'End of an era' in Afghanistan

A Canadian soldier sheds a tear during the last Remembrance Day ceremony after troops ended their combat mission there in July at Kandahar Air Field, November 11, 2011.

Credits: REUTERS/Ryan Remiorz/Pool


Defence Minister Peter MacKay called the final official Canadian Remembrance Day ceremony at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan "the end of an era."

During the ceremony on a cool but sunny Friday morning, MacKay read out the names of every Canadian soldier and civilian killed as part of the mission. As he read the names, a poppy was placed on the black marble etchings bearing the names and likenesses of those who died, sometimes by loved ones, like Cpl. Kelly James, who placed a poppy next to the name of her close friend Cpl. Mark Robert McLaren. He died in Afghanistan in December 2008.

"It's a very solemn feeling knowing that with each name, it's piercing the heart of a family to have lost a loved one here. But there's also an enormous sense of pride that those sacrifices are not in vain," MacKay told reporters.

The ceremony was held just after 10 a.m. with more than 100 Canadian soldiers and civilians gathered to mark the solemn occasion.

Canada's combat role in Afghanistan ended in July, but troops will remain in the country in a training capacity until 2014.

The ceremony was held just two weeks after the latest Canadian death in Afghanistan. Master Cpl. Byron Greff, 26, was killed Oct. 29 in a suicide bomb attack on a NATO bus convoy transporting people to their peacekeeping jobs around Kabul.

Greff was the 158th Canadian to die in Afghanistan since 2001.

"Today was a very poignant, respectful demonstration on behalf of Canadians for the enormous respect we have for the service and sacrifice of Canadian troops here in Kandahar," MacKay said after the service. "This is the end of an era. This is a mission transition now that has seen the end of combat and has seen much sacrifice on behalf of Canadians in this mission, but much to celebrate in terms of the accomplishments: more schools and education, more health, more security and a chance for a better future in Afghanistan is what has been accomplished and what continues to be accomplished by Canadians and our allies and by Afghans."

He said the Afghan mission hit home for Canadians because it wasn't "another generation's war."

"I suspect that five or 10 years ago, very few Canadians could have located Afghanistan on a map. And now, it is a country that Canadians have come to know, come to feel a sense of pride for what has been accomplished here, and to understand the sting of loss and sacrifice that accompanies a mission such as this," MacKay said, noting we also now have "veterans as young as 19 and 20 years old."

The monument with the faces and names of fallen Canadians will be brought back to Canada, MacKay said, but he couldn't guarantee a permanent memorial in Kandahar, saying it "is a possibility that we haven't ruled out."

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