Slain soldiers praised for passion, dedication
Published Thursday, December 31, 2009 7:57PM EST
Last Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 12:36AM EDT
Families, friends and military officials are paying tribute to four Canadian soldiers who died in a bomb blast that also killed a Calgary journalist.
The fallen soldiers are Sgt. George Miok, 28, and Cpl. Zachery McCormack, 21, both of Edmonton; Sgt. Kirk Taylor, 28, of Yarmouth, N.S.; and Pte. Garrett Chidley, 21, of Cambridge, Ont. All were members of the Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team.
Journalist Michelle Lang also died in the explosion.
The group had been travelling in the outskirts of Kandahar city when their vehicle hit an improvised explosive device. Four other Canadian soldiers and a Canadian civilian official were seriously wounded.
In a statement, Brig.-Gen. Daniel Menard described each of the soldiers proudly, calling them enthusiastic and passionate.
"George was a dedicated senior non-commissioned officer who was well liked by his troops. He planned meticulously and was always available to his troops," Mendard said of Miok. "The welfare of his soldiers came first and they knew they could turn to him for advice and guidance."
Miok taught at a junior high school in Edmonton, where colleagues said he looked after students as if they were his own children. But he had been eager to head back to Afghanistan for a second tour of duty.
Menard described the other Edmonton-based soldier, McCormack, as "an outstanding soldier and dedicated team member. He was a very caring individual who always lent a helping hand to others. He was also passionate about his family and extremely excited about the prospect of marrying his fiancee."
Menard said that Chidley always had a way to lighten the mood for his fellow soldiers.
"He loved talking about his family, especially how much fun he and his dad had together. He was a great driver, the one you wanted for difficult tasks," he said.
Chidley's father, Cam Chidley, was too distraught to speak about his son's death. He posted a short message on a social networking website.
"My ex-wife Sian and I have lost our son Garrett in Afghanistan yesterday. God help us," he said.
Menard described Taylor as a calm, dedicated soldier who worked hard at any task, but also had a "great sense of humour."
"He enjoyed a challenge and, though he didn't seek the spotlight, he would take the difficult jobs without complaint," said Menard. "He was passionate about his job back home where he mentored troubled young adults. He brought this same enthusiasm with him to Afghanistan."
A friend of Taylor in Nova Scotia, 20-year-old Ryan Axworthy, said he was "very funny and he believed in what he was doing."
"I will remember him as a mentor," he added. "And a friend I could talk to."
Menard also commended Lang for her sensitivity, and her skill in connecting with people.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack earlier on Thursday. Spokesperson Qari Mohmmad Yusuf Ahmadi told The Associated Press that the bomb, planted near a bridge in Kandahar province, was the work of his group.
It's the most deadly incident for Canadian troops in two-and-a-half years. After almost eight weeks without a fatality, five soldiers have been killed in the last week. In total, 138 Canadian soldiers have now been killed while serving in Canada's mission in Afghanistan, which began in 2002.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered his "deepest sympathies" to the family and friends of those killed in the attack.
"We owe them a debt we can never repay," he said in a statement.
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff echoed that sentiment.
"This tragic event reminds us of the considerable sacrifices Canadians make every day in the pursuit of peace and security in this war-torn region," he wrote in a statement.
Retired major general Lewis Mackenzie said Thursday that the Taliban likely planned the blast to coincide with the holiday season.
"This time of the year, Taliban aren't stupid," Mackenzie told CTV's Canada AM Thursday in an interview from Ottawa. "They know that the centre of gravity of this mission, which is the minds of the Canadian public, is pretty vulnerable at this time of year while we enjoy our holiday season."
According to Mackenzie, the ongoing U.S. troop surge in Afghanistan will lead to greater contact with militants.
"This is to be expected, unfortunately, as our people go out on patrols, spend a lot of time on the roads...and IEDs are as effective as the opponents are lucky in their detonation," Mackenzie said.
"We've had lots of bombs like this go off like this before, but they go off too early, they go off too late, they don't go off at all. We intercept probably over 90 per cent of them. This particular one obviously was planted and detonated at exactly the right time with tragic results."
Ahmadi also claimed that the Taliban were behind a suicide bombing Wednesday at a base in eastern Afghanistan that killed eight American civilians and one Afghan. Some of those civilians are reported to be CIA employees, according to a U.S. congressional official.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai released a statement expressing his condolences to both the Americans and Canadians in which he said, "your children sacrificed their lives for the people of Afghanistan and the threat of terrorism. The Afghans will not forget your sacrifice."
With files from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press