he rain was pouring down, the field was soggy, and the air had a noticeable chill.
T For those parents huddled under umbrellas on the sidelines of Mission's Heritage Park, last Saturday was not a great day to watch a minor football game.
But for the father of Liam Poulton, number 49 in White, the day was perfect.
Just days earlier, Canadian Forces Capt. Chris Poulton had returned to Canada after spending 10 months in Afghanistan serving as a public affairs advisor to the Afghan National Army.
So on Saturday, as other parents avoided the rain, Poulton, 44, jubilantly paced the sidelines, soaking it all in. "It was the fresh air, the activity, the freedom to be able to go and do this kind of stuff and not have to worry about any dangers or any problems," he told the Times Tuesday. "And the rain . . . . The rain was so nice."
The game was exciting for Poulton, but it wasn't actually his first time watching his nine-year-old son play football this year.
Since August, Poulton had made it a Saturday night habit to walk over to his office late, turn on his computer and log onto the Chilliwack Giants Minor Football club's streaming video from Townsend Field.
The Giants's live video crew uses several video cameras not only to record each game, but to also beam the images live to anyone who chooses to watch over the Internet. Hundreds regularly tune into the games, but it's safe to say that over the last three months, few experienced the broadcasts quite like Poulton.
Separated by 5,000 miles of desert, ocean and forest, the broadcasts allowed a father and a son to connect over a sport in a way not otherwise possible.
When Liam scored his first-ever touchdown at the ChilliBowl in August, his father might have been a world away, but he was still able to see the big moment first hand.
(Chris actually heard the touchdown first: he was on the phone with his wife Sherrilynn as they watched the game and, because of lag issues caused by with his not-always-reliable Afghanistan internet connection, heard the cheering before he actually saw the scoring play.
"She's yelling touchdown and I'm waiting for them to snap the ball," he remembers)
"For me, that kind of proved the technology," Poulton said.
And the technology has very real emotional benefits, he added.
"It gives you that connection so now you've got something to talk about," he said. "I can be the coach and tell him how well he played and how well his other team members played."
And Liam was more than aware that he had his own cheering section in Afghanistan
"Everyone else's dad was there, for [Liam] I don't think he felt like his dad wasn't there," Sherrilynn said. "The first thing he would say was: Did dad see? Did dad see?"
The fact that Poulton could watch his nine-year-old son play football 11 time zones away shows how far technology has come recently, and how it's helping military families stay in touch.
But it still proved surprising to Poulton's American colleagues who were taken aback that a minor football club-in Canada no less-was beaming their games across the world.
One evening an American Air Force sergeant came up to Poulton and asked what he was doing.
"I'm watching my son play football," Poulton said.
"What do you mean you're watching your son play football? How old is he?"
"He's nine." "Nine?" came the incredulous response from the American.
The technology, of course, doesn't stop with football games. Sherrilynn and Chris used Skype to talk regularly, sometimes twice a day. And when Liam made a drawing for a Father's Day school project, Sherrilynn took a photo of it, emailed it to Chris, and within minutes it was hanging on the wall of his office in Camp Eggers, in Kabul.
It's a marked improvement on 20th century communication methods: "He sent me something in the mail last February," Sherrilynn says with a smile. "I've never received it."
Poulton's first overseas deployment
The Afghanistan mission was Poul-ton's first overseas deployment in his 18 years in the Canadian Forces.
In recent years, the number of Maple Leaf-wearing soldiers in Afghanistan has declined and the mission of those who are in the country has changed from the mid-2000s, when Canadians were in the midst of the fighting. These days, Canada is focusing on providing advisors like Poulton to help train the Afghan army and provide logistical support.
Poulton's task was to act as an advisor to Afghan public relations officials, sharing tips and techniques he and his colleagues use in Canada.
He was also responsible for being the social media voice of Canadian Forces operations in Afghanistan and running the website of the NATO Training Mission Afghanistan (which can be found online at ntm-a.com).
The job took Poulton around Afghanistan, from Helmand Province in the south, to the city of Mazar-i-Sharif in the north. It gave Poulton a
And although the standard of living is much lower, and the level of danger markedly higher, than that in Canada, he also saw similarities.
"I didn't really find too much of a difference in the way people lived," he said. "People are going about their business. They're going to work, going to school-Kabul University is thriving from what I've seen-people going grocery shopping, kids going to elementary school. Just people living, doing their thing, just like we do here. Of course the difference being they've got the insurgency to worry about."
Which, of course, Poulton also had to concern himself about when he left the confines of Camp Eggers.
"Everyday, you go out, you don't know what's out there," he said. "You don't know what's going to happen."
Poulton would tell Sherrilynn that he was going on "errands." He'd check in when he could, but he also told her to check the mission's Facebook page. After all, as the guy who ran the site, every new post was a signal that he was safe and sound.
Strong support network for families
Of course, worries run both ways. Fortunately, just as Sherrilynn knew her husband had support in Afghanistan,
Chris says soldiers are blessed with a strong support network for their families back in Canada.
"It's important that people understand that it's the support of family and friends and Canadians in general
that make it easier for service members to do the things that they need to do," Poulton said.
"That's so key," he continued. "Without that family support, it would certainly make things much more difficult. Because you cannot help, you cannot deal with things, you're stuck out there. So you're out there doing your job but you've also got to worry about what's happening at home. And that family support network helps ease that."
Sherrilynn, who is involved with the Mainland BC Military
Families Resource Centre, had met for coffee with other spouses before Chris's deployment.
"It really helped being involved with them beforehand," she said. "When he
did go away, it's like you have another family."
But many soldiers from other countries don't have such resources at home, a fact that dismays Poulton.
"Because we have that support net-work for families, it makes it a whole lot easier."
Like culture shock coming back
Now that he's home, Poulton has several months off before returning to work in Vancouver. After a transition home that included working half-days last week, Poulton finally got the chance to unwind last weekend with Liam's football game and then, on Sunday, a chicken and ribs barbecue dinner.
Sherrilynn says it has been surprisingly easy to slip back into the old family routines. Chris agrees, although, he notes that there have been some adjustments to make on the return to Canada.
For one, after enduring the anarchy of Afghan roads, Chris says the commute to Vancouver suddenly seems much less stressful.
"It's like culture shock coming back here," he said.