Was It Worth It?

Canadian troops ended combat operations in Kandahar this week and turned over command to US forces. Today CBC Radio hosted a public discussion asking Canadians, “Canada’s combat role in Afghanistan, was it worth it? Have five years of blood, sweat and sacrifice made an important difference?”

As a member of the Canadian Forces, I’m not at liberty to share my personal opinion in response to this question. I can, however, share some of my stories and I have and will continue to do that when the opportunity arises. My 8 ‘short’ months in the country, living within some of the smallest villages of Kandahar Province were ones that I will never forget and, in some ways, changed my life forever. The first couple of callers on CBC radio expressed the opinions of how they think that our time in a combat role in Afghanistan was useless and that the lives lost there were lost in vain. Listening to these people speak made me very sad and turned my thoughts towards soldiers under my command who didn’t return to Canada to enjoy the pleasures of our fantastic and free country. Some soldiers from my team returned with a different lens through which to see life. He may not be fully aware of the impact that he left during his time in Afghanistan, but long after he was sent home for recovery, people from the village we operated in and soldiers from the Afghan National Army working with us continued to ask about their friend ‘B’. Many Afghans thanked us for the security that we provided while there. Of course there were negative experiences. What conflict doesn’t have two sides to observe?

After the first couple of callers to CBC, the majority of the people who expressed their opinions surprisingly stated that they thought that Canada’s presence as a combat force in Afghanistan WAS worth it and that soldiers from Canada fought there for a higher ideal and in an attempt to make the world a better place for all of us. After hearing so many opinions about how we should leave Afghanistan and use our money in other ways, it was quite refreshing to observe a balance of opinions.

I will say that as an advocate of education, I believe that Afghanistan (and other countries and societies including even our own for that matter) is better off with education. I do believe that change is possible and education is a tool that helps build change. It is very difficult to bring that opportunity to a country with the dynamic of conflict that Afghanistan has without being able to fight to get it there. Some food for thought.


  1. Maxine Appleton (Nielsen) says:

    I am very proud to say that I personaly know Ashley collette. Hi my name is Maxine, I’m B’s wife, I met her a couple yrs ago at an army function in Petawawa.
    We embraced with a warm hug and I knew she would be a friend for life!

    Like B she cares about her troops, she is a very caring woman who has been there for both B and I, Thank you for that Ashley!

    We all know that life can be short and taken away with no warning, it almost happened to Bjarne in many stages, he almost died many times before He arrived in Germany and while in Germany.
    On July 1st 2010 I made a U turn at the speed of lightening and took this road with potholes, blizzards, black ice, people trying to cut me off left right and centre and many beautiful smooth winding country roads with a picture perfect view!

    I am a very strong woman, and that is only because of who I let influence me, and Ashley is one of the many women who was kind enough to share how proud they are of me for my strength in caring for B and my family. We all need encouragement through life, we need to be reasured that we’re on the right road in life.

    Keep up the good work Ashley, you’re on the right road and I’m very proud of you! Max 🙂


  2. Bjarne Nielsen says:

    I’m the “B” that was mentioned in this posted blog. Yes it is unfortunate the cost of doing the business that WE the Canadian forces, and WE Canadians have had to pay over the duration of this mission. I had the distinct pleasure to serve under the keen leadership of Ashley and her right hand man, the platoon Warrant Officer.

    Just to keep this story short, and to provide a bit of insight, I was injured. I was leading a sweeping foot patrol when I encountered an IED (improvised explosive device) which took my left leg and really messed up my left arm and body. And to top it off, it happened on my favorite day of the year, Canada day at close to 7am, local time in Afghanistan. I’m a survivor though. I’ve been inspired by some who share similar fates and by the memory of those we lost. Here I am, a year later still surviving, correction, living, blessed with the opportunity to get a second chance on living life and enjoying the comforts that we take for granted, especially my beautiful Wife and Daughter. I cherish them so.

    I get a lot of questions from people, including journalists from the Ottawa citizen and the National post. “How do you feel about Canadians withdrawing from Afghanistan?” and “Would you ever go back?” The first is a little more difficult to answer than the latter only because I’m still involved with the forces, and I’m not a politician. The second though is easy. Absolutely! And, here’s why. I had the unique opportunity to reach out and touch those same small communities that were mentioned in Ashley’s blog. We can’t expect ‘change’ to happen overnight. It would be naive and impossible to free those who are living, caught between the Taliban and the coalition within one generation’s time. They have to be able to do it on their own. With the right influences, and mentorship I have no doubt that one day they (the Afghan people) will live in prosperity and be able to move forward without the fear of retribution for educating themselves or reprisal for contacting an outside source for positive feedback on their own economical development.

    I give a lot of kudos to those people. They are some of the hardest working people I’ve seen and met. Slinging mud and dirt over hundreds of generations in order to maintain the precious little bit of what they have. Working hard this year, in order to preserve and secure the fruits of their laboring in the years to come.

    So, I will say it again. I would go back. Especially under this woman’s courage, leadership and respect for the people who live there. And I know everyone we worked with, in our platoon, would agree. Its not about pushing our ‘ways’ onto them, its about giving the Afghan people the opportunity to make educated decisions that fulfills the needs of the people as a whole. To offer the smallest of villages to be rid of the fears that come from Taliban threats, and the fears of whether or not the grape or wheat fields I’m working have any IEDs. But, it will take generations of people to remember which way worked better. Bombing, killing, threatening their own people. Or, Outsiders that sacrificed their lives on an idea, a hope to bring stability, economic and independent growth, and fresh clean water to the corrupt and deprived villages in the war torn country of Afghanistan.


  3. Angie says:

    Here I am…the mother of the Ashley lady. Hi Honey, I love you and thanks for sharing. I feel a bit awkward even leaving a post here after reading the stories being told by those whose bravery and commitment far out shines my own. I can’t even begin to tell you all, in all your different roles, how proud and humbled I am to hear of your personal accomplishments and the ground that was gained over the last year of your lives. Ash would share small things with me while over yonder, but more than the words was the tone of voice in such a few words. A sigh or a giggle or a “gutta go!” What matters to her, matters to me and I want you to know Maxine and Bjarne, that you were and are thought of and prayed for so very much. Right in our little corner here in Nova Scotia. If I could salute I would! Ash you are such an inspiration to me personally! Amazing! An old dog CAN learn new tricks after all! I’ve had to get in a little better shape to do them, that’s all! Ha! You will never know how much it means to me to have had the opportunity to watch you grow over the years, not just as a child growing up, and trust me, that had it’s hysterical moments and…well…”heart in my throat” intense moments, :o) but as a kind caring young women, making your way in a world of change, pain and joy, developing such strong, capable, leadership qualities in a world I will know very little about. Only what you tell me. So thanks for your blog. Thanks to all the Canadian Forces who have and will continue to protect me…the mother of two beautiful young women of courage.


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