Coming back from Afghanistan


After returning home, Karen Holowaychuk shares her experiences overseas

Martin Weaver

Most people wouldn’t dare travel to a war zone. But, for RCMP Corporal Karen Holowaychuk it was a dream come true. “It was something that I’ve always wanted to do, a UN peacekeeping mission.”

Holowaychuck was at the RCMP Heritage centre on Saturday, Feb. 19, to talk about her recent time spent in Afghanistan. She spent 9 months, from May 2010 until December 2010, helping train the Afghan National Police.

During the hour-long presentation she talked about her mission, the everyday struggles women police officers face in that country, and showed pictures from her deployment.

Holowaychuk explained to the crowd what her role in Afghanistan was. “The ultimate goal was to bring the Afghan National Police to more community policing rather than the soldiers they used to be.”

Overseas, her role was to lead groups of trainees. She taught them basic policing skills as well as personal safety. She explained that, regardless of where she was, the male trainees respected her. She really enjoyed working with the women to help them fight the barriers they faced.

“The female officers are very sheltered when it comes to who they are and what they are doing” said Holowaychuk. “They don’t advertise who they are when they leave their homes.” She added the women must also go to a location other than police headquarters before changing into their uniforms.

The dangers she and her students faced were very real. “You could hear the explosions going off in the background at night. You would hear them, you would feel them, and you would look into the sky and see traces of rounds going everywhere. You knew you were in a war zone.”

She even felt tragedy first hand.

“Unfortunately one of those students was killed at the end of August. Some reports say it was insurgents.”

As the presentation went on, images from overseas helped bring her story to life for the crowd of 20, who stayed glued to their seats.

They showed the devastation caused by the war. But some also told a different story of Afghanistan, a side many in the audience haven‘t seen before.

“I told the guys to stop because I had to take a picture of this,” Holowaychuk said, pointing to an image of the local KFC – Kabul Fried Chicken. Later on in the slideshow, a picture of a ruined temple with beautiful mountains in the background appeared.
“Imagine how nice this would have looked in the ’80s before the war started.”

Other images showed the work being done by the Canadian military.

“That’s what we do, we help rebuild and we really are the best at it,” Holowaychuk told the audience.

Holowaychuk was surprised to see the reaction from local Afghans with regard to the Canadians’ presence. “They really liked us. The Afghan people really liked Canadians. They appreciated what we were doing as far as helping them. They knew that we weren’t trying to change them and make them westernized. They knew our hearts were into helping them be better at what they do.”

Many in the audience left with a changed perspective about Afghanistan and the work being done.

Holowaychuk also had a changed perspective when she got back to Canada.

“You get a better appreciation of everything. And to come back to depot – my approach with the cadets is a little different.”

While this was a once in a lifetime experience, Holowaychuk is hesitant when asked about another opportunity to go.

“Would I go back to Afghanistan? No, too dangerous. It was a good experience, but for nine months being in a closed confined area, it was tough.”

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