My life in Afghanistan

Brodie Thomas
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Tank driver Trooper Corina Skinner reflects on her job with Lord strathcona's Horse

While most Newfoundlanders are content to drive cars, ATVs and snowmobiles, Trooper Corina Skinner, 21, maintains and drives a Leopard 2A6M tank.

Skinner is a Port aux Basques native - daughter of John and Janet Skinner - now stationed in Afghanistan with Edmonton-based Lord Strathcona's Horse (Royal Canadians).

Corina Skinner. Submitted photo

Port aux Basques -

While most Newfoundlanders are content to drive cars, ATVs and snowmobiles, Trooper Corina Skinner, 21, maintains and drives a Leopard 2A6M tank.

Skinner is a Port aux Basques native - daughter of John and Janet Skinner - now stationed in Afghanistan with Edmonton-based Lord Strathcona's Horse (Royal Canadians).

Transcontinental Media recently sent Skinner a list of questions by e-mail.

Q. When did you join the Canadian Forces?

I joined the Canadian Forces in September 2006 and have enjoyed the experience. However, it has been a large learning curve and has been very hard on me being away from my family for the first time.

I volunteered for an overseas deployment to Afghanistan and have been here since September 2009. I have enjoyed the opportunity to serve Canada and to help out the Afghan people.

Q. Has Afghanistan been a culture shock for you?

It has been a pretty big culture shock for me, seeing how the locals live and their way of life, and how it's completely different from our lifestyles. I find the locals here are sometimes happy to see us. Some kids wave and smile to us. Others like to throw rocks or any random thing they can find and they have a good laugh about it.

The older people don't really do much. They just watch us go past them. It seems like we are the local TV for these people because when we roll by they watch us for hours - just sitting there on their rock watching us for hours. I guess it is their kind of "Survivor" show.

Q. How's the weather over there?

The weather in Afghanistan is very hot during the day and it gets cold at night. It feels much worse than it actually is due to the drastic change in temperature between night and day.

It is also very dusty around here. Everything gets covered with dust. It feels like walking around in talcum powder all the time and when we go to sleep and lie on our beds, a big puff of dust blooms from our beds when we (first) sit on (them). It is difficult to get used to but we all try to deal with it as best we can, with all the hand sanitizer we can manage.

Q. What is a normal day like for you (if there is such a thing)?

A normal day for me would consist of getting up early in the morning and going out to work on my tank before the heat of the day melts us.

The maintenance on a tank is very hard work and all parts are very heavy ...

Even thought there is always maintenance to do on a tank we still have to go out on tasks at a moment's notice to help other members of the task force should they need heavy armour support, which is quite often.

The days are very long and hard work but I am managing quite well and am still enjoying myself here.

Q. What is it like driving a tank?

Driving a tank is very interesting. I currently drive the Leopard 2A6M. It's the new tank we got from Germany. This tank is almost like driving a car, expect bigger.

The max speed you can go is around 80-90 kilometres an hour, or even faster depending on the ground and the task we might be going on.

Q. How do you see where you're going?

When I'm driving I look through these mirrors that connect to episcopes; they're not all that big. There are three of them, one on the left and right, and one right in the centre.

At night we have a light amplification device that we put in so the driver can see.

Q. What do you do in your spare time?

Spare time does not come that often so when I get some I'll try and call home or go on the Internet computers that we have on camp.

I also have a laptop computer where I watch movies and play games to pass the time more quickly.

Q. Have you seen any strange animals?

We have a pet mongoose here named Sketch. He looks cute and sweet but really he's not. We feed him random mice (alive or dead) that we catch in our bunker where we sleep.

There are also a couple dogs around here that we have to help control the rodent population and scare away the jackals.

We also find white scorpions crawling around everywhere and sometimes even the odd snake. It's kinda cool because I had never seen a viper snake before I got here.

Q. Do you fire the tank's cannon?

My job is driving the tank. We have a gunner and loader and a crew commander, and they take care of the firing.

I also do any maintenance that needs to be done, for example changing road wheels, checking oil levels and making sure the track is tight and it's going to keep running. I spend most of my time either working on my tank or driving it.

Q. Is there any part of your job you dislike?

One thing I really don't like about being in a tank over here is I have to learn how to use the bathroom in a water bottle.

Us girls who are here have this device called a "she pee." I haven't had the nerve to use mine yet, and sometimes we're in that tank for about eight or nine hours at a time. My crewmembers like to think this is very funny.

Q. What is the most difficult part about being away from home?

The hardest time I have had here so far, and I think it will be the hardest time for my whole tour, was when my grandfather (Jack Skinner) passed away. I really wish I could have been home with my family for that, but unfortunately I couldn't. My troop helped me get through it here, but it definitely wasn't easy.

I think what I miss most about home is being able to see and talk to my family whenever I want - and, of course, the sleeping in.

The Gulf News

Organizations: Canadian Forces

Geographic location: Afghanistan, Port aux Basques, Canada Germany

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