The Commander - In Chad

Comdt David Foley  - OC APC Company 98 Infantry Battalion (Chad)

Commandant David Foley - OC APC Company 98th Inf Battalion (Chad)
Comdt David Foley - OC APC Company 98th Inf Battalion (Chad)

If you could sum up your mission in Chad in one word what would it be?

Patrolling. To me that is what this trip was mainly about. You guys got out with us for a night to get a taste of it for yourselves and I‘m sure from even that short time that you can appreciate how challenging and difficult a job it has been. Although ‘patrolling’ would be a good word to sum up the mission, an equally good word to sum up our time in Chad would be ‘dust’… a lot of dust.

Your company seems to operate as one team and everyone seems to get on well, is that the case?

Some days yes and some days no; we’ve had good days and bad days. Patrolling was definitely the best part of the trip and unfortunately, in my opinion, we didn’t get to do enough patrolling, didn’t get to go out for long enough or far enough. As for being a team I suppose we were. I think the key to that is that those in management, or leadership, positions didn’t see themselves only as ‘commanders’, we were all pulling together. When you share 10 hours a day in a Mowag with other people and the remaining 14 hours with them in a patrol harbour you all share the same experience, regardless of your rank or position.

As regards soldiering, do you think new skills and new lessons were learned on this mission?

I think existing skills were refined, more so than new ones learned. For example, we used sniper teams in Ops - even though I know there was some fear or trepidation about doing so - which is exactly what snipers are trained to do. We put it into practice and the lads involved really enjoyed putting their skills into operation. I was fortunate in that I had 59 first-timers in the company and the majority of those had only passed-out in the last 12 months. So for them the kind of things they were doing was in effect putting into practice much of what they had learned in training and that was good for them too. As for the NCOs and officers, it was a steep learning curve for many of them. Going back to my earlier point, operating together in a confined area such as a Mowag, or even Camp Ciara where everyone lives fairly much on top of one another, means you have to get on. For myself, I think it taught me a lot about the often-quoted ‘loneliness of command’. You have to be able to make the tough decisions that your NCOs and privates don’t like but still be able to sit down with them for dinner at night. There’s great learning in that. 

The Commander giving the Patrol Briefing
The Commander giving the Patrol Briefing

Was it difficult to maintain the high levels of training throughout the trip that we have seen while we were here?

It was, but whenever we had to go out on a task, whether it was a VIP escort or a long-range patrol, we realised there was always a risk out there. That risk helped to keep our training sharp. Also, the reason for training is very important to keep it relevant. For example, the training you guys participated in with us last Saturday wasn't just training for training's sake, it was to focus the mind on the job in hand. That was also why we went to the range on Sunday morning: so that when people were sitting in the APCs and the .5 or the 7.62mm were firing they were thinking, ‘This is for real, this is pretty serious stuff.’ Training is always important. As I said at the orders the other night you've got to drive out that gate not wanting a contact but ready for a contact. You said in your briefing to us that Eastern Chad is not a nice place.

Would you consider coming back again or coming back in a different role?

For a variety of reasons I would not plan on coming back to Chad and I certainly wouldn't see myself coming back in another role. I said to the troops in the patrol harbour at the end of one of our patrols that for me being company commander of troops on the ground doesn't get any better than this. Despite all the hardships this is as good as it gets.

Do you think after your trip here you will look on some things in a different light?

I think I'll look on a whole lot of things in a different light. I was just saying to the lads recently that when we go home we wouldn't be thinking about the recession and the depression and all the rest. Our lads, particularly the first-timers will have a far greater appreciation of the simple things in life, such as being able to access clean water by just turning on a tap, or being able to walk down the road and buy whatever they want. Conditions for the locals here in Chad are extremely harsh and life is fairly cheap. I know those are the kind of things I'll be thinking about when I get home - as you always do for a while when you come back from overseas, until it starts to fade away gradually as you start to worry about the mortgage and other mundane things. In the meantime, if anyone wants to see a Third World country and the awful problems they face, Chad is certainly one place to go.

Mowag Patrolling in Chad
‘dust’… a lot of dust.

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