Photo courtesy D&M Publishers.
When medical doctor Ray Wiss left Sudbury, Ont., in 2007 to practice medicine with the Canadian Forces (CF) in Afghanistan, he kept a diary about his experiences overseas.
That diary ended up being published as a book entitled FOB Doc (FOB stands for Forward Operating Base) and went on to be a best seller.
In 2009, Mr. Wiss was once again asked to go back and do another tour of duty with the CF in Kandahar, and once again he kept a meticulous diary, which has just been published by D & M Publishers under the title of A Line In The Sand.
Mr. Wiss – who is a captain in the CF reserves – lets readers know he believes what Canadians are doing in Afghanistan is moral, noble and worth the risk. Take for example, the much-improved education system in that country.
"Under the Taliban, there were 600,000 students and 1,500 schools in Afghanistan," writes Mr. Wiss. "In 2007, those numbers were six million students and 9,000 schools. Despite the Taliban's out-and-out war on the education system, that system has grown by leaps and bounds: in 2009, there were eight million Afghan children in school."
In one of the more interesting passages in the book Mr. Wiss recounts a religious debate during which he asked a 24-year-old mullah about the Taliban.
"I then asked him what he thought of the Taliban and whether they were good Muslims," said Mr. Wiss. "He replied emphatically that they were not Muslims at all. He buttressed this argument by pointing out all the things they did that are forbidden in the Quran. These included suicide bombing, the killing of innocents, the subjugation of women and the rejection of education."
Mr. Wiss describes the day-to-day grind of living in a combat zone in great detail. One minute he is sitting around bored. The next minute the base is under a Taliban attack while he was eating dinner.
Mr. Wiss has high praise for his fellow Canadians in Afghanistan. From the Chief of Defence Staff, General Walter Natynczyk, to the drivers, cooks and the female soldiers who effortlessly lug artillery shells around, Mr. Wiss' anecdotes will enlighten readers who know very little about the activities of our troops in the field.
One surprising revelation, given the fact that Canada was the first country to sign the Mine Ban Treaty, is that the CF is using landmines in Afghanistan.
Mr. Wiss explains that the Claymore mines used by the CF are not being used as victim-activated anti-personnel mines, but rather as a close-in defensive system, and as such, are not part of the treaty. They are placed around the FOB, but are not linked to a trip wire mechanism or a pressure plate. The only way the mines can be detonated is by an electrical signal sent by the CF should the FOB come under attack.
When the CF eventually leave the FOB, they will deactivate the Claymores and take them away, leaving nothing behind.
Mr. Wiss says that one of the reasons he wrote the book is to make sure Canada's contribution to the war in Afghanistan is not downplayed.
"Canadian soldiers have fought and continue to fight in Kandahar with as much tenacity as their forebears did at Vimy Ridge and at Juno Beach," writes Mr. Wiss. "It is essential that the names of Panjwayi, Zhari, Arghandab and Shah Wali Khot become as much a part of our nation's collective memory as those storied places."
A Line in the Sand is an interesting read, although at 432 pages (including photographs) it is a tad too long.