FOB Doc was not what I expected. I expected a diary filled with medical terms and situations but what I got was much, much more.
Dr. Ray Wiss, an emergency medicine specialist at Sudbury General Hospital, re-enlisted in the Canadian Forces with the intention of helping support the Canadian mission to Afghanistan. He served overseas with Task Force Afghanistan from November 2007 to February 2008. During his time in Afghanistan, he kept his family informed of what he experienced by mailing diary entries to them. This writing helped keep him busy and was also beneficial to his family and friends. When his hometown newspaper wanted to publish part of his diary, he sought the approval of the CF. It was felt that the diary could benefit a wider audience and eventually Wiss found a publisher willing to take his book. Any profits made through the book's sale go to the Military Families Fund.
This is a book that focuses on many aspects of the Canadian mission to Afghanistan rather than on the medical trauma a medical specialist might encounter in the Middle East. Dr. Wiss is totally committed to the Canadian presence in the country and I found his candor a refreshing contrast to the offerings of Canadian mainstream media. He discusses how the Western media is very focused on the body count rather than the major accomplishments Canadian forces have achieved over the years. He writes:
"I mentioned that the media play a lot of attention to us whenever a Canadian is killed. I am conflicted about this. On the one hand, I wan the sacrifice of our fallen to be recognized. On the other, I wish they would do a better job of placing our losses in context. For the media to place so much emphasis on the death and not on the conflict in which it occurred does a real disservice to the Canadian population. This is a war we're involved in. There are going to be casualties. They should be honoured, but they should not be the whole story.Wiss also discusses combat psychiatry and how the modern Canadian army treats soldiers suffering combat stress reaction. There are entries about how Wiss and CF members react and cope with the constant threat of IED's, the stress of being away from home and army protocol. Wiss's writing is direct and passionate at times.
I am most bothered by the way the media make a point of keeping a running total of our deaths but not of our successes.....Why do we almost never hear the statistic that makes those deaths worthwhile: under the Taliban, there were 600,000 students of all kinds (primary, secondary and university) in the country, 2 per cent of them female. Now, there are six million, 20 percent of them female. And why are Taliban atrocities, which routinely kill dozens of civilians, never given more than a passing reference?"
There are number of interesting features of this book besides the diary itself. First all the members of who died in action during Wiss' time in Afghanistan are remembered and honoured in a photo gallery which is at the end of the book. Many of the faces will be familiar to Canadian readers. This was a very gallant gesture on the part of Wiss and a very necessary one. It put a face on those who gave their lives to help make life better for Afghanistani's.
Secondly, there are lots of relevant colour pictures throughout the book which help to place the diary entries in their proper context including shots of ramp ceremonies, mine-clearing vehicles, living quarters, FOB's and even the local Tim Horton's.
Check out the limited preview from Google books:
The following links may also be useful:
Publisher profile of Dr. Ray Wiss
Sudbury Northern Life article
National Review of Medicine 2008 article
Serialized version from the Sudbury Star
FOB DOC A Doctor on the Front Lines in Afghanistan. A war diary. by Captain Ray Wiss, M.D.
Douglas & McIntyre Publishers Inc. 2008