Saturday, March 28, 2009

A New Concept in Wargaming - Edible Minis

My son and I did some preliminary research and here`s an executive summary of our groundbreaking idea on edibile minis gaming.

1) Buy some gummy green army men at the local store (here in Canada we found them in the candy section of a store called Bulk Barn).

2) Fight a battle using whatever rules set you like - we used our house rules, Two Minute Wargames, because we were hungry.

3) Eat the gummy army men.


1) no painting or basing required
2) easy storage (a plastic bag before, your tummy afterwards
3) green gummy army men are appropriate for most periods from 1940 on


1) Limited variety and flavours of green gummy army men available
2) Opponent is tempted to eat your troops while your not looking
3) Scale and accuracy of the minis is a bit dodgy

Enjoy this brilliant idea, thanks to my son John and I!


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Portrait of an American Military Hospital

I admire the way that my Anglican brother Kendall Harmon makes room in his excellent blog Titus One Nine for stories about the military with attention to issues of spirituality, veteran's issues, and ethics. This lovely but brief portrait of the rehab unit of the Veterans' Affairs hospital in Augusta, Georgia, is from MSNBC's Nightly News,and is found here.

As I write this, I'm mindful of my Roman Catholic brother, Padre George Helou, who has begun a six month assignment working with Canadian and American wounded at the hospital in Landstuhl, Germany. George wrote to me that the staff at this hospital do wonderful work, and are constantly needful of our prayers and support.

Four Canadian Soldiers Killed in Afghanistan on March 20

Last Friday, the same day I was flying with Tusker 313, came the unwelcome news that four Canadian soldiers were killed in theatre in two separate IED strikes. The story is related in full in Friday's Globe and Mail. Killed in the first blast were Master Corporal Scott Francis Vernelli, 28, Corporal Tyler Crooks, 24, and an Afghan interpreter. Vernelli and Crooks were members of the Royal Canadian Regiment, and were part of a foot patrol. Five others were injured in the blast. All the Canadian casualties were part of the RCR's November Company. Killed in the second blast, also near Kandahar City, were Trooper Jack Bouthillier, 20, and Trooper Corey Joseph Hayes, 22, both members of the Royal Canadian Dragoons.

Clockwise from top left: Corporal Tyler Crooks, Trooper Jack Bouthillier, Master Corporal Scott Francis Vernelli and Trooper Corey Joseph Hayes

The casualties occurred during a large allied offensive, OP JALEY. Here is the Globe's description of the operation. "Operation Jaley, which began Tuesday and continued until Friday morning, involved more than 2,000 troops. Canadians were joined by Afghan soldiers and the members of a U.S. Army battalion known as the 2-2s (the 2nd Battalion of the 2nd Infantry Regiment) that operates under Canadian command.

Many of the soldiers were flown in under dark of night to an area west of Kandahar City that is considered a Taliban staging ground. Others came by armoured vehicle.

The aim was to attack Taliban command centres and supply runs. Soldiers searched on foot through village after village for weapons and the material used to make improvised explosive devices (IEDs)."

The Department of National Defence's press release is available here and the Minister of Defence's statement is here.

Rest eternal grant unto them, O Lord, and may light perpetual shine upon them.

Friday, March 20, 2009

A Day With Tusker 313

Since I've been posted to 14 Wing at CFB Greenwood, my training has prevented me from spending much time on the operational side of the base. Yesterday I had the chance to see what the Air Force does thanks to Captain Leighton James of 413 Search and Rescue Squadron. Leighton is currently doing French Second Language Training with me, and since the language school was closed for spring break this week, Leighton was able to get airborne and invited me along. Leighton is a CF130 Hercules pilot, a native of Dundas, Ontario and like myself an alumnus of the University of Toronto. Friday, March 20th was a gorgeous day for flying. The fligh t's call sign was Tusker 313 - Tusker for 413 Search and Rescue Squadron, which has an elephant on its crest, while 313 is the name of the aircraft (the "Herc" in air force speak). . Tusker 313 carried the pilot/commander Leighton, two other pilots, a navigator, a loadmaster, three Search and Rescue Tehcnicians (SARtechs) and myself. The purpose of the mission was to conduct training over New Ross at the east end of the Annapolis Valley, then proceed to Nova Scotia's south shore for training with a Coast Guard cutter, and then to the former air force base at Summerside, Prince Edward Island for a parachute drop by the SARtechs, refuelling and lunch. In the afternoon we were to return to Greenwood, do another SARtech jump, and then finish the day. I was a little nervous when Leighton told me that this plane was the response plan for Eastern Arctic and the Maritimes, plus a sizeable chunk of Atlantic Ocean, and could be sent anywhere in this area by the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Halifax, possibly for several days - and me without an overnight bag! Oh well, I thought, bash on and hope for the best. Here's the view out of the cockpit window over New Ross, Nova Scotia. That's Leighton in the co-pilot's seat. He and the two other pilots would regularly trade seats for training purposes. I was allowed to stand behind them as long as I stayed out of the way and didn't snarl the comms cord from my headseat with the others. You can see how bright it was - it got pleasantly warm in the cockpit. Here we are over the South Shore of Nova Scotia, off Lunenburg and Mahone Bay. We rendezvoused with a Coast Guard cutter to begin training for a rescue at sea. SARtechs at one of the two observation windows in the read fuselage of the plane watch for the target in the water. The target was an orange disk, 18 inches in diametre, with a flashing strobe in the middle, simulating a person in a floatation device. A very hard target to see in the middle of the ocean. THis was exactly the sort of work that most of this crew had been doing off Newfoundland during the search for the Cougar helicopter that went down off Hibernia. The tail gate of the Herc is opened, to allow a pump to be dropped to a boat in distress. Here the loadmaster supervises the drop and watches for the deployment of the parachute. Getting ready for the first drop. The gate goes down on the approach to Summerside. That's the Confederation Bridge linking Prince Edward Island to Nova Scotia. It was quite a contrast from the toasty cockpit back here at 3000 feet when the gate goes down! On the ground at Summerside - Leighton in front of Tusker 313. On the way home to Greenwood, crossing the Bay of Fundy at 6000 feet. Cape Split, that long curving neck of land, is clearly visible.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

From My Workbench: 28mm Confederate Infantry

I'm happy to have finally finished these chaps, from UK manufacturer Redoubt Enterprises' brilliant 28mm American Civil War range. Acually the command stand are from Wargames Foundry's now defunct ACW range - they've been painted for some years and were just waiting for troops to command.

The banner is a slightly oversized Mississippi state flag that I picked up in, well, Mississippi, actually, from an obscure line called Flags for the Lads, bought in a hobby shop in Hattiesburg, MS, during a visit to my wife's family.

One of the challenges of painting confederate troops, I find, is that they require an individual look to be authentic, especially in the later war period when regular uniforms were either worn out and replaced with civilian clothing, or distributed haphazardly. I liked the checked shirt effect I managed on this fellow:

The 21st Mississippi's Colonel, standing cooly watching his boys load and shoot while the minie balls fly around his ears. He's brave, not smart.

This gets my rebel infantry up to a respectable six regiments of four stands each - I have at least another regiment's worth close to the front of the queue (a second regiment of the Union Irish Brigade is ahead of them, however) - a lovely set of reb skirmishers from Renegade.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Military Picture of the Day

My brother the mad colonel and I were both delighted by this image of the day from the United Kingdom Department of Defence website:

Here's the DOD writeup (more info here):

400 members of The Black Watch, 3rd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland, got into the swing of Red Nose Day just before they deploy for their first tour in Afghanistan by adding a Comic Relief Red Nose to their famous Red Hackles. The soldiers were having their official photograph taken before they leave for their seven-month tour of the country when they decided to get into the spirit of Comic Relief and don Red Noses for their alternative official shot [Picture: Mark Owens]. Click here for more information on what the Armed Forces got up to for Comic Relief 2009.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

CF to "mess with" the Army Reserve

The more time I spend here at CFB Greenwood, the more impressed I am with the folks who work here. This afternoon at French class, one of our students, a pilot with 413 Search and Rescue Squadron, did not return after lunch. He and his crew are probably out as I type this, circling over the Atlantic looking for survivors of the helicopter that crashed today en route to a Hibernia oil rig. God speed them.

However, the concerns of an Air Force base in the Reg Force are quite different from those in the Army Reserve. While the following is not on the radar screen here at Greenwood, I've no doubt that at a lot of armouries and drill halls across the country, this story, carried on CBC News Wednesday of this week, is being discussed with much apprehension and emotion.

Army looking to overhaul reserves through amalgamation

Last Updated: Wednesday, March 11, 2009 | 11:35 AM ET

The Canadian Armed Forces are set to amalgamate some of the current 140 regiments into a smaller number of bigger units, CBC News has learned.

The changes would come into effect after Canada concludes its combat mission in Afghanistan in 2011.

"We are going to mess with the basic structure of the army reserve," Brig.-Gen. Gary O'Brien, the head of the army reserve, told CBC News in an interview. "It isn't about closing more locations or getting smaller — it's about getting more efficient."

Many of the army's reserve units have about 100 soldiers each, and those regiments are often too small to train for large operations, O'Brien said.

He also said it's hard to find qualified soldiers to lead units, and creating a smaller number of larger units is an attempt to address that problem.

Changes 'would be an upsetting manoeuvre'
But Lt.-Col. John Selkirk, executive director of Reserves 2000, an interest group that lobbies on behalf of reservists, said the plan could backfire.

"It certainly would be an upsetting manoeuvre for many, many units," Selkirk told CBC News. He said many units are institutions that bring soldiers and veterans together through shared identity, geography and history.

"If you start to tamper with that, then the very fabric that makes up our Canadian army could be torn," he said.

Selkirk says the proposed plan may cause an exodus of experienced troops from the army.

Canada's Armed Forces currently employs around 65,000 full time personnel, and there are an additional 24,000 reservists.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Latest Afghan Casualties

It's been a bad spell for the Canadians in Afghanistan. Last week we lost three soldiers to an IED strike. This summary from the Globe and Mail:

Warrant Officer Dennis Raymond Brown, a reservist from the Lincoln and Welland Regiment in the Niagara Region, Corporal Dany Oliver Fortin from the 425 Tactical Fighter Squadron in Bagotville, Que., and Corporal Kenneth Chad O'Quinn from the 2 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group Headquarters and Signals Squadron in Petawawa, Ont., were killed when the vehicle in which they were riding ran over a bomb.

See also this press release from the Department of Defence in Ottawa.

From left to right, Warrant Raymond Brown of the Lincoln and Welland Regiment, Corporal Kenneth Quinn, a signaller from Newfoundland and Labrador, and Corporal Danny Fortin. Cpl. Fortin's 425 Squadron, from CFB Bagotville in Quebec, has ties with CFB Greenwood, and sends aircraft and pilots here to train. For an Air Force base, it's sobering to see a blue beret in the photos accompanying a casualty announcement, reminding us that this war touches all the Forces, even as the Army bears the brunt of the cost.

On Sunday, Trooper Marc Diab, of the Royal Canadian Dragoons, was also killed by a roadside bomb near Kandahard City.

This excerpt is from CBC News' coverage of the ramp ceremony for Trooper Diab:

The Diab family moved to Canada from war-torn Lebanon in 2000. Canadian and Lebanese flags fly outside their home.

Diab still had ties to his native Lebanon and wrote on a networking site for expatriates that he would return to the country some day.

Online condolences are being sent to his family through a web page set up in his honour.

Diab loved children and was leader of a yearly church camp for kids, where he taught outdoor survival skills, and he was preparing for this year’s camp even from Afghanistan, his mother said.

Jessica Diab pointed to a big 'Thank You' card written by those children for her brother. It was displayed at the Diab home beside a large picture of him in uniform.

"They were saying good bye to him because he was going in September to Afghanistan. All the kids wrote this card for him — 'Good bye we are going to miss you.' Even though he was only 22 years old he loved everyone. He was an amazing guy. He was loving and caring," she said.

Diab also played keyboards and taught Arabic at Toronto’s Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Catholic Church.

Father Emmanuel Nakhle said Diab was a born leader and a hero to the children.

"He was deeply involved in the community and for sure the community will miss such a person and for long years. It was shocking news."

The family had been counting the days for Diab's return to Canada. Now, his body is expected back in Canada on Wednesday.

Rest eternal grant unto them, O Lord, and may light perpetual shine upon them.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Who Am I? A Sermon for the Second Sunday of Lent

Mark 8:27-38
27Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
31Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
34He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Mark 8:27-38

[Jesus] asked them, “But who do you say that I am?”

If that question were put to each one of us, what would we say? How comfortable would we be asking it? I’m sure that there are other religious questions we could answer quite easily. If another Christian asked you “What church do you go to?”, that would be easy enough. If another padre asked me “What’s your denomination” or, “what’s your theology”, that would be a pleasant (I would hope!) conversation. Today’s gospel, however, challenges us with the one question that each one of us, without exception, is called on to answer. That question is a simple one. Who do we say that Jesus is? Are we prepared to say, as Peter does, that Jesus is the Messiah, the Saviour? I would hope that as Christians we would all be prepared to say yes, Jesus is the Saviour, but I don’t take it for granted. I was a student minister in a church called Holy Saviour, but many folks there were happier talking about their beautiful building or their lovely music than they were talking about Jesus. And then there’s a second, follow-on question. If we do say, like Peter, that Jesus is the Saviour, are we prepared, as Peter is not, to let Jesus be our Saviour? Are we prepared to let Jesus be Jesus, to let him be our Lord, or will we try to put our own limits and conditions on Jesus?

Now I’m using a word, Saviour, that isn’t present in the gospel today. It’s suggested, because the word Messiah is present, and the Messiah, which means, literally, “anointed one”, was the one who was going to come and save Israel from its enemies. I guess I’m jumping to the word Saviour because I’ve been seeing that word five days a week for the last few months. Along with my colleague, Padre Poley, I’ve been taking French lessons in the Birchall Building here on the base, and that building is named after Leonard Birchall, a Canadian veteran of World War Two. Because I’m trying to think in French these days, I always notice the French part of the dedication plaque as I enter the building, which describes Birchall as “le sauveur de Ceylon”, the Saviour of Ceylon. A lot of people in uniform go in and out that building each day, and maybe some of them wonder, who was this Birchall guy, and how was he a Saviour? If they were made to think about the question, “who do you say that Leonard Birchall is?” it would be a great thing, because knowing who he was, and applying that knowledge to their lives and to their careers, would make them those folks better people and better CF members. It’s also a good story for us to start with this morning.

This sermon isn’t a history lesson, so I’ll be brief here. Leonard Birchall was a Canadian pilot stationed in the Pacific during World War Two, at a time when the Allies were folding up like a cheap suit at an August wedding. On his first flight in theatre, Birchall’s plane was patrolling off what is today called Sri Lanka, when he saw a Japanese fleet approaching the island. Knowing full well that he would be shot down, Birchall stayed in position long enough to warn his base of the Japanese fleet. As a result, the Japanese never invaded and, when Winston Churchill heard about it, he called Birchall “The Saviour of Ceylon”. For Birchall and his crew, their selflessness came at the price of spending the rest of the war in a Japanese prison camp. Now the title “Saviour of Ceylon” may have been motivated by reasons of politics and publicity (after all, every nation needs its war heroes), but for the other prisoners in the POW camps, Birchall was a saviour in a very real and personal way.

As you know, conditions in these prisoner of war camps were very harsh. The Japanese guards were often brutal, rations were at starvation levels, and there was little if any medicine. Many Allied prisoners died in these camps, but in the camps were Birchall stayed, the death rate fell from 30% to 2%. As the senior Allied officer, he led by example, encouraging his men to stick together, share with and care for each other. Birchall ordered the precious and scanty supply of medicine and pain killers kept for the most serious cases, so that men in great pain regularly refused medicine for the sake of others. Whenever a prisoner was being beaten, Birchall or one of the other officers would step in the middle, taking the beating in place of the other prisoner and risking their own fragile health to save the life of another.

Last fall, during our basic training, Padre Poley and I saw a video of a talk that Birchall gave, late in his life, to a group of RMC students. The contrast between his appearance and what he was saying was amazing. Here was this ordinary, elderly man, speaking slowly as old men often do. To see him on the street, you would have said he wasn’t anyone special, just someone’s grandfather or great-grandfather. In fact, our class was so tired and so sleep-deprived that it was hard to stay awake through the video. However, the story he told, and the way he told it, with amazing modesty and sincerity, was electrifying. I remember Birchall saying that nothing must be more important to an officer than the welfare of his men, and that this quality could not be taught, it just came from within. I remember thinking then, and I think it every time that I go into that building, that Birchall deserved the title of a saviour. Not a religious saviour, not a saviour of souls. Not a political or a military saviour, though he did help save the Allies from defeat. Rather, a saviour in the sense that he lifted others up and valued them enough to take on their suffering and, if necessary, to die for them.

[Jesus] asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Who was Jesus to the people of his day? Not everyone believed in him. To some he was just another rabbi, another street preacher. He might have looked as ordinary as Leonard Birchall seemed to me and my course mates on that video, until you stopped to really listen. To some in his lifetime Jesus was a dangerous radical. To others, as he hung there on the cross, just a pathetic loser. Who is Jesus to the people of our day? Not everyone believes in him. To some he’s just a cliché, just a half-forgotten image in stained glass from a faded religion. To others he’s a person from history, or just another thinker of inspiring thoughts, ranked up there with Buddha and Gandhi. Quite a few people are capable of getting through life without giving Jesus a second thought. We don’t have that option.

Most of us are here this Sunday morning because we feel drawn somehow to answer the question that Jesus poses to each of us, “Who do you say that I am?” Some of us may not have a complete answer because our faith is new, or growing, but we haven’t yet accepted that Jesus is who he says is. If you’re in that category, that’s fine, because this morning you’ve come to a good place to start to answer that question. Others, and often I think this category includes many of us churchgoers, accept that Jesus is the Son of God but feel that we can put limits on what that means. We’re like Peter in today’s gospel. Peter can say that Jesus is the Messiah, the Saviour, but he can’t accept what comes next, when Jesus says that the Son of Man must suffer and die and rise again. Perhaps Peter has his own idea of a Messiah, a strong political leader who will bring freedom and prosperity for Israel, but that’s not what Jesus is about. Perhaps that’s what Jesus means in his answer, when he draws a line between divine things and human things.

The words that come next are as well known as they are difficult to accept.
34He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?

I suspect that a lot of people take these words to mean that Christians are called to a life of suffering and misery. Doesn’t sound very attractive, does it? Most of us would rather follow a Saviour who offers a successful career and personal prosperity, or a happy family, or freedom from cancer. We’d like a Saviour who allows us to make our own choices, to call our own shots. But imagine what it would have been like to be prisoner in one of those camps when Leonard Birchall walked through the gate. He probably didn’t appear very impressive, a ragged and skinny scarecrow like yourself., just another inmate in a land of pain and death. But he looks at you and asks you to accept him as your commander. He calls on you to give up your right to a little medicine for the sake of those whose need is greater. He asks you to join with him in taking the beatings that fall on others. You’re skinny and frail and sick, and this seems like an impossible request. But you agree. You say “Right, sir, you’re the boss” and you join him. It’s hard, but suddenly you find that morale is improving. The beatings diminish. Food and medicine is being shared. People aren’t dying. You realize that this man is a saviour, and you’re proud to follow him, and you start to think of yourself, not as a prisoner, but as a free man.

Jesus comes to each of us, day by day, week by week, and asks us, gently but directly, “who do you say that I am?” Each of us has to respond as we see fit. We may want to hold something back, and say “You’re the saviour, but ...” or “I’ll follow you this far, but ..”. Our old way of living may seem far more attractive – our spiritual laziness, the comfort of our dislikes and prejudices, our desire to protect our own interests. Jesus isn’t patient. He won’t wait forever while we make up our minds. Like Peter, we need to know that there is human thinking, and there is divine thinking, and we’re called to choose. Now, in the season that some Christian churches call the time of Lent, we are called to think especially on these things. Perhaps some of you followed the custom of having the sign of the cross drawn on your forehead with ashes at the beginning of Lent. I had the opportunity to observe this custom at Queen of Heaven chapel where I heard Padre Nelligan say these words as he made the ancient sign on my forehead: “Turn away from sin and be true to the gospel”. That seems like a perfect summary of today’s lesson. Jesus asks us to make a choice, to accept his command of our lives, to stand with him and do as he asks, no matter how much it costs, and in doing so to find our freedom from the prison camp of sin and death. Who do you say that He is? Will you stand with him?

Mad Padre

Mad Padre
Opinions expressed within are in no way the responsibility of anyone's employers or facilitating agencies and should by rights be taken as nothing more than one person's notional musings, attempted witticisms, and prayerful posturings.


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