Lessons Learned from Afghan Experience

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Constable Tracey Flumian saw the generosity and bravery of the people of Afghanistan first hand as a mentor and advisor to police officers.

The Afghan people she encountered during her time in Herat, civilians and police officers alike, welcomed her with open arms during her year-long posting as part of a Royal Canadian Mounted Police-led peace operation.

“One day I went into the office and came across the only female Afghan police officer in the unit,” recalled Flumian. “She handed me a small bag that contained an old hair barrette. Through our interpreter, she said she had it since she was a little girl and she wanted me to have it for being so brave in coming to Afghanistan to help them out. I looked at her, smiled and told her she was the brave one to be a policewoman in her country.”

Flumian said she will never forget her experience serving in Afghanistan.

“It has changed me in so many ways,” she said. “It has made me appreciate what we as Canadians have and what we take for granted, like our freedom. The men and women in Afghanistan have to look over their shoulders every day and worry about whether they will make it home to their families. The people I worked with have a wonderful attitude. They go to work every day with smiles on their faces and they work extremely hard to make even a small change or impact in their country.”

Flumian was among five Toronto and two Ontario Provincial Police officers greeted by friends and family at Pearson International Airport on March 14, after serving with a Royal Canadian Mounted Police operation to train the Afghanistan National Police.

Jaime and Bryce Hilton were elated to have their dad, Detective Tyrone Hilton, home.

After hugging him, the kids received a big surprise.

Chief Bill Blair, who was on hand with other Service members to welcome the returning officers, presented the brother and sister with medals that the Australian Police officers assigned in Afghanistan awarded to the children of serving members from other Commonwealth countries.

“This is great,” said little Bryce Hilton. “We love it.”

Assigned to the Drug Squad before the overseas assignment, Hilton has been with the Service for 16 years.

“It was sad leaving Afghanistan because we did some good work over there and formed some sound relationships with our international partners and our Afghan counterparts,” said Hilton, who was based in Herat advising the head of the Afghan Intelligence Unit. “It would have been nice to continue. On the other hand, it’s good to be back home with my family and to be able to return to work in the city where I was born and raised.”

Hilton worked alongside veteran Constable Mike Byers, who was in charge of Project Phoenix, a 16-month standardized transition plan implemented by the European Union Police Mission in Afghanistan to support civilian and community policing strategies in 16 police districts.

“We were attacked several times on our base with rockets and gunfire,” said Byers, who spent nine months in East Timor, just over a decade ago, as part of a United Nations mission. “We were embedded in a military base, so we did not have the luxury of going out into the community and mingling a lot with the people.”

Byers, who investigated a police-related homicide for the first three months before being assigned to help the military set up an investigative unit during his stint in East Timor, said the Afghan police have come a long way since Canada became involved in the program five years ago.

“They still need some help, but they embraced community policing in a short period of time and they have a dedication and passion to make it happen,” he said. “They want peace and stability in their country.”

Assigned to 22 and 23 Divisions, Traffic, Homicide, Hold Up and the Public Order units during his 35 years with the Service, Byers returned home twice last year to visit his family and spent Christmas with his wife, Annette, in Germany.

“Going to Afghanistan was something he wanted to do and I fully supported him,” she said. “He’s very passionate about assisting people and he saw this as an opportunity to help make a difference.”

Annette Byers said she was surprised by her husband’s visit last November.

“I was expecting him in August, but not again until we met in Christmas,” she said. “Sergeant Phillip Glavin, who was our support person while Mike was in Afghanistan, came over for dinner as was expected, and the next thing I knew there was a knock on the door and there was my husband. It was quite a thrill for the family.”

Two men in TPS uniform with two children holding medals
Chief Bill Blair with Detective Tyrone Hilton and his children Bryce and Jaime Photo: Ron Fanfair

Superintendent Diane Miller and Staff Sergeant Kim O’Toole also returned after serving nine months as part of the International Policing Operations mission.

“It was quite the experience being in a new environment and being able to affect lives positively,” said Miller, the Service’s highest-ranking officer to be selected for an overseas peacekeeping mission. “It’s something I will cherish for the rest of my life.”

Miller received a major field promotion wile serving in Afghanistan.

She was elevated to the rank of Chief Superintendent with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police during her secondment to the RCMP International Peace Operations Branch mission. She also attended a roundtable in Afghanistan late last year, hosted by the U.S. State Department to provide key stakeholders from the international community with a forum for briefings and discussions about police development efforts in Afghanistan.

A few police officers who had previously served in Afghanistan were at the airport to welcome their colleagues, who are among the last police officers to serve in Afghanistan after the Canadian police operation and military mission ends.

“It’s the end of an era as far as Canadian police officers serving in Afghanistan and I was fortunate to be part of that,” said Detective Sergeant Steve Pattison, who served in Kabul three years ago.

“In addition to enhancing my skills, I forged valuable partnerships and touched lives. Even though the Afghan people’s tribal traditions are entrenched, I think we have helped them create a police service that’s sustainable.”

Constable Phillip Sinclair, of 31 Division, also served in Afghanistan three years ago.

“It was important for me to be here,” said Sinclair, who joined the Service in 2000. “I was part of that chain that has now ended and I wanted to be here to see that.”

Sinclair, who joined the military as a reservist when he was enrolled at West Toronto Collegiate, was assigned to Camp Nathan Smith in Kandahar.

“I learned a lot about myself during that assignment,” he said. “Tolerance and patience are at the top of the list. You are in a part of the world where they do things differently and you have no control. You just react and go with the flow.”

A total of 48 Toronto Police officers served in Afghanistan since 2009.

“The decision to send our people into such a dangerous theatre of war, when we were asked by the RCMP to be part of the program, was difficult,” said Chief Blair. “At the same time, we felt it was an important mission to be able to teach the Afghan people about our experiences as police officers and I know we have the very best people that were going to be part of that mission.

“We agreed to go and we are truly proud of all of our officers who have gone there and served not only in that theatre, but also in other places where conflict exists. I think we have made a very important contribution demonstrating to the world the policing values that exist here in Canada and in Toronto. I am very grateful for their work and the fact they are back home safely with us and their families who have also made a huge sacrifice.”

In March 2011, Blair spent a week in Afghanistan experiencing the environment of the mission first-hand and getting an insight into the work his officers were performing.

“It was great to actually be on the ground, seeing what our people were doing, and I want to thank all of them who served in Afghanistan for their contributions to the mission,” he added.

Seven men and women in police uniform stand in a row
Detective Tyrone Hilton, Constable Mike Byers, Staff Sergeant Kim O'Toole, Superintendent Diane Miller, Constable Tracy Flumian and OPP officers Peter Donahue and Tammy Bradley Photo: Ron Fanfair

Nearly 300 Canadian police officers served in Afghanistan in the last 11 years.

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson thanked officers from Toronto and other police agencies across the country for their service.

“Your contributions have helped build a more professional and responsive police service which supports the goal of a safer and more democratic society,” he said. “…I have personally seen the professionalism and dedication that you brought to your work in Afghanistan… Despite working in an unpredictable and restrictive environment, Canadian police officers have successfully fulfilled their training commitment by positively influencing the progress of police training in Afghanistan. Our officers have also been generous in their charitable efforts, engaging their families, friends and colleagues to support schools, orphanages and even the Kabul Special Olympics.”

Sergeant Steve Henkel, of the Marine Unit, and Constable Antoinette Rowe, of Traffic Services, are the only Toronto Police officers serving overseas. They are in Haiti.

Sergeant Allan Ulrich recently relieved Staff Sergeant Darryl Talbot as the Service’s International Police Operations coordinator.

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