Sunday, June 26, 2011

157th Canadian soldier died today in Afghanistan

Master Corporal Francis Roy of Rimouski, Que. and the Canadian Special Operations Regiment was named Sunday as the 157th Canadian soldier to have died in Afghanistan.
Master Corporal Francis Roy of Rimouski, Que. and the Canadian Special Operations Regiment was named Sunday as the 157th Canadian soldier to have died in Afghanistan.
Photo Credit: Handout, Combat Camera/DND
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Master Cpl. Francis Roy of Rimouski, Que. and the Canadian Special Operations Regiment was named Sunday as the 157th Canadian soldier to have died in Afghanistan.

With only 10 days left before the official end of Canada's five-year combat mission in southern Afghanistan, Roy, who was a transport specialist and former member of the Royal 22e Regiment, died Saturday morning of what were described as a "non-combat related wounds."

However, Roy's name was not released until Sunday by Brig.-Gen. Dean Milner, the Task Force Kandahar commander, because of a request from Roy's family to delay the announcement.

In announcing Roy's death and extending condolences to his family, Milner said: "We will maintain our resolve and remain committed to the mission during the final days."

Roy, 32, a logistician specializing in transport movements, volunteered to join CSOR in 2007. He was described by Milner as an avid fisherman and runner as well as having a passion for old cars.

Roy died at a forward base in Kandahar City where he was a transport specialist for special forces commandos who carry out secret missions in support of Canadian and other coalition and Afghan forces. On a previous overseas tour in 2009, Roy served at Camp Mirage, Canada's former staging base in Dubai.

Many of Canada's fighting units have already returned to Canada or are back at Kandahar Airfield preparing to do so. They are leaving in the next few weeks as Canada transitions to a training mission in the north of the country.

Padre Grahame Thompson of Toronto refused to speculate about the incident.

"I don't know what any of the circumstances are," he said. "That is not my forte. My forte is to support the men and women of the Canadian Forces who are here doing a tremendous job. I'm not an investigator. I am a chaplain. I am going to talk to you about the living. The living have an important job to do."

About 15,000 members of the armed forces have served tours in Afghanistan since the current combat mission started in March 2006. Twenty of the 157 Canadians to have died while serving as part of Task Force Kandahar lost their lives in instances that have not involved enemy action.

The military does not publish such statistics, but as many as six Canadian soldiers, including two officers, who have died in Afghanistan, may have committed suicide. The suicide rate for those serving in the Canadian military is lower than the general population, a recent study found.

Several of the others who were not combat casualties died when the armoured vehicles they were driving or the helicopters they were flying were in accidents. Three others died as a result of military accidents involving gunfire or explosives and one soldier was killed when he was shot by a fellow soldier during an apparent gun game that went badly wrong.

CSOR, the acronym that it goes by in the military, is described as "a robust and adaptable weapon," combining weapons, firepower and special skills, according to the unit's website. One of four units in the Canadian Special Forces Operations Command, it was established in 2006 at Petawawa, Ont. Many of its troops have served multiple tours in Afghanistan.

Master Cpl. Anthony Klumpenhouwer, of Listowel, Ont., was the only other member of Canadian Special Forces Operations Command to die in Afghanistan. He fell from a tower on April 18, 2007.

The senior ranking of six padres attached to Task Force Kandahar, with 20 years of military service, Thompson said "the members' closest friends are the ones that the chaplains are most concerned about. There is always a safe place in the chaplain's office if they want to talk."

Until now nobody had, he said, but he remarked that it was still very early in the grieving process.

Read it on Global News: Quebec soldier had a passion for fishing, old cars

Monday, March 28, 2011

Canadian soldier, Cpl. Yannick Scherrer, 24, killed in Afghanistan

It is with deep regret and sorrow that I post this incoming news 27 minutes ago. Remember to watch for the schedule when he will be passing down the Highway Of Heroes. Note the reporter's remark on the "scores of injured" also suffered in this treacherous area by Canadian troops. BONNIE

By Tara Brautigam, The Canadian Press

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - A Canadian soldier has been killed in Kandahar after an improvised explosive device detonated in a hardscrabble village that has been bloodied grounds for the military.

Cpl. Yannick Scherrer was on a foot patrol Sunday when he was killed by an IED blast near Nakhonay, southwest of Kandahar city.

The 24-year-old native of Montreal was on a security patrol with the Afghan National Army at the time of his death. The member of the 1st Battalion of the Royal 22nd Regiment was on his first tour in the country.

"Our thoughts and deepest condolences go out to Cpl. Scherrer's family, and to the soldiers and friends who served alongside him," Brig.-Gen. Dean Milner, Canada's top soldier in Afghanistan, said Monday at Kandahar Airfield.

"Canadians can be proud of the progress our soldiers have accomplished for the people of Kandahar province in Afghanistan. More work remains to be done.

"We will honour Yannick's sacrifice by maintaining our resolve and continuing the fight to make Afghanistan a safer and self-sustaining country."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper expressed his condolences to the soldier's friends and family.

"The relentless commitment of Cpl. Scherrer and other brave Canadians in Afghanistan is a source of pride to all Canadians," Harper said in a statement.

"We will forever be grateful for the sacrifice made by Cpl. Scherrer."

Nakhonay is a battle-scarred village of about 1,000 people. It has been the focus of intense counterinsurgency efforts by Canada's battle group in the Panjwaii district over the last year.

Last month, Milner joined his troops in a patrol of the village during Operation Hamaghe Shay, a mission that yielded caches of weapons and IED components on a daily and nightly basis ahead of the summer fighting season.

At the time, Milner offered a sobering assessment of the public mood in Nakhonay.

"I think they are sitting on the fence right now and they're waiting to see who is more capable, who is winning," Milner said.

"They've been intimidated for so long. Right now is that waiting period to understand what the situation is going to be like during fighting season."

Much blood has been shed in Nakhonay. In the last year here, IEDs killed at least five of the 17 Canadians who died in Afghanistan. Scores more have been injured.

"Nakhonay is a difficult nut to crack," Maj. Frank Dufault, the deputy commander of Canada's battle group in Afghanistan, said recently.

Scherrer's death shatters a period of relative calm for Canadian troops in Kandahar.

It is the first Canadian fatality in Afghanistan since Dec. 18, when Cpl. Steve Martin died from an IED during a foot patrol, also in Panjwaii.

It comes as Canada prepares to wind down combat operations in Kandahar in July and take on a training role that would focus on security, medical and literacy skills.

The latest death brings to 155 the total number of Canadian military members who have died as part of the Afghan mission since it began in 2002.

Two aid workers, a diplomat and a journalist have also been killed in the war-torn country.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Monsters in the Dark -- a poem by one of our fallen heroes

Monsters in the Dark

I know that they are out there
I will not be ignorant any more
Pulling the blanket over my head
Will not keep them from coming ashore
Instead I choose to confront them
As afraid as I might be
Because if I don't stop the monsters
Our children can never be free.

Master Corporal Jeffrey Scott Walsh wrote this
before he was killed in Afghanistan, August 9, 2006.

His father, Benjamin Morris Walsh, proudly posted this
poster of his son's work on Facebook
January 8, 2011.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Newest casualty a Vandoo killed by IED blast on foot patrol

Reported by Murray Brewster, the Canadian Free Press  -- Saturday, December 18, 2010 local time

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - A Canadian soldier is dead following a bomb blast in the vicinity of a major road construction project that NATO is pushing in a volatile district of Kandahar.

Cpl. Steve Martin, 24, from 3rd Battalion Royal 22e Regiment, was killed by an improvised explosive device, or IED, while on foot patrol early Saturday afternoon, local time. He died two days before his 25th birthday. Martin was serving with Parachute Company of the 1st Battalion Royal 22e Regiment battle group, based at CFB Valcartier, Quebec. His company deployed to the volatile Panjwaii district last month.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of the fallen soldier during this difficult time," said Brig.-Gen. Dean Milner, commander of Canadian troops in Afghanistan. "We will not forget the sacrifice of this soldier as we continue to bring security and hope to the people of Kandahar province."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a written statement on behalf of all Canadians extending his deepest sympathies to Martin’s family and friends. "Cpl. Martin was a brave Canadian who made the ultimate sacrifice while proudly serving his country,” the statement said. "Thanks to Canadian Forces members like him, we continue to make real progress in Afghanistan, rebuilding the country and contributing to the peace and security of its people.”

Governor General David Johnston also issued a statement offering his deepest sympathies to Cpl. Martin’s loved ones. "Cpl. Martin displayed an admirable sense of duty to Canada, bringing great pride to his unit and to the Forces as a whole,” he wrote.

Johnston added that with Martin’s death he now feels the weight of his new responsibilities as commander-in-chief of Canada’s Armed Forces.

Martin was on patrol near a road that NATO forces are carving in the horn of Panjwaii, an area that until recently was dominated by the Taliban and used as a staging point for attacks towards the provincial capital. Although most insurgent fighters fled the area during an initial American assault, some bomb-laying cells have continued to operate in the region as tanks and graders lay down the gravel thoroughfare. There have been daily reports of the Taliban trying to sprinkle the path ahead of the troops with bombs. Saturday's attack shattered a period of relative calm in the troubled Panjwaii district, where most of Canada's troops are based.

Anecdotally, it is known that at least three soldiers have been wounded since the Valcartier, Que. based Van Doo battle group deployed. The military would not say if anyone else was wounded in the bombing that claimed Martin's life.

To date, 154 Canadian soldiers have died as a result of the Afghan mission. The figure includes combat deaths, suicides and one death by natural causes.

The Taliban vowed to keep up a winter campaign against NATO forces in southern Afghanistan and last month issued a rare appeal for funds.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Canadian officer's death makes Afghan toll 153 since 2002

Reprinted from CBC News online,  Friday, November 26, 2010 

The Canadian Forces announced Friday that Capt. Frank Cecil Paul, who died in Canada last February, is being considered as a casualty of the Afghanistan mission.

"Although his death came suddenly while on leave from his deployment in Afghanistan, he was still on duty and considered part of the mission, and therefore his death is no less important than any other CF member who served and died while in Afghanistan,” said Gen. Walter Natynczyk, chief of the defence staff, in a release.

Paul, who was from Badger, N.L., died in an Ottawa hospital on Feb. 10 while on leave from Kandahar, where he had been the adjutant for the health services support unit of Joint Task Force Afghanistan. He was 53.

Natynczyk said the decision to add Paul's name to the list of military casualties sustained in the Afghan mission came "following a review of the Canadian Forces' casualty policy." The military gave no details on Paul's death other than to say it was a result of "natural causes" following a sudden illness.

Paul was a member of 28 Field Ambulance in Ottawa. The 35-year veteran of the military leaves a wife and two children.

"All Canadians can be proud of the commitment shown by our Canadian Forces members," said Gov. Gen. David Johnston in a statement expressing his condolences to the family. "Their steadfast dedication is to be extolled, as every man and woman taking part in this mission is doing so with the utmost professionalism and dedication to duty."

A minute of silence will be observed at the Defence Department and Canadian Forces facilities in the National Capital Region on Friday, the military said. Paul's family has been presented with the Memorial Cross. His death raises the toll of Canadian troops from the Afghan mission to 153 since 2002.

Read more:

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Read Bonnie Toews

HEART TUGS . . . At the Crossroads of Humanity: Israel is the West's Vanguard against global terrorism

Israel is the West's Vanguard against global terrorism

As the war in Afghanistan continues and our troops carry on battling archaic systems bent on submerging our world back into the Dark Ages, we need to be reminded of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahy's speech to the UN General Assembly, September 24, 2009. I have one exception to his plea, however: that if Churchill and Roosevelt were brought forward to account for the travesties they ordered against civilians while battling the Third Reich and the Japanese empire, it would be a miscarriage of justice. In their case, justice served the righteousness of the victors but it did not lessen the impact of the crimes against the innocence of their victims.

Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Nearly 62 years ago, the United Nations recognized the right of the Jews, an ancient people 3,500 years-old, to a state of their own in their ancestral homeland.

I stand here today as the Prime Minister of Israel, the Jewish state, and I speak to you on behalf of my country and my people.

The United Nations was founded after the carnage of World War II and the horrors of the Holocaust. It was charged with preventing the recurrence of such horrendous events.

Nothing has undermined that central mission more than the systematic assault on the truth. Yesterday the President of Iran stood at this very podium, spewing his latest anti-Semitic rants. Just a few days earlier, he again claimed that the Holocaust is a lie.

Last month, I went to a villa in a suburb of Berlin called Wannsee. There, on January 20, 1942, after a hearty meal, senior Nazi officials met and decided how to exterminate the Jewish people. The detailed minutes of that meeting have been preserved by successive German governments. Here is a copy of those minutes, in which the Nazis issued precise instructions on how to carry out the extermination of the Jews.

Is this a lie?

A day before I was in Wannsee, I was given in Berlin the original construction plans for the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Those plans are signed by Hitler?s deputy, Heinrich Himmler himself. Here is a copy of the plans for Auschwitz-Birkenau, where one million Jews were murdered. Is this too a lie?

This June, President Obama visited the Buchenwald concentration camp. Did President Obama pay tribute to a lie?

And what of the Auschwitz survivors whose arms still bear the tattooed numbers branded on them by the Nazis? Are those tattoos a lie? One-third of all Jews perished in the conflagration. Nearly every Jewish family was affected, including my own. My wife's grandparents, her father?s two sisters and three brothers, and all the aunts, uncles and cousins were all murdered by the Nazis. Is that also a lie?

Yesterday, the man who calls the Holocaust a lie spoke from this podium. To those who refused to come here and to those who left this room in protest, I commend you. You stood up for moral clarity and you brought honor to your countries.

But to those who gave this Holocaust-denier a hearing, I say on behalf of my people, the Jewish people, and decent people everywhere: Have you no shame? Have you no decency?

A mere six decades after the Holocaust, you give legitimacy to a man who denies that the murder of six million Jews took place and pledges to wipe out the Jewish state.

What a disgrace! What a mockery of the charter of the United Nations!

Perhaps some of you think that this man and his odious regime threaten only the Jews. You're wrong.

History has shown us time and again that what starts with attacks on the Jews eventually ends up engulfing many others.

This Iranian regime is fueled by an extreme fundamentalism that burst onto the world scene three decades ago after lying dormant for centuries.

In the past thirty years, this fanaticism has swept the globe with a murderous violence and cold-blooded impartiality in its choice of victims. It has callously slaughtered Moslems and Christians, Jews and Hindus, and many others. Though it is comprised of different offshoots, the adherents of this unforgiving creed seek to return humanity to medieval times.

Wherever they can, they impose a backward regimented society where women, minorities, gays or anyone not deemed to be a true believer is brutally subjugated. The struggle against this fanaticism does not pit faith against faith nor civilization against civilization.

It pits civilization against barbarism, the 21st century against the 9th century, those who sanctify life against those who glorify death.

The primitivism of the 9th century ought to be no match for the progress of the 21st century. The allure of freedom, the power of technology, the reach of communications should surely win the day. Ultimately, the past cannot triumph over the future. And the future offers all nations magnificent bounties of hope. The pace of progress is growing exponentially.

It took us centuries to get from the printing press to the telephone, decades to get from the telephone to the personal computer, and only a few years to get from the personal computer to the internet.

What seemed impossible a few years ago is already outdated, and we can scarcely fathom the changes that are yet to come. We will crack the genetic code. We will cure the incurable. We will lengthen our lives. We will find a cheap alternative to fossil fuels and clean up the planet.

I am proud that my country Israel is at the forefront of these advances by leading innovations in science and technology, medicine and biology, agriculture and water, energy and the environment. These innovations the world over offer humanity a sunlit future of unimagined promise.

But, if the most primitive fanaticism can acquire the most deadly weapons, the march of history could be reversed for a time. And like the belated victory over the Nazis, the forces of progress and freedom will prevail only after an horrific toll of blood and fortune has been exacted from mankind. That is why the greatest threat facing the world today is the marriage between religious fanaticism and the weapons of mass destruction.

The most urgent challenge facing this body is to prevent the tyrants of Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Are the member states of the United Nations up to that challenge? Will the international community confront a despotism that terrorizes its own people as they bravely stand up for freedom?

Will it take action against the dictators who stole an election in broad daylight and gunned down Iranian protesters who died in the streets choking in their own blood? Will the international community thwart the world's most pernicious sponsors and practitioners of terrorism?

Above all, will the international community stop the terrorist regime of Iran from developing atomic weapons, thereby endangering the peace of the entire world?

The people of Iran are courageously standing up to this regime. People of goodwill around the world stand with them, as do the thousands who have been protesting outside this hall. Will the United Nations stand by their side?

Ladies and Gentlemen, the jury is still out on the United Nations, and recent signs are not encouraging. Rather than condemning the terrorists and their Iranian patrons, some here have condemned their victims. That is exactly what a recent UN report on Gaza did, falsely equating the terrorists with those they targeted.

For eight long years, Hamas fired from Gaza thousands of missiles, mortars and rockets on nearby Israeli cities. Year after year, as these missiles were deliberately hurled at our civilians, not a single UN resolution was passed condemning those criminal attacks. We heard nothing ? absolutely nothing ? from the UN Human Rights Council, a misnamed institution if there ever was one.

In 2005, hoping to advance peace, Israel unilaterally withdrew from every inch of Gaza. It dismantled 21 settlements and uprooted over 8,000 Israelis. We didn't get peace. Instead, we got an Iranian-backed terror base fifty miles from Tel Aviv. Life in Israeli towns and cities next to Gaza became a nightmare. You see, the Hamas rocket attacks not only continued, they increased tenfold. Again, the UN was silent.

Finally, after eight years of this unremitting assault, Israel was finally forced to respond. But how should we have responded? Well, there is only one example in history of thousands of rockets being fired on a country's civilian population. It happened when the Nazis rocketed British cities during World War II. During that war, the allies leveled German cities, causing hundreds of thousands of casualties. Israel chose to respond differently. Faced with an enemy committing a double war crime of firing on civilians while hiding behind civilians Israel sought to conduct surgical strikes against the rocket launchers.

That was no easy task because the terrorists were firing missiles from homes and schools, using mosques as weapons depots and ferreting explosives in ambulances. Israel, by contrast, tried to minimize casualties by urging Palestinian civilians to vacate the targeted areas.

We dropped countless flyers over their homes, sent thousands of text messages and called thousands of cell phones asking people to leave. Never has a country gone to such extraordinary lengths to remove the enemy's civilian population from harm's way.

Yet faced with such a clear case of aggressor and victim, who did the UN Human Rights Council decide to condemn? Israel. A democracy legitimately defending itself against terror is morally hanged, drawn and quartered, and given an unfair trial to boot.

By these twisted standards, the UN Human Rights Council would have dragged Roosevelt and Churchill to the dock as war criminals. What a perversion of truth. What a perversion of justice.

Delegates of the United Nations, will you accept this farce?

Because if you do, the United Nations would revert to its darkest days, when the worst violators of human rights sat in judgment against the law-abiding democracies, when Zionism was equated with racism and when an automatic majority could declare that the earth is flat.

If this body does not reject this report, it would send a message to terrorists everywhere: Terror pays; if you launch your attacks from densely populated areas, you will win immunity. And in condemning Israel, this body would also deal a mortal blow to peace. Here's why.

When Israel left Gaza, many hoped that the missile attacks would stop. Others believed that at the very least, Israel would have international legitimacy to exercise its right of self-defense. What legitimacy? What self-defense?

The same UN that cheered Israel as it left Gaza and promised to back our right of self-defense now accuses us -- my people, my country -- of war crimes? And for what? For acting responsibly in self-defense. What a travesty!

Israel justly defended itself against terror. This biased and unjust report is a clear-cut test for all governments. Will you stand with Israel or will you stand with the terrorists?

We must know the answer to that question now. Now and not later. Because if Israel is again asked to take more risks for peace, we must know today that you will stand with us tomorrow. Only if we have the confidence that we can defend ourselves can we take further risks for peace.

Ladies and Gentlemen, all of Israel wants peace.

Any time an Arab leader genuinely wanted peace with us, we made peace. We made peace with Egypt led by Anwar Sadat. We made peace with Jordan led by King Hussein. And if the Palestinians truly want peace, I and my government, and the people of Israel, will make peace. But we want a genuine peace, a defensible peace, a permanent peace. In 1947, this body voted to establish two states for two peoples ? a Jewish state and an Arab state. The Jews accepted that resolution. The Arabs rejected it.We ask the Palestinians to finally do what they have refused to do for 62 years: Say yes to a Jewish state. Just as we are asked to recognize a nation-state for the Palestinian people, the Palestinians must be asked to recognize the nation state of the Jewish people. The Jewish people are not foreign conquerors in the Land of Israel. This is the land of our forefathers.

Inscribed on the walls outside this building is the great Biblical vision of peace: "Nation shall not lift up sword against nation. They shall learn war no more." These words were spoken by the Jewish prophet Isaiah 2,800 years ago as he walked in my country, in my city, in the hills of Judea and in the streets of Jerusalem.

We are not strangers to this land. It is our homeland. As deeply connected as we are to this land, we recognize that the Palestinians also live there and want a home of their own. We want to live side by side with them, two free peoples living in peace, prosperity and dignity. But, we must have security. The Palestinians should have all the powers to govern themselves except those handful of powers that could endanger Israel.

That is why a Palestinian state must be effectively demilitarized. We don't want another Gaza, another Iranian backed terror base abutting Jerusalem and perched on the hills a few kilometers from Tel Aviv.

We want peace.

I believe such a peace can be achieved. But only if we roll back the forces of terror, led by Iran, that seek to destroy peace, eliminate Israel and overthrow the world order. The question facing the international community is whether it is prepared to confront those forces or accommodate them.

Over seventy years ago, Winston Churchill lamented what he called the "confirmed unteachability of mankind," the unfortunate habit of civilized societies to sleep until danger nearly overtakes them.

Churchill bemoaned what he called the "want of foresight, the unwillingness to act when action will be simple and effective, the lack of clear thinking, the confusion of counsel until emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong."

I speak here today in the hope that Churchill's assessment of the "unteachibility of mankind" is for once proven wrong. I speak here today in the hope that we can learn from history -- that we can prevent danger in time.

In the spirit of the timeless words spoken to Joshua over 3,000 years ago, let us be strong and of good courage. Let us confront this peril, secure our future and, God willing, forge an enduring peace for generations to come.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Another suicide attributed to Mefloquine. Will someone please listen?

Adam Kuligowski says his son and soldiers in his unit were never told about the side effects of the antimalaria drug, Mefloquine. It was issued to Adam and troops like Aspirin in a doggie bag as they boarded the plane to Afghanistan. All of them were told they would be punished if they neglected to take the prescription. U.S. Army NCOs were not told about adverse effects of Mefloquine so they didn't recognize clear signs of trouble prior to his suicide. Father says no one is listening and whole companies of troops are still being issued to Mefloquine as they are deployed to Afghanistan now.
See father's video in press release.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Canadian soldier succumbs to wounds eight days after IED attack

Excerpts from Global News by Brian Hutchinson

KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan - A Canadian soldier wounded eight days ago while conducting a foot patrol in dangerous Panjwaii district died Monday in a German hospital.

Cpl. Brian Pinksen, a Newfoundland native, was walking a short distance between two Canadian combat outposts on Aug. 22 in the village of Nakhonay, 18 kilometres southwest of Kandahar City, when an improvised explosive device planted by insurgents was detonated, wounding him and one of his fellow servicemen.

Both soldiers were treated at the scene before being airlifted to Kandahar Airfield's Role 3 Multi-National Medical Facility. They were flown to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Centre hospital in Germany three days later. The second soldier is recovering.

Pinksen was from the 2nd Battalion, The Royal Newfoundland Regiment, based in Corner Brook, N.L., and served with the 1st Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment Battle Group.

A Canadian Forces official said there will be a ramp ceremony in Germany to honour Pinksen prior to his repatriation to Canada. He is the 152nd Canadian soldier to die in Afghanistan since 2002, and at least the sixth to die from injuries sustained in or around Nakhonay since 2009.

In an interview in February 2009, before he headed out to train at Fort Pickett, a U.S. army National Guard base in Virginia, Pinksen told the Corner Brook Western Star he was looking forward to getting to Afghanistan in 2010. "I love it," Pinksen said of military life. "I'm so glad I joined. I did (basic military qualification) while I was in school. I'm glad I did it. I have no regrets."

Read it on Global News: Newfoundland soldier injured in IED blast dies of injuries

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Another IED kills Canadian soldier

Source: Article by Jasmeet Sidhu, The Toronto Star
Again, an IED has stolen the life of Toronto-born Sapper Brian Collier, 24, shown here in a Facebook photo he posted himself. Ironically, he had already survived wounds suffered from an IED blast earlier in his tour.

He is the 151st Canadian soldier to die in the Afghan mission since it began in 2002. Collier was leaving his vehicle in Nakhonay southwest of Kandahar city, when he was killed by the roadside bomb.

A member of 1 Combat Engineer Regiment based at CFB Edmonton, Collier was serving in Afghanistan with the 1st Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment Battle Group.

Born in Toronto and raised in Bradford, Ontario, Collier graduated from Bradford High School and joined the military about three years ago. He was fascinated by the sense of physical challenge, camaraderie and family that the Canadian military represented. Known as an adventurous man who loved sports including skydiving, white water rafting, snowboarding and hockey, Collier, the eldest brother to three sisters, was from a tight-knit family and, with them, always ended his conversations with, "I love you."

Thursday, July 15, 2010

June deadliest month for American troops in Afghanistan as six more are killed yesterday

Last month, 60 American troopers were killed. The numbers this month continue to climb, and yesterday, six more American service people were killed near Kandahar in southern Afghanistan.

Luiz Martinez for ABC News further reports the staggering number of wounded the Americans have suffered in Afghanstan during the past two years.
  • In 2009, the total reached 2,139,  a three-fold increase over the previous year. 
  • In the first six months of 2010, four times as many American service members were wounded as were wounded in the same time frame a year ago: that is 1,922 American service members have been wounded  in 2010 compared to 485 wounded through the same time period last year.
Canadians sympathize with our American friends at the same time as we offer support for all our coalition troops fighting in Afghanistan in a war that doubles the total number of years the Allies fought World War II. That war was won from the air. Then, the Allies levelled the major cities of Germany with no consideration for civilians on the ground. With today's sensitivities about civilian colateral damage, carpet bombing is shunned, and boots on the ground are handed the task of beating the Taliban. Realistically, can we expect our forces to do the job they're expected to do?

Coalition chief commanders in theatre have warned the folks back home to expect a much deadlier summer of fighting in southern Afghanistan as the Taliban's forces mount in number at the same time as they lay increasing and more sophisticated roadside bombs. No road and no path is safe for anyone to walk or ride, whether NATO troops or local villagers. 

Once, the goal was to destroy all Al Qaeda bases, so they would have no place left to launch their jihads against the West. When that didn't succeed, NATO's goal switched to rid the Afghans of the Taliban bullies who robbed them of their independence and their ability to develop an economy that can bring the Afghan people into a modern way of life, such as Viet Nam now enjoys. By making the Afghan people our friends, we can leave it to them to refuse support of Al Qaeda and to keep these terrorists and their training camps out of Afghanistan. That's the gist for winning the hearts and minds of the Afghans.

After ten years in Afghanistan, can we say this is a realistic goal for NATO troops to pursue? Right now, it doesn't look like it.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Military still trying to suppress the suicidal and psychotic effects of the antimalaria drug mefloquine (Larium)

This story published in 2004 by the United Press International discloses the U.S. military's refusal to acknowledge that the antimalaria drug they commissioned a pharmaceutical company develop, in 1988, to prevent troops deployed on tropical missions from dying from malaria does indeed produce a nightmare of horrendous consequences. In light of today's scientific findings of what this drug does to the mind of those who are vulnerable to its chemical damage, our troops, and I mean all those coalition forces sent into the war on terrorism, deserve our best care and support, not more exposure to callous abuse of their rights. As far as I am concerned, governments that sanction drugs and weapons that cause colateral damage among their own forces are nothing short of war criminals themselves. After growing evidence and studies reported on this virulent drug, I'm sorry to report that in 2010 Mefloquine or Larium is still issued to our troops. How many lives have to be shattered before the military takes responsibility for its decisions and actions?

Warning: According to U.S. Food and Drug Administration warnings, Lariam (or mefloquine), an anti-malaria drug invented by the U.S. Army, is associated with a family of drugs with known mental side effects, specifically quinolone. Lariam can cross the "blood-brain barrier" and dissolve in the fatty tissue of the brain. The FDA says Lariam can cause suicidal thinking, aggression, delusions and psychosis. The FDA also says that, for some people, the side effects have been reported to last long after taking the drug and their reaction becomes dangerous if they drink alcohol during that period as well.

Might I remind every trooper that this story could be about you because none of you know whether you are vulnerable or not until you have taken the mefloquine treatment to prevent you from dying of the most virulent form of malaria. The risk of dying from malaria may be preferrable to the side effects this treatment causes. Read and be forewarned. You have the right to refuse to take mefloquine or Larium as it is also called.

Soldier's suicide traced to antimalaria drug

Friday, July 9, 2010

What is happening to our top commanders?

We can no longer turn a blind eye. Something is seriously wrong. In just six months, our rising military stars have fallen on their swords and killed hard-earned careers. Why?

We have the top dog of top dogs, a highly decorated and respected commander-in-chief of American, Canadian and other NATO forces in Afghanistan getting drunk and trashing the president of the United States. U.S. General Stanley McChrystal is relieved and recalled home in disgrace.

In Canada, the most respected military commander of the largest and busiest air base is accused of being a serial killer and rapist after he's connected to the murders of two women, one under his command. Col. Russ Williams awaits trial. More than once he has required suicide watch.

The commander of Canadian forces in Afghanistan, selected because of his tactical brilliance, is stripped of his command and sent home in disgrace because of an "inappropriate relationship." Before this happened, Brig.-Gen. Daniel Menard was on a fast track to one day becoming the chief of staff for all Canadian forces.

And now we learn Canada has relieved its senior ranking commander in Haiti of command. Col. Bernard Ouellette, who also doubles as the chief of staff for the UN's Haiti rescue mission following the earthquake that devastated the Caribbean country, faces allegations of an "inappropriate relationship" and an investigation on his return home, BUT he's also the same commander who was highly praised for his cool handling of Canada's relief effort under almost impossible conditions to bring aid to the Haitian people and children when they so desperately needed it.

If the morale of the commanders is self-destructing, what can we say about the troops depending on them for leadership?

Paul Watson, a Pulitzer-winning war correspondent for The Toronto Star, is presently embedded with Canadian troops in Afghanistan and he reports it's the boots on the ground looking out for each other that sustain the troops' morale and determination to get the job done right. He writes: "During an especially tough spate of attacks last month, soldiers at one of the company's most exposed bases say their commander offered to transfer any soldier who wanted to leave for a safer place. None stepped forward. All wanted to stay in the fight."

Watson is finding that the solidarity amongst troops is indivisible. He probes the heart and soul of each soldier and he can't find a break in their commitment to each other. He sites the example of Sgt. Jeff Veinot, on his third overseas tour starting in Bosnia in 2003. He was part of Operation Medusa, when Canadian Forces first battled large groups of well dug-in Taliban in the Kandahar province. He explains: "His [Veinot's] strongest loyalty is not to an idea or a cause, but to the men and women who may go home in a box because he [the sergeant] has had a bad day at work."

Watson quotes Veinot: "It's not about the pay cheques. It's not about saving Afghanistan or doing what the politicians think. It's about making sure that the guys, the sappers and the corporals below us are the guys that get to go and have as safe a trip as they can over here."

And here's another aspect of the soldier serving under war conditions that civilians fail to understand and cannot empathize with: the bonding of facing and overcoming danger together, every day. Watson captures this spiritual hold when he questions a corporal on leave back home who tells him, "the only thing harder than being Afghanistan is being somewhere else when your buddies are here."

This buddy system is a soldier's safety valve.

What safety valve to commanders have?

Leadership by definition is isolated and lonely. Field commanders make the toughest decisions of life and death, whatever the rules of engagement or the purpose of the mission, from peacekeeping to actual battleground, and they have to live with them alone. They write the heartache letters home to the families of the fallen. We put our best and most innovative leaders in the hottest pressure cookers and wonder why they implode. How stupid is that? Instead of sending them home in disgrace because they snapped under unrelenting pressure, isn't it time we showed them the compassion and understanding they have earned and wholly deserve for all the things they did right to make us proud to be Canadians or Americans, whichever our stripe?

It's not enough to say something is wrong. It's time to find out why.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

IED Blast kills two Canadian medics near Kandahar

On Saturday, Master Cpl. Kristal Giesebrecht and Pte. Andrew Miller, both medics from CFB Petawawa, were responding to a report of a mine found in the doorway of a home when their vehicle detonated an IED, the military said. The blast occurred about 20 kilometres southwest of the city of Kandahar.

They were attached to the 1st Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment Battle Group. A third soldier was taken to a hospital on Kandahar Airfield and was in stable condition.

Brig.-Gen. Jonathan Vance, commander of Task Force Kandahar, acknowledged that the medical personnel were likely targeted when they rushed to help the Afghan family. "Medical technicians are indispensable to the work being done by Canadian and Afghan soldiers. They participate in every Canadian Forces patrol and operation," Vance said.

Vance said Giesebrecht was born in Wallaceburg, Ont., and was a member of 1 Canadian Field Hospital, based at CFB Petawawa in the Ottawa Valley. He said she was married and a fit, dedicated and fun-loving medical technician serving her second tour in Afghanistan. "She was a mentor and an inspiration for her fellow medical technicians. Kristal loved life to the fullest. She was a wonderful friend, always opening her heart to everyone in need," said Vance. "Kristal prided herself on her health and fitness, although she always felt the solution to any problem could be found in a box of chocolates."

Miller was born in Sudbury, Ont., a member of 2 Field Ambulance, based at CFB Petawawa. He was serving on his first overseas deployment. Vance said Miller will be remembered as someone who would give his fellow soldiers the shirt off his back and was always the first to volunteer. "Andrew was very confident in both his soldier and clinical skills. He wanted nothing more than to be part of the Health Services Unit for ROTO 9, in Afghanistan, so that he could put his skills to the test," he said. "Called Caillou by his friends, everyone acknowledged the resemblance (to the children's cartoon character) as soon as they met him."

Giesebrecht is the third Canadian woman killed in a combat situation since Canada deployed troops to Afghanistan in early 2002.

Read more:

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

There's more behind the McCrystal gaff than meets the eye

The military announced six more NATO deaths Wednesday — three of them Americans. The three other service members were not identified by nationality, but NATO said all died in the south — two in a bomb attack and one in a firefight. That makes 73 international forces killed so far this month. Forty-four of them were Americans.

In the midst of this increasing bloodbath of NATO troops, including those of our own Canadian troops, is the "flap" over Afghanistan war commander Brig. Gen. Stanley McChrystal's disparaging remarks in the Rolling Stone magazine. Discredit of the U.S. commander-in-chief shortly after Canada's withdrawal of its own battle commander, Brig. Gen. Daniel Ménard, comes as NATO and Afghan forces are ramping up security in and around the key southern city of Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban.
Two men with stunning careers are suddenly disgraced. Does this make sense? If top leaders become demoralized enough to throw their hard-earned careers away by letting loose and behaving irresponsibly, what does that tell us? For they know far more than we do about what is really going on in Afghanistan.
Don't you find it a little scary that the first person who defends McCrystal is Waheed Omar, the spokesperson for Afghan President Hamid Karzai?
"The president believes that we are in a very sensitive juncture in the partnership, in the war on terror and in the process of bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan, and any gap in this process will not be helpful," Omar told reporters.

"We hope there is not a change of leadership of the international forces here in Afghanistan and that we continue to partner with Gen. McChrystal."

And Karzai's younger brother, Ahmad Wali Karzai, whom Canadian private security officials accuse of corruption and collusion with the Taliban, gave McChrystal a ringing endorsement, telling reporters in Kandahar that McChrystal's leadership would be sorely missed. "The people trust him and we trust him. If we lose this important person, I don't think that this operation will work in a positive way."

Meanwhile -- get this -- Taliban spokesman Zabeehullah Mujahid said McChrystal should resign because his strategy had "clearly failed."

"The problems between American leaders over Afghan issues very clearly show that the policy and the strategy of America has failed," he said. "They cannot win this war because the Afghan nation is united and they are committed to defeating American forces in Afghanistan."

Feels like smoke and mirrors, folks. If the Taliban want McCrystal to go, then it implies the White House should consider leaving him in place because the Taliban fear his leadership and influence. On the other hand, the Afghan leaders want him to stay, but his credibility as a leader of influence with the U.S. government is weakened. How does that benefit Karzai and gang?

Both the Canadian and American generals have cared deeply about their troops. Their integrity has made them stand out. It's why their troops have rallied so strongly under their command. Could it be that both men can no longer shoulder the corrupt messes their policital commander-in-chiefs have created for them? That the sacrifices exacted are not worth their integrity to support? That the situation here is too similar to Viet Nam where the drug trade escalated and many troops sent home were already drug addicts? That they know they have been thrust into a war the West cannot win?

President Obama and Brig. Gen. McCrystal have already spoken today, and the result of that conversation will be released shortly. My bet is on McCrystal resigning, opting for the relief that comes from conflict between his love for his troops and his disillusionment with his country.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Blast kills Canadian soldier on fourth tour in Afghanistan

Excerpts from The Canadian Press by Bill Graveland

Sgt. James Patrick MacNeil, 28, of Glace Bay, N.S., was killed by an improvised explosive device Monday morning near the village of Nakhonay after he had dismounted from his armoured vehicle. Nakhonay is in the Panjwaii district, which is known as the birthplace of the Taliban. It has been a bloody battleground for Canadian troops since they arrived in Kandahar province in strength four years ago.

A proud "Cape Bretoner," MacNeil was with 2 Combat Engineer Regiment based at CFB Petawawa and was known for his good sense of humour. According to his men, he was a great person to work for. McNeil was blessed with a "permanent smile and eyes that could not conceal the mischief that he was no doubt contemplating."

In Kandahar, Brig.-Gen. Jonathan Vance, commander of Task Force Kandahar, said: "For each IED that Canadian soldiers find and disarm, Afghan lives are spared and the processes of rebuilding their communities can continue."

Vance added, "Through constant patrolling and maintaining a presence in that community, Afghans know to trust both Canadian and Afghan soldiers and respect their efforts to bring them security from all sources of harm."

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Ten Deaths Monday as Taliban increases ambushes on NATO troops in Afghanistan

Separate Taliban attacks June 7 mark it the deadliest day in 2010 for NATO troops in Afghanistan. Ten service members have been killed -- seven of them are American plus a U.S. civilian contractor who trains Afghan police and a Nepalese security guard. Reports of wounded in these attacks are not disclosed, but based on earlier stats, more than 5,000 American soldiers serving in Afghanistan have been wounded since the original U.S. invasion in 2002.

While NATO gears up for a major offensive against the Taliban's renewed stronghold of Kandahar -- the former headquarters of the Taliban and the largest city in the southern province, insurgents have stepped up suicide bombings and hit-and-run attacks in the east and south war zones of Afghanistan. U.S. commanders have warned the American public to expect increased casualties once President Barack Obama declared his intention to stem the Taliban's resurrgence when he deployed 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan to support the alliance's operations after eight years of fighting in the country.

Initially, President Bush ordered the invasion of Afghanistan to rout Al Qaeda after Osama bin Laden's terrorist 9-11 attack on U.S. soil, but this objective switched to ousting the Taliban once American and NATO forces failed to find the terrorist leader.

Monday, June 7, 2010

IED blast kills Canadian sergeant leading foot patrol in search for weapons cache

Excerpted from "Globe & Mail," Reporter Sonia Verma in Kabul

At dawn Sunday morning, an improvised explosive device killed Sergeant Martin Goudreault, 35, from Sudbury,Ontario, on his third tour of duty in Afghanistan, and fifth tour overseas through his career. He died leading a foot patrol near the village of Nakhonay, about 15 kilometers southwest of Kandahar City. Sgt. Goudreault’s patrol was searching for a weapons cache hidden by Taliban insurgents. Soldiers are increasingly finding these stockpiles hidden in Afghan villages, amongst the civilian populations. The Panjway district has become the focus of Canadian military efforts as tens of thousands of U.S. troops surge into southern Afghanistan, taking over much of the fighting in neighbouring districts.

Sgt. Goudreault was a member of 1 Combat Engineer Regiment based at Canadian Forces Base Edmonton, serving with the 1st Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment Battle group.

It was a routine mission, but a crucial one, according to Brigadier-General Jon Vance, Commander of Task Force Kandahar. “Always looking for a challenge, Martin was a qualified combat diver and had the highest personal standards of technical and tactical experience. Recognized early in his career for his leadership, Sgt. Goudreault was a model soldier; someone the soldiers in his section could look up to and emulate,” said B.-Gen Vance.

“Sgt. Goudreault died doing what he loved best; leading his section from the front. If your way of life was in peril, you would want someone like Sgt. Martin Goudreault to show up and offer help,” he added.

Sgt. Goudreault died on the same day as a parade of bikers rode down the “Highway of Heroes” into Toronto from CFB Trenton to commemorate Mayor David Miller's designation of parts of the north-south Don Valley Parkway and downtown streets leading to the coroner's office the “Route of Heroes” to honor Canada's fallen soldiers. This completes Canada's tribute to a soldier's final path home.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Celebrating International Day for United Nations Peacekeepers

Today is International Day for United Nations Peacekeepers, and it brings us a moment to reflect on Canada's contributions from the first observer mission assigned by the UN to supervise elections and withdrawal of USSR and US troops from Korea in 1947-48 and as UN observers in Palestine in 1948 to the present. Today, military observers (including seven Canadians) still oversee the Israeli-Arab cease fire.

The First Mission

The actual formation of an international emergency force charged with the responsibility of keeping a "buffer zone" between belligerents while supervising the withdrawal of opposing troops occurred in 1956 following the Suez Crisis. In an attempt to establish itself as 'head' of the Arab world, Egypt decided to nationalize the Suez Canal when Britain and the United States refused to fund its building of the Aswan Dam across the Nile River in retaliation for Egypt's recognition of the People's Republic of China. It was an unpopular gesture because western allies were backing Taiwan's independence from China. Britain and France did not want to lose their access to oil in the Middle East through the Suez Canal, while Israel was concerned over Egypt's arms deal with the Soviet Union to supply them with updated military equipment, modern fighter aircraft and military trainers to turn Egyptian forces into more effective fighting units. Egyptians were already raiding Israeli cargo shipments while passing through the Suez Canal, and Israel recognized this aggressive action as a threat of war. In a secret agreement, Britain and France offered to bomb Egypt if Israel would invade Egypt from the Sinai Desert. What ensued was the Sinai War, also referred to as the Tripartite Aggression, in which the three allies achieved their military objectives, but the United States and the USSR forced them to withdraw in follow-up UN action. While Britain and France were politically humiliated, Israel gained the assurance of peace along the Egyptian-Israeli border once the UN assigned its first international emergency force to control the withdrawal of the tripartite aggressors.

Canadian members of the UNEF on
the Egypt – Israel border in 1962.
It was Canada’s External Affairs Minister, Lester B. Pearson, who suggested the actual notion of a UN-led “peacekeeping” force to the special emergency session of the General Assembly on November 2nd, 1956. Pearson’s suggestion culminated in the unprecedented formation of the first official armed UN peacekeeping mission, with as its first commanding officer, the Canadian General E.L.M. Burns. The sensitive and critically appropriate timing of Pearson’s proposal was key in the approval of the force and gained him the well deserved recognition of being the ‘grandfather of peacekeeping.’

54 Years of UN Peacekeeping

The deployment of the United Nations Emergency Force acted as a precedent for the way the international community would deal with conflict in the years to come. The Emergency Force formed the basic principles of peacekeeping, and in doing so, set an example for future peacekeeping deployments. The peacekeeping force was slowly transformed into peacekeeping missions with worldwide reach and a powerful impact which continues until today. The ground-breaking approach of the force also helped define Canada’s international military role for the next five decades, as well as its strong peacekeeping tradition.

However, since Canada has particpated in coalition NATO operations in Afghanistan for the past eight years, its UN peacekeeping role has seriously declined. Also peacekeeping missions have suffered severe underfunding and a growing lack of interest of western nations to contribute troops to control "hot spots" around the world. This reluctance as seen in failed missions such as Somalia, Rwanda, Darfur and the Democratic Republic of the Congo undercuts the United Nation's effectiveness and respect. And yet, the UN currently supports 124,000 troops, civilians and police in the field -- more than any other world player except the United States -- more than the United Kingdom, France, China and Russia put together. With an annual peacekeeping budget of nearly $8 billion, the UN manages no fewer than 16 field missions at any given time. And the demand for UN peacekeeping is expected to rise in coming years.

Where is Canada in future UN peacekeeping missions? Maintaining peace in a world of conflict grows more difficult every day. The UN urgently needs personnel with advanced logistics and military capabilities to meet complex challenges to the international community. Canadian troops are among the best-trained in the world and can meet that need. But, the Harper government has yet to recommit to peacekeeping action after 2011 when it pulls out its troops from Afghanistan. For many Canadians, who are proud of the peacekeeping tradition Canada built, it's a humiliating stance to take after our soldiers have distinguished themselves with impressive duty in Afghanistan and sacrificed 146 lives so far to achieve that distinctive service.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

"Weapon-without-rules" takes life of another Canadian trooper this month

Matthew Fisher of Canwest News Service sends home the sad news of another soldier killed by a homemade land mine in Afghanistan on May 24, 2010. Trooper Larry Rudd, 26, from Brantford Ontario, was killed when the vehicle he was in struck an improvised explosive device while on a combat resupply patrol that was bringing food and water to troops from Canada's battle group at a remote outpost in the difficult Panjwaii District, about 20 kilometres southwest of Kandahar City.

British Maj.-Gen. Nick Carter, five other generals and about 1,000 Canadian, American and British soldiers saluted their farewells shortly after dawn at a ramp ceremony Wednesday morning local time. Canadians prepare another tribute on their Highway of Heroes for his arrival at Canadian Forces Trenton Air Base late Thursday afternoon.

This is another loss of a young soldier with a promising future. His commanding officer, Maj. Christian Lillington, praised Rudd for his sense of humor and generosity to his fellow soldiers. "He was a huge man but as big as he was, he was probably the gentlest of the group. Larry John is very special to me."

Lillington also noted, "He had more talent than many soldiers I have seen," and predicted if his life had not been cut short, "he would have been a very senior soldier in the Queen's army."

Rudd served in "A" Squadron of the Royal Canadian Dragoons, Canada's senior armored regiment, recently deployed to Afghanistan from Pettawa, Ontario, in the upper Ottawa Valley, to provide reconnaisance for Task Force Kandahar.

More than two-thirds of Canada's fatalities in Afghanistan have been caused by IEDs that have either struck soldiers on foot patrols or, as in Rudd's case, while mounted in an armored vehicle. "There is no perfect solution to defend against IEDs," Lillington admitted.

Canada now has nearly 3,000 troops serving in Afghanistan and South Asia. In eight years of combat in Afghanistan, 146 Canadians have died, including a journalist and a diplomat. In 2009, 520 NATO troops died in Afghanistan, up from 295 in 2008, mostly as a result of the Taliban laying far more IEDs. Already this year, 217 coalition troops have been killed.

Read more:

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Taliban suicide bomber kills 18 in Kabul, including high-ranking Cdn. officer and five American soldiers

A Taliban suicide bomber in a car packed with explosives struck a NATO convoy in Kabul on Tuesday, killing 18 and wounding 47 other people. Among those killed is a Canadian officer, Col. Geoff Parker, and five American troopers.

The attack comes as a reminder that determined attackers can still penetrate the city's defences just as NATO readies a major offensive in the southern province of Kandahar, a major Taliban stronghold.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told The Associated Press in a phone call from an undisclosed location that the bomber was a man from Kabul and his car was packed with 1,650 pounds (750 kilograms) of explosive. The target of the attack was the foreign convoy, he said.

The powerful blast occurred on a major Kabul thoroughfare that runs by the ruins of a one-time royal palace and government ministries. It wrecked nearly 20 vehicles, including five SUVs in the NATO convoy, and scattered debris and body parts across the wide boulevard as U.S. troops and Afghan police held a security cordon around wrecked cars, the bus and sports utility vehicles. There were no obviously military vehicles but NATO troops often travel in unmarked SUVs in the capital.

The Canadian Forces colonel has become the latest casualty of Canada's mission in Afghanistan, and the highest-ranking soldier to give his life for the mission since it began in 2002.
Col. Simon Hetherington, deputy commander of Task Force Kandahar, explained that Col. Geoff Parker was the commanding officer of 2nd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment, based at CFB Gagetown and was in Kabul to interact with international organizations there in an effort to prepare his team for their upcoming mission."He was a career infantry officer — a proud member of the Royal Canadian Regiment — who excelled in virtually every position he held in the Army," said Hetherington.

"As a battalion commander, he led his soldiers from the front and with distinction. The post he was preparing to fill was important and of such high profile, he was hand-picked from across the Army to do so. A rising star, his potential was undeniable."

In a statement that seemed more detailed and personal than those that usually accompany news of Canadian casualties, Hetherington described Parker as a fun-loving and admirable man who was well-loved within the ranks of the Canadian military.

"Geoff could be incredibly funny and he had a truly infectious laugh and smile; to some, he was simply known as Parker, because that's what his wife called him," Hetherington said.

"We all knew him to be remarkably smart and the consummate professional officer. Equally important, he was always standing by as a friend. He knew when to give you the hard truth to get you going and when to lend a sympathetic ear."

Parker was the seventh Canadian soldier to die in Afghanistan this year and the 145th Canadian soldier killed as part of the mission since it began eight years ago. Two civilians — diplomat Glyn Berry and journalist Michelle Lang — have also been killed.

With files the Canadian Press, Associated Press and The Globe & Mail

Friday, May 14, 2010

What drives a soldier to make the ultimate sacrifice as political support wanes?

The Canadian Press reports another Canadian soldier, scheduled to conclude his deployment in southern Afghanistan in a few days, has been killed by a Taliban homemade blast.

On May 13th, Pte. Kevin McKay from the Edmonton-based 1st Battalion of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry died about 15 kilometres southwest of Kandahar city because he was doing his job. The 24-year-old native of Richmond Hill, Ont., was on a foot patrol in the Panjwaii district village of Nakhonay at 8 p.m. local time Thursday at the time of the explosion.

McKay's death comes as hundreds of people prepare to gather in Halifax to remember the first Canadian sailor to be killed in the Afghanistan conflict. A memorial service will be held for 37-year-old Petty Officer (second class) Craig Blake, who was killed by an IED on May 3, also in the Panjwaii district.

Col. Simon Hetherington, the deputy commander of Task Force Kandahar, said McKay embodied the gritty spirit of the typical Canadian soldier. "He was the type of soldier that Canadians must think of when they think of their army in Afghanistan -- the tough, courageous infantryman, living in austere conditions and doing incredibly difficult work," Hetherington said.

"His platoon brothers and friends will remember Kevin, better known as 'Mickey' to his buddies, as a generous man, dependable, with a quick wit and a great sense of humour that was exemplified by his awesome moustache." He was also height-deprived but had no trouble "poking fun and taunting those less vertically challenged platoon mates," Hetherington added.

The Toronto Star's Mitch Potter reported earlier this week how Canadian soldiers and police are risking their lives to visit villages in the cradle of the Taliban to make sure their trainees have benefited from their police training and were applying what they have learned properly to the villages where they live. He described how troops are very conscious of the pull-out date and they don't want the sacrifices made by those before them to be in vain. They want the villagers left to feel more protected and freer, and they want to ensure this after they are withdrawn, so patrols are taking more chances as they visit and mix personally with Afghan villagers. It's typically noble of troops on the ground to believe in their mission because they see the need, while others at home watch the number of deaths and wounded escalate and wonder at the reality.

In today's Toronto Star, Rosie Dimanno laments in her nearly full-page column that, while Parliament debates and investigates the detainee issue, in Afghanistan, Canadian troops continue to die and schoolgirls are being gassed. "Spare some outrage for them," she concludes.

I'd like to add that the federal government's new policy not to address those wounded on the front line makes no sense. Surely the Taliban know the casualties accumulated on their own doorstep, so press announcements are not breaching security. Instead, this policy smacks of a cover-up, which the Toronto Star's investigative reporter David Bruser began to expose in his series "War at Home." The Canadian Association of Journalists has nominated Bruser for an award for this series in the "open newspaper" category. In his articles, Bruser describes the disturbing cases of post-traumatic stress disorder among returning Afghanistan war veterans and the growing problem of post-tour violence.

We never learn do we? This generation's war vets are getting the same lousy treatment Viet Nam vets suffered. And how does this affect the morale of troops still in country? They need to know that what they are doing makes a difference to the folks at home as well as for the locals in Afghanistan to make their conscientious efforts worth the physical and mental price they pay.

And so Private McKay becomes the the sixth Canadian military member to die in Afghanistan this year and the 144th killed as part of the Afghan mission since it began in 2002.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Blast kills Canadian sailor in Afghanistan just after he defuses another IED

The Canadian Press reports another body is being shipped home from Afghanistan. This time it's a sailor.

The body of Canada's first sailor killed in Afghanistan since the mission began in 2002 is on its way home.

More than 1,500 Canadian and ISAF personnel attended a ramp ceremony at Kandahar Airfield for Craig Blake, a petty officer second class.

Blake died Monday by the blast of a makeshift bomb, the very kind of device he was in the country to defuse. The explosion happened while he and his team were walking back to camp after disarming another improvised explosive device near Pay-e-Moluk, a village in the Panjwaii district about 25 kilometres southwest of Kandahar City.

The 37-year-old leaves behind his wife and two sons. His death brings to 143 the total number of Canadian Forces members who have died as part of the eight-year-old Afghan mission.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Is the price worth the sacrifice?

I've just read staggering figures in the Military Times on the amount of suicides occurring among vets and U.S. troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. According to staff reporter Rick Maze, 18 veterans commit suicide each day. New data reveals "there are an average of 950 suicide attempts each month by veterans who are receiving some type of treatment from the Veterans Affairs Department." Maze writes:

Seven percent of the attempts are successful, and 11 percent of those who don’t succeed on the first attempt try again within nine months.

Access to care appears to be a key factor, officials said, noting that once a veteran is inside the VA care program, screening programs are in place to identify those with problems, and special efforts are made to track those considered at high risk, such as monitoring whether they are keeping appointments.

Suicide attempts by Iraq and Afghanistan veterans remains a key area of concern. In fiscal 2009, which ended Sept. 30, there were 1,621 suicide attempts by men and 247 by women who served in Iraq or Afghanistan, with 94 men and four women dying.

Americans have established a VA suicide hotline. It receives nearly 10,000 calls per month from current and former military personnel. Maze notes:

Dr. Janet Kemp, VA’s national suicide prevention coordinator, credits the hotline with rescuing 7,000 veterans who were in the act of suicide — in addition to referrals, counseling and other help. In general, VA officials said, women attempt suicide more often, but men are more likely to succeed in the attempt, mainly because women use less lethal and less violent means while men are more likely to use firearms.
I could not find such an outreach for returning Canadian service people. We continue to pipe tributes for the fallen and those loyal citizens who have faithfully paid tribute on the Highway of Heroes have grown into a strong organization called Red Fridays Foundation.

But what about our returning wounded? It's not enough to praise those who have died and then ignore those who have survived. How many of our present military and vets suffer from post traumatic stress disorder? What are we doing to help them? What are our stats on attempted and successful suicides?

Politicians create the wars soldiers fight. Don't these same politicans also have a responsibility to support their troops' rehabilitation in light of the sacrifice they've made in their country's name? Where is the voice of support for them? If there is one in Canada, it is not very loud or clear.