Bodies of 4 fallen Cdn. soldiers coming home
Published Saturday, March 21, 2009 11:17PM EDT
Canadian troops carried the bodies of four fallen soldiers onto a military plane during a mournful ramp ceremony at Kandahar airfield early Sunday local time.
The four soldiers -- Master Cpl. Scott Vernelli, 28, Cpl. Tyler Crooks, 24, Trooper Jack Bouthillier, 20, and Trooper Corey Joseph Hayes, 22 -- perished Friday in two separate roadside bomb attacks.
Accompanied by the sound of bagpipes, soldiers who carried the flag-draped coffins were visibly emotional during the ceremony, which was watched by 3,000 NATO troops just after midnight.
The slain solders will now return to Canada where they will be laid to rest.
They were killed during a mission aimed at breaking up the Taliban's supply lines in southern Afghanistan, the latest of 116 military deaths in the country.
Vernelli and Crooks died around 6:45 a.m. local time while on a foot patrol west of Kandahar in the Zhari district. Five other Canadian soldiers were injured in the blast and a local interpreter also perished.
Bouthillier and Hayes were killed by an improvised explosive device which blew up about two hours later.
All four soldiers were all based at CFB Petawawa in Ontario.
Brigade Commander, Lt. Col. Mark Misener, speaking Saturday in Petawawa, said the military will do all it can to support the families of the troops.
"In the military, we are all part of a large family and we all feel the impact of casualties, be they be killed or wounded in action. We will not forget their sacrifice as we continue to bring security and hope to the people of Kandahar," he said.
"They were all very young, very professional, very dedicated soldiers that believed in the mission in Afghanistan," he added.
Vernelli, who was on his third tour of duty in Afghanistan, leaves behind a wife and a daughter born only six months ago.
Tributes to the fallen
"He was definitely committed to his wife and his young daughter," said friend and fellow soldier Lieut. Andrew Hennessey, speaking to CTV News in Petawawa.
"She's a beautiful little girl and they had a beautiful young family, and I know that Scott was really looking forward to coming back," he said.
Hennessey added that Vernelli was "very keen, very intelligent and an example for others to look up to."
Crooks, who died on his 24th birthday, was engaged to his high school sweetheart and friends said he was a fit and active young man dedicated to soldering.
Hennessey said that both soldiers will be greatly missed at Petawawa.
"It really is a small community, so we really try to pull together and rally around families of our fallen."
In the small village of Ripples, N.B., community members mourned the passing of Hayes on Saturday.
Family friend Ann Jordan said that Corey was well-liked in the small, close community.
"Corey was a great guy and he was always smiling," Jordan said Saturday, recalling that Hayes came to see her family just before departing for Afghanistan.
"It's sad for all the people."
Bouthillier, meanwhile, practiced martial arts and was known for his sense of humour, said Brig.-Gen. Jonathan Vance, the commander of Canadian troops in Afghanistan.