Afghan trip reality check for curling scribe

JIM BENDER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:47 AM ET

LETHBRIDGE, Alta. -- Bill Graveland was being driven into the country when the vehicle was suddenly stopped.

"All these men dressed in uniforms wearing masks and shooting guns stop you," the Canadian Press/Broadcast News reporter recalled yesterday.

"They throw you face down and rough you up. Then they put a hood over your head, tie your hands and march you through the woods for 45 minutes. Then they do a mock execution.

"You hear a click beside your head, then they take the mask off and they are videotaping you. It was like, 'Welcome to training.'

"I was hyperventilating for the first 10 minutes. You can't breathe and your adrenaline is pumping. It was rougher than the trip to Afghanistan, actually."

That was the introduction to boot camp, held in West Virginia for Graveland -- who's better known for covering curling, other sports and news in Canada -- to prepare for his first trip to Afghanistan. He's the first curling reporter to be so assigned.

"That is something that I am so proud of," said Graveland, 46.

The camp also taught him first-aid in the field, how to look for land mines, about different kinds of weapons and what to do when a mortar is falling.

"It was going to be exciting, like being a war correspondent," said the Calgary-based reporter, who is divorced but has a 17-year-old daughter, Rory. "It was kind of like a dream come true."

But a scary dream. Graveland narrowly avoided a suicide bombing and got caught in a firefight.

HUGE EXPLOSION

The suicide bomber just blew himself up and Graveland took pictures of dead body parts all across the road. But he had to be careful because there were still four unexploded grenades on the body.

Graveland had a closer call while on foot patrol 70-80 km west of Kandahar.

"All of a sudden, there was a huge explosion and we were in the middle of a 45-minute firefight with the Taliban," he said.

"They're firing back and there were explosions going around. I'm doing the video and I'm thinking, 'My God, I can't believe this is happening. This is unbelievable.'

"You don't actually think anything's going to happen to you. If I had gotten hit, I would have had a whole different view of the matter. It was a very amazing experience and the soldiers were basically high-fiving each other afterward."

He had a different reaction.

"Later that evening, I kind of got the shakes," admitted Graveland, who called both his mother and his daughter to assure them he was OK.

But it wasn't all bullets and mortar.

"There were a lot of good things happening over there," assured Graveland, adding the soldiers were terrific. "It wasn't just people getting killed or people getting shot at. There was a lot of heart-warming stuff."

Although Graveland is returning in October, he is not sure Canadian troops should be there.

"I, like most Canadians, do not like to see Canadian soldiers dying," he said. "Now that they've made the commitment, they don't have any choice because the Afghan government gets almost panic-stricken with the idea that Canada might pull out."


Videos

Photos