Serving in the 'heart of darkness'

Terry Roberts
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

St. John's reservist home on leave from Afghanistan for Christmas following two months of combat and frustration

When you're near enough to a passing bullet to hear the snapping sound as it whizzes by, you take cover.

That's just what Sgt. John Carew did Dec. 3 during a co-ordinated, two-pronged attack on his base in southern Afghanistan, the most volatile region in the troubled country referred to by many as the "heart of darkness."

For two and a half hours, Carew and his mates pummelled a nearby grape hut with bullets and bombs and struggled to silence an unseen enemy hiding in some tall grass.

Sgt. John Carew of St. John's takes cover behind a concrete wall during an attack on his base in Afghanistan Dec. 3. Carew and three other Canadian soldiers were awarded combat citations by their American comrades for their part in the battle. - Submitted

When you're near enough to a passing bullet to hear the snapping sound as it whizzes by, you take cover.

That's just what Sgt. John Carew did Dec. 3 during a co-ordinated, two-pronged attack on his base in southern Afghanistan, the most volatile region in the troubled country referred to by many as the "heart of darkness."

For two and a half hours, Carew and his mates pummelled a nearby grape hut with bullets and bombs and struggled to silence an unseen enemy hiding in some tall grass.

It was the most intense combat he had seen to that point in his deployment, and Carew and three other Canadian soldiers were awarded combat citations by their American comrades for their part in the battle.

But firefights, small-scale engagements, and death and destruction have become a common occurrence for the St. John's native, and he's not even half \way through his deployment. Three soldiers who he knew personally - a Canadian and two Americans - have been killed since he arrived in Afghanistan in early October, and he expects the casualty rates will escalate in the new year as more international troops flow into the country and the so-called "fighting season" nears.

He's also experienced plenty of frustration because the high level of violence practically makes it impossible for him to do the job for which he's trained - civil-military co-ordination, or cimic. It's up to soldiers such as Carew to develop a level of trust and understanding between the foreign soldiers serving in the wartorn country and a local population that continues to live in fear under the yoke of the Taliban.

But nearly every time they patrol they are attacked, and local leaders often refuse to accept any help because they say the Taliban will kill anyone who works with the foreign troops.

"I really don't know if it's worth one Canadian life," Carew stated bluntly. "We've lost 133 soldiers now and the mission is going to end, for all intents and purposes, in 2011.

"The area I'm in, I don't see a hell of a lot of change unless the Taliban are defeated. Every day patrols go out and they get hit with huge, complex ambushes. So until we deny them the freedom of movement and the people of Afghanistan have something other than killing and death, then I don't know what the hell it's all for."

Carew is a hard-charging infantryman with a no-nonsense personality and a hulking physique. He is not one to conceal his true thoughts, so when asked about the mission in Afghanistan during a recent interview, it's clear he's not speaking from any scripts.

He's not convinced a surge in foreign troops will result in victory for the NATO allies, and wonders how a foreign army can tame a country where a vast majority of the population is illiterate and fighting is ingrained from an early age. He's also worried about the presence of foreign fighters and their negative influence over the local populace.

He's doing a job that takes him "outside the wire" nearly every day, exposing him to the No. 1 killer of NATO troops - improvised explosives devices, or IEDs for short. He's witnessed a father holding his dead daughter in his arms without shedding a tear because females are not valued as much as males, and remembers looking on in amazement as a young teenager who had been shot through both legs lay silently and defiantly in a hospital bed, showing absolutely no emotion.

People still cook over open fires and draw water from wells that have been in existence for many, many generations, he explained.

"It's a totally different world," Carew stated.

Carew is a reservist with the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, which means he volunteered for this dangerous and frustrating mission, which has already claimed the lives of nine soldiers originally from this province. He spoke about his first two months in Afghanistan on Dec. 17, while on leave at home with his family in St. John's. He returns to Afghanistan on Jan. 2.

The obvious question is: why willingly leave family and a career as a correctional officer in order to risk everything in Afghanistan? It's about duty, Carew replied.

"I can't let someone else go over and do something I've been trained for, to not actually do my part and put my life on the line. It's hard for my family and it's hard for my wife and mother to understand, but it's something I really believe in. And I do believe that if we don't stop them there, that we will be fighting them somewhere else. If we don't stop this kind of tyranny, what does that say for our society?"

Carew is the only member of the regiment currently serving in Afghanistan, but a handful of others have deployed there in recent years. John Sloan, a fellow correctional officer and close friend of Carew's, was injured by an explosion during his tour in 2007.

Carew is well aware of the dangers, and he admitted that the thought of returning to Afghanistan in January is on his mind.

"It bothers me because it's three more months of wondering when I'm outside the wire if it's going to be my last day, if the vehicle I'm in is going to be blown up by an IED, or I'm out on a foot patrol and if I'm going to step on an IED myself."

Carew's wife, Susan Hogan, said it's nerve-wracking on the homefront as well. The couple were married in November 2008, and Carew left two months later for months of training.

"I just get through every day the best I can," she said.

Hogan doesn't like the idea of her husband serving in a war zone, but she supports him because she understands what it means to him. She said those without any connection to the military might find it hard to comprehend.

She tries her best to stay positive.

"I really do feel he's going to be OK," she said. "He's very skilled in what he does and he's careful."

ABOUT SGT. JOHN CAREW

Age - 45.

Occupation - Correctional officer at Her Majesty's Penitentiary in St. John's and a reservist with the Royal Newfoundland Regiment.

Hometown - St. John's.

Personal - Married Susan Hogan in November 2008. Has two children from a previous marriage.

Stature - Stands five-foot-eight and weighs a muscular 200 pounds.

Military background - Spent five years in the regular forces, and 29 years in total with the reserves and the regular army. He is an award-winning marksman, having twice won the Queen's Medal, Canada's top target shooting award, in 2000 and 2001. He won in the service rifle competition for military reservists and police officers, defeating hundreds of other competitors from around the world. He sports a tattoo of a rifle scoop on his bulging forearm.

About his service in Afghanistan - Deployed in early October following eight months of training in western Canada. Is attached to a company of soldiers from the U.S. Army's 4th Infantry Division and serves as a civil-military co-ordination officer.

His job is to liaise with the local Afghan population about how international forces can be of assistance, and advise his U.S. Army counterparts on how to interact with the local population. Returned to St. John's on leave on Dec. 8, and departs again for Afganistan on Jan. 2. He expects to end his deployment in April.

In his own words - "People have nothing. The kids even have less than nothing. I thank God that I actually come from Canada and I have the ability to come home to such a great country. These people don't."

troberts@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Taliban, NATO, U.S. Army

Geographic location: Afghanistan, St. John's, Southern Afghanistan Canada

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page

Comments

Comments

Recent comments

  • Jennifer
    July 02, 2010 - 13:22

    John, we are all thinking of you at the pen...safe travels back, and be safe, keep your head low and we are waiting for you to come back to work safely

  • canadafistaid
    July 02, 2010 - 13:15

    This is excellent acticle on the canadian presence in Afghanistan. In the history of the RNR many left home and fought in far off lands - and in some cases along side the US Military. I fear they (US Forces) may have paid too much attention to Iraq when the NATO Afghanistan conflict was far from resolved. 'Bravo - Zulu' Sgt. Carew.

  • harry
    July 02, 2010 - 13:14

    I wish you God speed Sgt Carew.

    I now live in the Philippines and I understand what you say as another world .

    It is.

    As long as we can accept that living in freedom is all folks human right, and help them attain that, you are doing what many more of us need to do.

  • dave
    July 02, 2010 - 13:11

    We need to bring all our boys home. This is an unjust war. How are these people suppose to hurt us or anyone else that is not occupying their country.

    We are the occupiers and i bet money 99% of these people that are fighting now would never even consider coming here and attacking us. They wouldn't even know how to get here.

    Stop the war. Get every single Canadian home where they belong.

  • Jennifer
    July 01, 2010 - 20:06

    John, we are all thinking of you at the pen...safe travels back, and be safe, keep your head low and we are waiting for you to come back to work safely

  • canadafistaid
    July 01, 2010 - 19:55

    This is excellent acticle on the canadian presence in Afghanistan. In the history of the RNR many left home and fought in far off lands - and in some cases along side the US Military. I fear they (US Forces) may have paid too much attention to Iraq when the NATO Afghanistan conflict was far from resolved. 'Bravo - Zulu' Sgt. Carew.

  • harry
    July 01, 2010 - 19:53

    I wish you God speed Sgt Carew.

    I now live in the Philippines and I understand what you say as another world .

    It is.

    As long as we can accept that living in freedom is all folks human right, and help them attain that, you are doing what many more of us need to do.

  • dave
    July 01, 2010 - 19:47

    We need to bring all our boys home. This is an unjust war. How are these people suppose to hurt us or anyone else that is not occupying their country.

    We are the occupiers and i bet money 99% of these people that are fighting now would never even consider coming here and attacking us. They wouldn't even know how to get here.

    Stop the war. Get every single Canadian home where they belong.