On Tuesday, the last contingent of Canadian troops in Afghanistan lowered the flag for the final time in Kabul. The Canadian mission to that troubled country is officially over.
It has lasted for almost 12 and one-half years, with the mission first announced in November, 2001 by then-prime minister Jean Chretien. That was shortly after a number of countries went to war against the Taliban government there, after the 9/11 attacks. The Taliban had been aiding Al-Qaeda in its attacks on western institutions and governments.
Over the years, 40,000 Canadian troops served in Afghanistan — a staggering number. Their more than 12 years of service is a record for any Canadian engagement in a war zone. The Second World War lasted for just under six years, and the First World War lasted for four and one-half years.
A total of 158 Canadians died as a direct result of the Canadian Forces engagement there. In addition, a diplomat and a journalist were killed as a result of the mission. Two of the fallen were from this community — Private Garrett Chidley, 21, who grew up in Langley and graduated from Langley Secondary; and Master Corporal Colin Bason, 28, a reservist with the Royal Westminster Regiment, who lived in Abbotsford but had many close connections with Aldergrove.
Master Cpl. Bason was killed in July 4, 2007 when his armoured vehicle hit a roadside bomb. His partner and mother of his daughter, Katrina Blain, is a former Times and Aldergrove Star employee and that death hit those of us who knew her hard.
Pte. Chidley died along with four others, including journalist Michelle Lang of the Calgary Herald, on Dec. 31, 2009. The armoured vehicle they were riding in struck an improvised explosive device (IED) in the Kandahar district, where most of the Canadians died.
Pte. Chidley, who graduated from Langley Secondary in 2006, was a member of the 2nd Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry.
Both deaths were felt deeply by many people in this community. They were felt personally by those who knew the two soldiers. They were felt almost as deeply by those who support the Canadian military, which is probably about 90 per cent of the population of Langley. They support the troops even if they disagreed with sending troops there, because Canada’s military are highly-regarded by most Canadians. Those who doubt that need to attend a Remembrance Day service.
Two people who felt the deaths of the Langley soldiers deeply were brother and sister Michael and Elizabeth Pratt. Part of their connection was being close in age; part was personal. Elizabeth went to school with Pte. Chidley’s younger brother Joe at Brookswood Secondary.
They started Langley Youth For the Fallen, and with support from many people, created a large memorial tree planting and walk at the Derek Doubleday Arboretum, west of Langley Airport.
The tree walk has proven to be a popular destination and it is a very good place to go to remember the sacrifices of those who fell, and also those who were wounded in Afghanistan. It will be a living memorial to them which will endure for many years — much as several of the the trees planted after the First World War at significant locations in Langley survive today.
As the soldiers’ time in Afghanistan ends, we also need to remember the needs of those who were wounded, physically and mentally, in that conflict. Langley Rotary Club heard from one of them, retired Lieut.-Col. Chris Linford, on March 6. He and his wife Kathryn are national ambassadors for Wounded Warriors Canada, and they gave an inspiring and personal talk about the struggle he had with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, how he was helped, and how important it is to continue to offer help.
The club will be raising funds for Wounded Warriors Canada this year, and it is a very worthwhile cause.