Kabul, Afghanistan, is about as geographically and culturally far from Nanaimo as you can get. But a member of Canada’s armed forces who was born and grew up here is literally half a world away bridging cultures and ideologies to help a nation rebuild and sustain itself.
Col. Jim Goodman is serving a one-year tour with Operation Attention, Canada’s contribution to NATO Training Mission – Afghanistan, as a senior advisor to the Afghan National Army.
He arrived in Kabul May 10 from Gagetown, New Brunswick, where he commanded the 4 Engineer Support Regiment.
“I’m one of the select people who is specifically attached to an Afghan National Army general officer,” Goodman said. “What we’re basically helping them do is develop their capabilities to reflect a modern Afghan fighting force that’s able to effectively live, move and fight on their own without NATO support.”
Canadians operating out of Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif are advising Afghan forces and police and helping introduce gender equality in the Afghan workforce, military and politics.
Of the 38 nations helping the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan build and maintain the Afghan National Security Force, Canada, with 920 personnel, is the second-largest contributor of troops.
Since 2002, the Afghan military grew rapidly to about 195,000 personnel in its army and air force, while another 144,000 joined the Afghan National Police.
Afghan forces were outfitted with modern equipment and technology, but need help building an effective management structure. Goodman works alongside U.S. advisors and civilian contractors who bring different perspectives from varying military backgrounds.
Goodman said Afghan officers are highly capable and some have 40 and even 50 years of military experience from fighting Soviet troops in the 1980s and Taliban fighters in recent years.
This is Goodman’s first long-term deployment to Afghanistan, but he has been there eight times previously for two- or three-week periods. A year away from family is a long time, but many friends and coworkers have already served one or two tours there and it’s his turn.
“Am I happy to be here?” Goodman asked. “Well, I’m happy to be helping. That’s for sure. The Afghans are a fantastic people. They are very open, very generous, very chivalrous, if I can use that term. On a daily basis, when you come in the first thing they’ll do is ask if you’d like a cup of chai tea. Are you comfortable? How are things? They are very open people.”
Canadians get along well there.
“We don’t bring a lot of misconceptions over here or an attitude of, ‘We have a better life, so this is how yours should be,” Goodman said. “We tend to come over and say, ‘Canada’s a multicultural country and we understand you have your own religious views and political views.’ I think Canadians do well here because we don’t try to change that. We come over and work within the system.”
Goodman said Canada has to fight somewhere and Afghanistan is where the enemy is at the moment.
“The Afghans, they are taking their licks,” he said. “They’re a fighting force. They lose soldiers on a daily basis, but they’re proud and they understand that the fight they’re fighting here, in a way, is for the world.”
Goodman, 40, was born in Nanaimo. He lived on Hemlock Street, graduated from Nanaimo District Secondary School in 1989 and still has family in Nanaimo and Victoria.
Goodman wanted to see the world, which a lot of his friends after graduating high school were taking time to do, but he also wanted a good education. He was in college, contemplating starting an engineering degree program when he thought of joining the military.
His only military experience was with the 205 Collishaw Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron.
“I thought, ‘How could I have a career and see the world?'” he said. “I joined the military because of the opportunities.”
He started training at Victoria’s Royal Roads Military Academy in 1991.
The military offered the chance to see the world, but not all the brightest spots. Bosnia, Haiti and Afghanistan, Goodman said, are all beautiful countries, but not exactly tourist destinations.
But he has seen at least 20 countries and territories, including Wake Island in the Pacific.
“You can only land on Wake Island if you’re in a U.S. military jet,” Goodman said. “It’s those sort of experiences that have made it all worth while.”
Canada is scheduled to pull out of Afghanistan in March 2014.
“I think, probably before I came over here I would have thought that was too soon, but now after I’ve been here and worked with the Afghans I realize that’s because really we’re not helping them get on their feet,” Goodman said. “They’re on their feet. We’re just helping them break into a trot and then into a run.”
There is added risk to working in Afghanistan, but Goodman is confident in the Canadian military’s professionalism and unwillingness to take unnecessary risks.
“Is there risk? There’s always risk, whether that’s crossing the street in Ottawa, Ontario, or crossing the street Kabul, Afghanistan,” he said.