Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Canadian Military Involvement in Afghanistan Formally Ends; Army Set to Leave

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Canadian Military Involvement in Afghanistan Formally Ends; Army Set to Leave

Article excerpt

Canadian army lowers the flag in Afghanistan

--

KABUL - As the Canadian flag inched its way down the pole Wednesday at NATO headquarters in Kabul, Master Cpl. Jordan Taylor didn't necessarily see the red and white Maple Leaf.

The faces of friends who didn't come home were before his eyes.

Taylor is a fresh-faced kid from Regina, and anyone looking at him would hardly be able to guess he's a veteran of a unit that saw some of the fiercest fighting during the five-year combat mission in Kandahar.

"I've had some good friends who've lost their lives here," said Taylor, who helped haul down the flag on Canada's longest-ever military mission.

"I see their faces all the time, always remember them. So, that's what I was reflecting on."

One buddy in particular came to mind: Cpl. Darren Fitzpatrick.

He died in an Edmonton hospital after being wounded in a roadside bomb attack in March 2010. The two of them joined the 3rd Battalion Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry together. They hung out and watched out for each other.

The wounds this country has inflicted were on quiet, subtle display at the understated ceremony before the headquarters building.

Sprinkled through crowd of three dozen Canadians who stood at attention were troops who'd returned to Afghanistan three, four, even five times in the dozen years the army has been involved in trying to stabilize the fractured nation.

The first Canadian casualties to die were on the mind of Chief Warrant Officer Bill Crabb, who served the first battle group dispatched by Jean Chretien's Liberal government in spring 2002.

Four soldiers died when a U.S. Air Force pilot mistakenly bombed them believing their training exercise was a real attack on Kandahar Airfield.

"I was thinking of the people we lost over here," said Crabb. "I was involved in the first strike, the friendly-fire incident in 2002."

"I went out to help recover the heroes we brought back that day. And in my (next) tour here we lost 23 guys. I couldn't help but think of them and the sacrifices they made."

That kind of raw reflection was etched on many faces.

The finality of what took place was only underscored as the last handful of training troops, kitted out in full combat gear, trudged through a soccer field adjacent to the headquarters to board American helicopters for a trip to a holding camp before boarding flights out of the country.

The last pair of Canadian boots to step off the grounds of the headquarters and on to the ramp belonged to Col. Ivy Miezitis, who according to officers watching the departure seemed to dawdle in hopes of snagging the historical footnote.

During the understated ceremony, dignitaries -- Canadian and allied alike -- praised the country's involvement and sacrifices.

"Your strength has protected the weak; your bravery has brought hope to hopeless; and the helping hand you have extended to the Afghan people has given them faith that a better future is within their grasp," Deborah Lyons, Canada's ambassador to Afghanistan, told an assembly of the last 100 soldiers who served on a three-year training mission. …

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