Saturday, March 13, 2010

Military unveils memorial for slain journalist at Kandahar Airfield

By Steve Rennie, excerpts from The Canadian Press

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - A memorial for the first Canadian reporter killed in Afghanistan will now greet every journalist working out of the Kandahar military base.

The military unveiled a plaque Saturday for Michelle Lang, the Calgary Herald reporter killed alongside four Canadian soldiers late December.

The plaque, affixed to a wooden post and braced by small sandbags, stands between the two media tents in the Canadian compound of Kandahar Airfield. Beneath a photo of Lang is the inscription "In memory of Michelle Lang, journalist, Calgary Herald & Canwest, KIA 4:00 p.m. 30 Dec 2009, Kandahar city."

It is a simple but significant tribute to a life cut short when the armoured vehicle she was travelling in struck a huge roadside bomb. And it stands as a reminder to journalists covering the war of the perils that come with reporting from the front lines.

The acting commander of Task Force Kandahar said the military wanted to honour Lang in much the same way it has fallen soldiers. "If you look around Kandahar, you'll see forward-operating bases, patrol bases and camps that are named after fallen Canadian soldiers," Col. Simon Hetherington said.

"After Michelle's death, it became natural for us to think that given her personality, her dedication and her professionalism, that she should be granted some similar form of recognition."

Lang, 34, was killed only two weeks into her first assignment as a war correspondent for the Calgary Herald and Canwest News Service. Also killed in that blast were Sgt. George Miok, 28; Sgt. Kirk Taylor, 28; Cpl. Zachery McCormack, 21; and Pte. Garrett Chidley, 21.

Matthew Fisher, a veteran Canwest reporter, remembers meeting Lang at a Calgary steak house last October before she shipped out to Kandahar. "She was just full of enthusiasm," he said. "She so badly wanted to get here."

The two colleagues spoke about Lang's apprehensions about the assignment, from the dangers that come with the job to the difficulties of filing stories from a war zone. Lang, who won a National Newspaper Award last year for coverage of health and medical issues, wanted to shift her focus away from the bombs and bullets of the war. "She had a specific line she wanted to follow," Fisher said.

"Journalism, I believe, is a very big church, and there's room for people with many different kinds of interests in it. Some of us are more interested in the hard-core, if you like, military aspect. Others are interested in things that are equally important but maybe a little bit softer in focus. And that was Michelle."

Lang spent her final days at the provincial reconstruction team headquarters in Kandahar city.

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