Remembrance Day at Kandahar Airfield

Canada’s mission in Afghanistan began 10 years ago with Operation Apollo and it transitioned into Operation Athena. In Kandahar today, troops are very busy as they prepare for another important transition – the end of Canada’s mission in Afghanistan.

But on this 11th day of the 11th month of the 11th year, at 11:11am, Canadian troops took a moment away from their busy taskings to honour and pay respect to their fallen comrades.

Near the centre of the massive maze-like Kandahar Airfield multi-national base, lies Canadian Forces Headquarters Task Force Kandahar and the HQ of Mission Transition Task Force OP ATHENA 2011.  The HQ is contained in a fairly constricted block of real estate surrounded by high concrete walls and razor wire.

But within the compound one finds one of the most important and reverent symbols of our presence in Afghanistan.  It is here that you will find the memorial to each of our fallen Canadian Forces troops as well as a memorial for American servicemen and women who died while serving with Canadians.

Each fallen member is memorialized with a laser etched granite plaque featuring their photo, unit insignia and pertinent information.  They are placed side by side on a marble faced monument that lays beneath the shade of a few of the rare trees available.

Troops from several units of the Canadian Forces gathered alongside several Unites States Army and Air Force members to await the arrival of the Minister of National Defence, the Honourable Peter MacKay, Major-General Jonathan Vance and several other dignitaries.  Most notably, they were joined by Vincent and Mabel Giourard, the parents of Chief Warrant Officer Bobby Giourard and the Mrs. Karen Megeney, mother of Corporal Kevin Megeney.

As Minister MacKay read off the names of each of Canada’s 160 fallen, including two civilians, MGen Vance laid a poppy onto each of the plaques.  But in a very moving moment, especially in the family of Kin, MGen Vance gave the honour of placing the poppy for fallen soldier Corporal Mark McLaren to his sister Corporal Kelly James who servess at Kandahar Airfield as a medic.  Mark and Kelly's father Alan McLaren is a Kinsmen and co-chaired the Portraits of Honour ceremony in Peterborough in June.

As the bugler played “Last Post” and two minutes of silence were observed, the sounds of military helicopters and fighter jets could be heard in the distance.  It was a reminder that while we stop to honour our fallen heroes, our mission here is still continuing and still dangerous.

Following the ceremony, many of the hundreds of troops who had gathered took time to visit the plaque(s) of their fallen friends.  Many removed their own poppy and placed it on at the base of the plaque of their friend.

As the representative of Portraits of Honour, I have come to know many of the families of these brave men and women and as their names were read off, tears streamed freely down my face.  I didn’t try to hide them.  The Padre here reminds troops that “the tears will heal you if you let them”.

Instead of poppies, I placed POH pins at the base of many of the plaques, particularly the ones of the troops who I’ve connected with personally.

A photo that was given to me by the Lacombe Kinsmen of their POH ceremony in October was placed on Master Corporal Byron Greff’s plaque.  Byron was from Lacombe and is Canada’s most recent casualty after being killed earlier this month by a suicide bomber in Kabul.

It’s difficult to put the feelings into words.  I’m thankful to be here and you can be sure our troops are thankful of the support they are receiving back home.

Let's hope they all come home safely and soon.