The remains of one the latest three Canadian soldiers to be killed in Afghanistan is carried across the tarmac during a ramp ceremony at Kandahar Airfield on Saturday, Dec. 6, 2008.
Memorial to fallen Canadians an ‘oasis of peace’
December 7 2008
Like much of the base, the monument behind a two-storey building at Kandahar Airfield is in a no-salute zone — but soldiers invariably salute when they pass by.
The large marble and slate memorial bears the names and photographs of Canadians who have paid the ultimate price trying to bring peace and stability to a nation ravaged by war for more than 30 years.
It is in a corner behind the administrative offices of Joint Task Force Afghanistan, in the shade of some of the few trees to be found on the dusty, gravel military base.
“When they pass the memorial, you will see every soldier stand to attention and salute the memorial,” said senior chaplain Maj. Doug Friesen.
“This has just occurred spontaneously. You can’t stop them. They’re going to do it anyway to respect their fallen comrades.”
While Canada has lost a diplomat and two aid workers to insurgent violence since the mission began in 2002, Canadian soldiers have, for obvious reasons, borne the brunt of the casualties.
On Friday, the military death toll reached 100 when three more Canadian soldiers were killed.
The milestone is seen by some to be tragic and pivotal. But Friesen suggested the attention given to the number is arbitrary.
“You hate to lose one friend, one soldier, one son or one husband,” he said. “For the family that’s lost someone, that’s 100 per cent of their loved one.”
The soldiers are well aware of the risks. Friesen said he is not convinced that hitting the 100 mark will have any bearing on their commitment to the task at hand.
“Certainly there’s going to be lots of reflection and thought on the cost of the war and our role here,” Friesen said.
“But frankly, I don’t know whether the number 100 is going to have a noticeable effect on morale here for the troops.”
For Master Warrant Officer Albert Boucher, the camp sergeant-major who looks after the monument, ensuring each and every fallen soldier receives a dignified farewell is a task he doesn’t take lightly.
He helps organize the elaborate ramp ceremonies that draw thousands of soldiers from a multitude of countries to the tarmac at Kandahar Airfield to pay respects as the deceased is placed aboard a transport plane on the final journey home.
But he also has the quiet task of putting up the laser-etched granite plaques bearing each fallen soldier’s photograph, name, rank, unit and age.
It can take as long as four weeks after a death for the plaque to arrive in Kandahar. It is typically affixed to the wall of honour with little fanfare.
Unlike the ramp ceremony, there are no bagpipes, no procession, no flag party.
“I personally like to do it at night. That’s when I put it in,” Boucher said.
“I like them to just be there. To just appear.”
The memorial is the place where friends, comrades and relatives can come to reflect, often laying flowers, photographs or other mementoes before they leave.
“You’ll see … there’s a lot of comrades who’ve lost soldiers and friends here who will come see the plate before they go home,” he said.
“Quite often they’re out at (forward operating bases) or combat outpost and they’re not able to come back and be at the ramp ceremony.”
Friesen said soldiers will often mark the one-year anniversary of a comrade’s death with a small ceremony at the memorial.
Relatives of deceased soldiers who are invited to Afghanistan on occasion will make a stop at what Friesen calls the “little oasis of peace.”
“They’ve done a beautiful job of giving something here that’s respectful, reverend and sacred,” he said.
Total: 100 Deaths
Since the start of Canadian military activities in Afghanistan, 100 Canadian soldiers have lost their lives. A Canadian diplomat and two Canadian aid workers have also been killed over the course of the insurgency.