Members of 1 PPCLI, A Company, 1 Platoon, led by Captain Kevin Schamuhn (left, seated taking notes) debrief the incident of earlier today where Lt. Trevor Green, Civilian and Military Cooperation unit, attached to 1 PPCLI, A Company, 1 Platoon was struck in the head with an axe during a leader's engagement in the village of north of Kandahar.
Exactly 10 years and two months ago, I was sitting in the dust of the Afghan village of Shinkay along with my platoon commander, Kevin Schamuhn, and an interpreter at a meeting with village elders, or shura.
Kevin and I sat cross-legged on the ground on either side of our interpreter, facing the elders. I'd placed my helmet on the ground next to me and laid my rifle on top of it. One of the elders waved at a young boy, who then disappeared for about 10 minutes and brought back tea. The chai was freshly made and surprisingly refreshing.
A small group of young men and kids milled about curiously behind us. The rest of the platoon were fanned out behind them in defensive positions facing outward. I felt safe as usual with the superb soldiers of One Platoon watching my back.
The elders waited for us to initiate the conversation. Kevin opened the shura as usual, speaking directly to the leader about our presence and their security situation. ''We are here to support your country and help the people of Afghanistan," he began. The men leaned forward, as they usually did, squinting and trying to make sense of his words.
Once the interpreter had translated, only one man spoke back to the translator. The others watched intently in silence. Kevin began the shura probing subtly for tactical information then handed off to me to ask about their infrastructure needs.
I took a sip of my tea and had started to ask a question when a young Taliban insurgent crept up behind me and swung an axe into my head like he was chopping a log. The attack was the signal for a carefully laid Taliban ambush.
Villagers scattered in all directions as the platoon came under withering fire from across the river, but amazingly there were no other casualties. Kevin called in for a dustoff chopper and ordered that smoke grenades be popped to mark our position but they landed too far away, so Kevin helped hustle my 200-pound carcass over a hundred metres to the chopper, where my Canadian stretcher had to be shoehorned into the American Black Hawk.
By harming a guest at a shura, my attacker, who journalists identified as Abdul Karim, broke a centuries-old pact known as Pashtunwali, which demands that guests, even enemies, be fed, given water and, most important, protected.
The Taliban must have put him under intense pressure to commit such an abomination, akin to shooting a gun in church. They could have kidnapped his family and threatened to kill them. Or convinced the illiterate Abdul that it is written in the Koran that he would reach paradise if he killed an infidel.
Afghanistan has a fighting season that begins when the snow melts in the mountain passes, allowing movement into the vulnerable valleys. Kevin led One Platoon unerringly through the 2006 Afghanistan fighting season; seven months of combat patrols, IEDs, a major battle and ambushes like the one in Shinkay when I fell under the axe. When an American F-15 mistakenly dropped two laser-guided bombs on the platoon, Kevin was sure his command had been destroyed but the troops were again unscathed.
My wife, Debbie, and I have become friends with Kevin's parents. Marie and Ken live outside Vancouver and paid us a visit a few years ago. Marie crafted a beautiful wooden train set for my baby boy, Noah. We found out that every day without fail, Marie would pray for each member of the platoon, by name. I was only attached to the platoon for workup training in 2005 so I didn't make the prayer list. One Platoon was perhaps the only Canadian infantry platoon in the Afghan War to avoid casualties, and I was the only member of the platoon to be carried off the battlefield.
Kevin and his lovely wife, Annalise, were the guests of honour at my wedding in 2010. When the time came for toasts after dinner, my voice had become weak and was barely audible to anyone beyond our table, so Debbie stood and took over.
She did a fabulous job of recognizing and thanking everyone who helped make the day a reality. When it came time to toast Kevin, I needed him to hear it directly from me. I wanted everyone to know how much it meant to me to have them at our wedding.
I asked Debbie for the microphone, sucked oxygen deep into my lungs and spoke: "The man standing at the back is Kevin Schamuhn, my good friend and platoon commander in Afghanistan. Next to him is his incredible wife, Annalise. I am honoured to know a man who carried out our mission with courage and integrity. No words can ever express how grateful I am to him for saving my life on the battlefield. Please join me in raising a glass to Kevin."
One hundred and thirty glasses clinked to a chorus of "To Kevin." Marie Schamuhn said her son always dreamed of becoming a soldier. I'll forever be grateful my brother followed his dream.
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