Afghan conflict pitched for TV

It’s not exactly ER, and will likely lack the pathos-laced humour of MASH, but a new television series is in the works that aims to focus more attention on the ongoing trials and tribulations of Canadian soldiers in the war in Afghanistan.

Vancouver's Jinder Oujla-Chalmers poses outside the Role 3 Multinational Hospital in Kandahar

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — It’s not exactly ER, and will likely lack the pathos-laced humour of MASH, but a new television series is in the works that aims to focus more attention on the ongoing trials and tribulations of Canadian soldiers in the war in Afghanistan.

With the working title Combat Hospital, the show will be based on the daily activities at the constantly busy Role 3 Multinational Hospital at Kandahar Airfield.

The program is the brainchild of Vancouver writer Jinder Oujla-Chalmers, whose previous credits include No Ordinary Guy, a documentary about former Alberta premier Ralph Klein, as well as work on TV shows Touched by an Angel and Higher Ground.

“I was originally going to place it in Iraq at the Saddam Hussein Hospital; I went and pitched it at the Banff Television Festival, and most people thought, ‘Great idea, but it’s too much of a hot topic,”’ Oujla-Chalmers said in an interview.

“So I went back to my agent and we came up with Afghanistan, and then it made more sense because there are multinational troops — and that intrigued me.”

Oujla-Chalmers, 55, has spent the past two weeks job shadowing and interviewing medical personnel at the Kandahar hospital. That followed the better part of two years of research on the mission, the country and the activities of the facility.

She’s awaiting a decision on whether Canwest Global will simply order a pilot episode or a full series for its schedule. She discussed the plot of the show with the Department of National Defence and was invited to check out things for herself.

“Nobody knows what the military does over here,” she said. “It’s an eye opener; it’s a world like I never could have created in my own head, because there’s so many aspects you could cover.

“The people here — they are truly remarkable people, cut from a different cloth.”

There are roughly 20,000 coalition troops stationed at Kandahar Airfield, a number that continues to grow with an ongoing increase in the U.S. ranks. The Role 3 Hospital employs doctors and nurses from several nations, providing advanced medical care to coalition troops, civilians and children.

Lt.-Col. Danielle Savard, a member of 5 Canadian Field Ambulance based in Valcartier, Que., and the director of Role 3, said she supports the show’s concept, as long as it remains true to the work that’s done there.

“I hope they will keep it close with reality, as opposed to being a Hollywood-type (show); I think we owe that to the people working on the inside, because if we make it as a joke, it’s not the same,” Savard said.

“When they showed it there was a lot of good things about it. That would be something that would (last) longer on all the good that is done here.”

Oujla-Chalmers said she hopes the series draws attention to the work being done by soldiers in Afghanistan and helps to dispel stereotypes about Afghan people.

“I think it has the potential to be a thinking man’s series,” she said. “I would like to have the success of ’MASH’ and ’ER,’ but I want it to be that type of show.”

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