A Soldier's Portrait:  Sapper Brian Collier

Ask most Canadians to name a rank from the Canadian Army and they’re likely to say Private, Corporal, Sergeant or maybe General.  Chances are they’re not going to say Sapper and many will not be familiar with the term if you say it.

Yet Sappers are performing some of the most dangerous and vitally important duties in our Canadian Forces and particularly in our mission in Afghansitan.  Today we profile Sapper Brian Collier. 

In the Canadian Forces, a Sapper is a soldier who carries the rank of private who is assigned to the Canadian Military Engineers (CME) Branch. 

The mission of the Canadian Military Engineers is to contribute to the survival, mobility, and combat effectiveness of the Canadian Forces.

When the military needs someone to build a road, a communications line, a fortified structure or a bridge they call the combat engineers.  When they need something blown up they call the combat engineers.  The engineers also provide water, power and other utilities, provide fire, aircraft crash and rescue services, hazardous material operations, and develop maps and other engineering intelligence. In addition, military engineers are experts in deception and concealment, as well as in the design and development of equipment necessary to carry out these operations. The official role of the Combat Engineer is to allow friendly troops to live, move and fight on the battlefield and deny that to the enemy.

In Afghanistan, the Taliban has become infamous for their ability to use a variety of readily accessible items to create improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that are capable of creating catastrophic destruction and loss of life.  These homemade bombs are as unique as their maker and they have been responsible for more deaths of Canadian troops than anything else in Afghanistan.

For Sapper Brian Collier, finding and disarming IEDs was what he and his Edmonton-based 1st Combat Engineering Regiment was trained to do.  In Afghanistan, he was posted to the 1st Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment Battle Group.

Sapper Collier was born in Toronto and grew up in Bradford, Ontario just outside of Toronto.

Collier understood the dangers that he faced in his role as a combat engineer.  Canada had already lost 11 combat engineers in the war in Afghanistan.  But understanding potential danger and experiencing it first hand are very different.  Brian would soon learn first hand the risk that he was putting himself in as he experienced his first horrific encounter with an IED explosion.   

"There was an explosion that led to the death of Sgt. Martin Goudreault, a veteran of three tours of duty in the country.  Sapper Collier took command of that situation," said an emotional Major Jim Smith. "He was only metres away from that blast and he was thrown to the ground with damage to his hearing and he was knocked unconscious."

"But regardless of his injuries, he ... took command of the situation, telling those who were nearby to stay still as he cleared a lane to Sgt. Goudreau so the first responders could react," he added.

"He is one of those guys that we all admire," Smith said. "He was absolutely selfless. He put his friends and those section mates first, a true hero."

At the time, Sapper Collier memorialized his colleague on his Facebook page: “R.I.P. Sgt. Goudreault, you were a damn good soldier and an awesome section commander,” he wrote. “Have a safe trip home and watch over us as we complete the rest of our mission in this unforgiving land.”

Brian didn’t consider his job any more or any less dangerous than the other soldiers who patrolled the Afghan countryside and villages.  He knew it was a job that needed to be done and it was job that he was trained to do.

“He fought hard to overcome his injury in order to get back to doing his job with his comrades,” Brigadier-General Jon Vance, commander of Task Force Kandahar, said to the over 1500 troops who gathered on the ramp at the Kandahar Airfield as Collier’s flag draped coffin was loaded onto a transport plane to return home.

What more can you say about the character, determination and courage of a Canadian soldier? 

Sapper Collier rejoined his unit and on July 20, 2021 he found himself back in his familiar combat gear on patrol in the village of Nakhonay, in the eastern part of Panjwaii District.

He had dismounted from his vehicle near Nakhonay, about 15 kilometres west of the city of Kandahar, when he was killed by a homemade landmine.

Of course the media like to report on the numbers.  Brian was 24 years old.  He became the 151st Canadian Forces member killed in Afghanistan since Canada's mission began in 2002.  He became the 12th combat engineer to be killed.  At the time of his Collier’s death, 92 of the 151 Canadian fatalities in Afghanistan were due to IEDs.

But Sapper Brian Collier wasn’t a statistic.  He was a brave and dedicated Canadian, a professional soldier, who made a conscious and voluntary decision to travel half a world away to try to protect his fellow soldiers, impede the enemy forces and bring safety to the thousands of innocent Afghan people who wander unknowingly amongst homemade bombs and undetonated ordinance.

He is a son to Carol and Jim Collier, a brother to Shannon, Jennine and Lauren.  He is a hero in every sense of the word.

Check out this CBC feature story about Sapper Collier and the Portraits of Honour mural that will forever remind us of his sacrifice and service.

Please take a moment to look back on some of our other stories as our crew enjoys some days off.