Even if everyone was working hard to clean the rest of the new camp, we needed a week to finish the job. Those who were living in the burned tents could temporarily move to a building not too far from the canteen. While we were removing the debris, we found melted rifles, half-burned wallets with pictures of the guys’ family and the rest of their personal equipment.
Personally, I wasn’t far to forget the whole operation thanks to the conflagration, but things were going on outside. Central Africa didn’t become the safest place since we arrived.
A couple of days after the “campfire” we got a said news. A patrol stopped a car in the Bouar region and found the body of Camille Lepage, a French photo journalist working in Central Africa. I was on guard at the main gates when a patrol brought her body back to Bangui. This event reminded me that we still had two months left from the mission and I should stay vigilant until the last day.
A tactical mistake
It wasn’t the first nor the last time that we got a last minute order. The only problem was that my high school mentality didn’t completely switch to a soldier’s mind set and I made an easily avoidable mistake.
In the FOB in Bangui as later in Gao, we had a day when we could have our cloths washed in the laundry. If someone wanted to use this service, he only had to put his stuff in a basket and go back for the clean cloths in the afternoon before 4pm. I was too lazy, so I decided to bring my stuff back the next morning after breakfast. The only problem was that we got our new orders around 4.30pm that we’re moving to Bouar the next day. From a second to an other, I found myself without socks and underwear, because the laundry closed at 4pm. I rushed there to see if I can get somehow my cloths back when I saw my bag just next to the windows.
As I had 80% of my cloths in that bag, I decided to steal them through the half-opened window. I found a pole next to the laundry and I tried to lift and push the bag near to a hole I could pull it easier out. When I almost reached my goal, an African guy working in the laundry passed by and started to shout at me.
Major de camp
Five minutes later, I was already in the office of the “Major de camp”. The guy (usually a high ranked non-commissioned officer) was fortunately cool, but pretty upset. He didn’t understand the situation and wanted to know why I was stealing a bag of cloths from the laundry. I felt pretty stupid when I explained him that it was my stuff and I needed because we were about to leave the next morning.
The major explained me that his job is to ensure the best environment possible to everyone in the FOB. Even if he isn’t supposed to directly combat the militias outside, he has to support the troops the best he can, 24/24.
When I went back to the tents I arrived 10 minutes before the mission brief’, so I had enough time to report to the platoon sergeant that I had a small incident in the laundry. I knew that he won’t care, but it’s better if a chief hears the story before someone else tells him.
The new situation in the country required new solutions, so our platoon was divided in 3 parts. I made part of the team going to Bouar where the journalist was killed.
The next day at 4am I’ve already done the radio check and was waiting for the rest of the two squads. I don’t know why, but I felt tired as never before. I couldn’t imagine how I’m going to be able to drive during the whole day, but around 9pm we reached our destination. We were at the end of may and had a bit less than 2 months left from Operation Sangaris.