun flung over her horizon.
Copper ammo, blue-tip mortar rounds
bomb-up LAVs, soldiers get stoked, pumped, for stab runs.
“This is team team team Ex,” Sgt J sweats,
“Okay you guys, fucking start hammering.”
Red flags zip. Machine guns arc right, arc left.
Casings spit like sunflower seeds, chewed dip.
They clink, gold arrowheads, into prairie.
Mortar whomp. Tracers whiz, flame cinquefoil hills;
last summer’s dying grass catches fire.
Metal clicks, hay boxes unclasp lunch.
Smoke, coffee, time to piss. An hour to laugh.
And another, TIC (’06):
you drove. slowly through the night. the fire fight. red. white. metal. the smell of cordite. focused. never lost your cool. the net crackling in your earpiece like paper kites. on fire. your sites greened. you keen to shoot. straight. clear. clean. unreal. your lance of bullets hot. into the dark. into the night. your breath steady. even when Sun Ray went down. when LAV 31 Bravo was RPGed. thud. thud. the burst of fire bud. the sting. thud. your shot. aimed. ready. slow. steady. fired. lit Panjaway night. like Roman Candles. on All Hallows’ Eve.
Thanks, Sergeant Stenhouse, for sharing, and good luck, Suzanne, in your travels.