Somalia Medal The Canadian Airborne Regiment in Somalia
A Soldier's Journals
Tuesday, September 28, 2021  

Somalia '93


First Patrols into Town

2 January 93

Sgt Veary, Bruce and I went on a small patrol into Beled Weyne at 18:30 last night just after last light. On the outskirts of town are the refugee camps. Starving mothers sleeping in the dirt with their emaciated babies. Rotting carcasses and skeletons of dead livestock everywhere. The smell of death, filth and despair choke you. How can I explain it? It is too unreal. Your mind shuts down and you try and deny it, but you can't because the images haunt you.

Many of the guys deal with it by dehumanizing the people, treating them like animals or savages. I cannot do that. I see them as people with hopes, dreams and feelings, but it hurts too much to care.

Once you hit the actual town it is like some twisted post-apocalyptic vision from a Mad Max film. Families living in the rubble of destroyed buildings, cannibalized vehicles and machinery are everywhere. The darkness is penetrated only by the few oil lamps, the light flickering and dancing. We move silently through the shadows, our weapons and attention chasing after every movement. Our eyes and ears probe into the dark shadows, searching for movement, for danger. Machine gun fire rings out in the distance. We pause for a moment to listen, judging the direction and distance. We move off again, gunfire has become such a common occurance it is nothing to worry greatly about.

Heading down towards the river and the greener part of town, things improve. This is the shadow of what once was. Green trees and a semblance of order. The smell of decay is absent, at one point I even smelled flowers, roses maybe. Just past this better part of town is the graveyard. No markers, just countless graves. We pass an old man in the street. He nods, waves and wishes us a good night in Somali, "xagee wanaqsan." He smiles, thankful for the measure of peace and security we have brought to his family.

The night before, patrols in town found a weapons cache, got shot at, and captured some weapons. Today we found some stolen aid and the bandits tried to hijack another aid shipment.

The constant begging by the kids is starting to wear thin on my nerves, thank god we will be away from here soon. One of the kids parents brought me a rubber hose to beat the children if they bother us. I won't use it, but the threat of it usually scares them away.

3 January 96

Patrols were canceled last night. We got up at 3:30, packed up quickly and headed out. The main street in town, across the bridge, was eery, like a dream. It is like nothing I have ever seen before. Shops and restaurants lined the street, small white buildings with a name painted on them. Against the buildings, refugees have built small shelters, not five feet across. Some are nothing more than a boundary laid out with sticks, the family sleeping in the street.

We walked 6 km’s to a new camp on the outskirts of the next town. My ruck was oppressively heavy, too heavy with the C6. We spent the rest of the morning clearing brush for tents and digging in. At about noon, we crawled into our new holes to get away from the heat of the day.

4 January 93

At eleven this morning, they decided to move back to the airstrip until the ships arrive and we get our vehicles. We tore down camp and sat waiting in the afternoon sun for a ride back to the airstrip.

The town was alive with activity as we drove back through it in a beat up old blue Somali truck. Street side vendors and the stores sold everything imaginable. If it wasn't for the refugees, bombed out buildings and the slums, you would never know there was a war going on and the famine was killing thousands.

Everything here is so varied and different, each time you look around you get a different impression. The people are so terribly poor, their economy is in ruin, yet they continue to struggle for life. They recycle and sell whatever they can find. Bundles of sticks are sold in town for firewood. Old vehicles are stripped completely and all of the parts are reused. The rubble from one destroyed building is used to build another.

Back at the airstrip, we moved back into our old trenches and settled down for the night. In our absence, the Somalis have come and taken everything we left behind. They even dug up our burned garbage pits and latrines in their search. It is terrible what desperation and poverty will drive a person too.

What amazes me is the differences between Somalis and their lack of respect for human life. Many of the Somalis are well dressed and fairly clean, while many others are dressed in rags if anything at all. The 'well off' Somalis treat the cripples, the orphans and the 'poor' with contempt. There is probably enough food in the city for everyone without the aid, but they still loot and steal instead of helping one another. The well to do Somalis are making money off of the refugees' misery and our relief operations.

Can I condemn them though with all the poor and homeless in our own country? How munch do we do for them? This is also probably partially our fault. What else would you expect after a legacy of colonial oppression and corruption?

Others blame them for being backward, ignorant and stuck in their ways. But can you blame them? Living at or below the sustenance level, concerned only about obtaining water or food, how can they be different?

It worries me how all this will affect me afterwards. A great deal will depend on what we manage to accomplish here and what good I can do. I still think that these images will haunt me for many years. I can never be the same.

Tonight a small frail boy came and sat near my trench. He was so thin and weak it hurt just to look at him. On one of his wrists, he had a Red Cross or CARE number bracelet. I motioned for him to stay and chased the rest of the kids away with my pistol - the only thing they understand.

Once everyone else was gone I gave him some bread and a bottle of water. It was all he could do just to hold it, he was so weak. He smiled and walked away with me watching over him should one of the little buggers from town return and steal it from him. When he disappeared from view, I continued to watch on, worried. He is so small, frail and weak that there is no way he could even protest if someone tried to take it from him.

The other kids are back begging for everything and the sounds of their voices makes me sick. I am tempted to shoot one so they will go away. These kids who beg don't need food or water, but they beg anyway then go downtown to sell whatever they get. Meanwhile, those who do need watch on from a distance, too weak to ask for help. These kids surrounding me are all well dressed, well fed and have money in their pockets. I am beginning to despise them.

5 January 93

Today has been nice and cool (35o C) because of a fairly continuous cloud cover.

This afternoon, a cripple came up to me and presented a letter stating that he could not work because of his disability and asked us if we could help him by recommending him to the aid agencies in town who had already turned him away. I took the letter to the platoon commander who replied "No" as expected, but I found that I could not fully explain why to him in his language. With the help of another Somali, I explained to him that it was not within our mandate, that we are only here to provide a measure of security. With reluctance I sent him away. I wish I could do more, but in my position my hands are tied.

Afterwards, my translator split a mango with me, much to Sgt Veary’s dismay. Not wishing to insult my new friend, I took it and ate it. It was good, if not a bit rich.

Tonight we are pulling another patrol into town, only now it is more a ‘hearts and minds’ mission with me as a partial emissary. If that is how it turns out...

The U.S. are dropping pamphlets on the town. Today's states our purpose of providing security to the aid shipments and warns the people not to ‘oppose our might.’

I bought an old tattered Somali/English dictionary for five dollars American tonight. It is highly overpriced, but I really wanted it. I still feel bad though because he was reluctant to sell it. I feel as if I have stolen his dreams of a better life for a few morsels of food.

Tpr Jacob lost it today. He couldn't handle the pressure anymore and snapped. All I know so far is that they took away his ammo and took him to CS 0 for 48 hours to assess his situation.

6 January 93

Our patrol last night was uneventful, although 1 Cdo found a weapons cache. Everything is happening on the east side of town while our AOR is usually quiet. All we managed to do was search one car.

The deaf guy was back today and brought me a notebook. I would like to try and find something for him to read, but can’t. The thin, frail boy was by again today, his name is Mohammed.

An American Herc has been dropping more psy-op pamphlets over the village all afternoon. These ones say that weapons will not be tolerated in Beled Weyne and asks the people to turn them in.

Last night during our patrol, some civilians complained that soldiers had busted into a house and confiscated six guns. Then in our O group today we were told that six weapons were turned over to 1 Cdo. Everything came to a head when some men came to our position saying that soldiers had kicked in their door and confiscated their weapons telling them that they would be returned to them the next day. They were angry and wanted their weapons back because they are the security guards for the Red Cross. They were sent to see the OC of 1 Cdo and that is the last I heard about it.

It has been cloudy for a couple of days now and this evening it even rained. It was only a sprinkle, not enough to even mention, but quite an event around here.

7 January 93

There is more shooting going on now, the crack of rounds flying past your head is becoming commonplace. The locals are beginning to get restless.

It is unbearably hot here. Every day is 55°C (132°F) in the shade. It is always 55° because that is as high as our thermometers go. The ration of a few litres of warm water we get every day is barely enough. Our cloths are stained with the salt of our sweat mixed with the red dust of the desert. We spend as much of the day as possible under cover, moving as little as possible. Only in the evening do we emerge from our holes, safe from the blistering heat of the sun.

8 January 93

I seem to be coming down with a cold or the flu. I just hope it is nothing worse, being in contact with so many infectious diseases and always talking with the locals. If I'm still feeling sick tomorrow, I'll talk to a medic.

I haven't been sleeping well lately. I am plagued by violent disturbing dreams and wake countless times during the night. They are never nightmares, just strange dreams filled with strong conflicting and unusual emotions. I think I am becoming calloused to the things I am seeing around me. It worries me.

I haven’t seen Ifraa since we moved out to the new position and back, I hope she’s okay.

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