A Barber in Afghanistan.


In 2004, Laura and Roy Harten, and their four young children were living in Southern Ontario, near Barrie. Through Roy’s work with Bell Canada, the family had transferred there earlier from Sault Ste. Marie. Military life was part of their lives and as a young person, Laura (nee Radford) was part of Royal Sovereign Sea Cadets. Roy Harten is a Captain with the 155 Air Cadet Squadron and past Commanding Officer of the 2310 Army Cadets (2005 to 2008). Roy is currently an instructor with the 155 Borden Grey (GC) Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron. (Sault Armories) Laura’s father Russ Radford was a WW II RCN veteran of the Battle of Atlantic who took part in many convoys that were supplying Britain during the war. Laura’s mother Audrey is a war bride who meet Russ at a USO dance while Russ’s ship was in New York being resupplied for another convoy escort.

Laura is a trained Barber by profession, and while living in southern Ontario, she began working as a barber at CFB Borden. Canadian Forces Base Borden (CFB Borden) is located approximately 100 kilometres north of Toronto, in the heart of Simcoe County. While performing the tools of her trade, Laura learned of an opportunity to serve as part of a civilian corps in Afghanistan with The Canadian Forces in Kabul. After consulting with her husband and family, in 2004, Laura began a military vetting process that would include several interviews and a wide range of testing, training leading ultimately to deployment to Camp Julien.

(CFPSA) Canadian Forces Personnel Support Agency is the umbrella, under which Laura Harten was hired on contract to work on the base in Kabul, Afghanistan.

From CFB Borden, Laura went to St Jean, Quebec (Leadership & Recruitment School) a military recruitment base where she spent two weeks in intensive training. “We did mind awareness training, gas hut training where we would learn how to put all the gear on, emergency drills, military class room activities, psychological training, and team building. We needed to see how well we could get along with other people, especially considering we would be in a tent with 6 other people.” Laura successfully completed training at St. Jean Quebec. “About one week after that training was finished, I got a phone call, and things moved pretty quickly from there.”

Things certainly did move quickly for Laura and her family. The training was finished towards the beginning of December 2004. By January 3rd, 2005, she was on her way to Afghanistan, after accepting a contract to go and serve as a civilian barber with the Canadian Forces stationed in Kabul. At about the same time Laura learned she was heading to Afghanistan, her husband Roy found out that Bell Canada was transferring the family back to Sault Ste. Marie. “We always had intention to move back to the Sault. When the transfer came through (Bell Canada), I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to get everything packed and ‘in order’ with the house. Roy just took over and said “Laura, don’t worry about anything”.
Laura was in the company of approximately 22 recruits who were heading to serve as part of a civilian team with the Canadian Forces in Kabul, Afghanistan.

The time difference between Kabul and Sault Ste. Marie is 10 hours. Laura wanted to place a call to her family at Easter, so that required some simple math and a late night stroll to the telephone on the base.

20151110_164900“Kabul is 10 hours ahead, so I got up at 2:30 am on Easter Monday, so that I could call my family Easter Sunday at 4:30. I set my alarm and got up in the wee hours of the morning, put on my coat and I.D. badge, and walked out to the end of the tent line. By the time I got to the road (on the base), heading to where the telephone was, the force protection guys were there in the jeep, wondering what I was doing out at this hour. They use infrared binoculars and were really quick getting over to me. They were wondering who was out strolling at that hour. That made me feel really safe, because I knew I was in good hands with the Canadian Forces. There were rocket attacks in Kabul, but not as many as in Kandahar.” During her deployment to Camp Julien she volunteered twice to go to another location outside the confines of the base called TV Hill where other Canadian Armed Forces personnel were stationed and in need of a haircut, which required being transported by armoured convoy through down town Kabul.

20151110_162750Reflecting on everyday life in Kabul, Laura shared “CFPSA would organize social events. I cut hair 6 1/2 days a week. I had my own barber chair, and area that I made my own.” she said. Laura cut hair for Canadian Forces Members, Canadian Civilians and other NATO soldiers. “When we were out and about, to go shopping at the market, we would wear a flack vest. Arriving on January 8th, Afghanistan was very cold. It was minus 18. The cold temperatures lasted until March. When we had to leave the tent in the middle of the night to go to the latrines, it was sort of a mad dash. By the time I left in June, 2005, it had really warmed up there, with temperatures around 32 or 33 degrees.”

20151110_161948“We always stayed inside the razor wire. Sometimes, we’d ( fellow civilian workers) walk the perimeter which was about 2 kms. There were always guards up in the towers for protection. I never felt confined or unsafe. The food was fabulous. It was all Canadian cooks, 3 pastry chefs, homemade soup. Lots of baking. I miss having someone cook for me, do my dishes, do my laundry. Which was always returned neat and folded. Being the mother of four kids, I always thought i might die in a load of laundry” Laura said with humour. “The only thing that needed work was the coffee. I said to my husband, ‘When you pick me up at the airport, could you please have a Tim Horton’s coffee with you.’ When I left Afghanistan, I came to the Sault. Roy did everything to move us back here from Barrie while I was away. He is really quite remarkable.”

It does take a certain person (and a supportive spouse and family) to sign up for civilian duty in a combat zone. Laura Harten is a fierce female who felt duty bound to provide her particular set of skills to canadian men and NATO forces on the base, serving in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Today, Laura brings 30 years of experience as a barber to Wizards Cuts on Wellington St. West (at Conmee) in Plaza 624. Laura has her own space there, affectionately dubbed ‘The Barber Corner’. On her table, with the shaving lotions, brushes and razors, is one of Laura’s favourite photographs of her time in Kabul.

Shave and a hair cut. 2 bits. (well, not quite 2 bits).

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