On March 23rd, 2009 - only last week - the bodies of four Canadian soldiers were carried from a military aircraft at Canadian Forces Base Trenton in Ontario. They made up the 113th, 114th, 115th and 116th Canadian soldiers to die in Afghanistan since 2002.
Clockwise from top left:
Cpl. Tyler Crooks
Trooper Jack Bouthillier
Master Cpl. Scott Vernelli
Trooper Corey Hayes
Master Cpl. Scott Vernelli's flag-draped coffin was carried down the ramp first, followed by the body of Cpl. Tyler Crooks. They served in the infantry with the 3rd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment, based at CFB Petawawa. Next came the coffins carrying Trooper Jack Bouthillier and Trooper Corey Hayes from the Royal Canadian Dragoons, an armoured regiment also based at CFB Petawawa.
Governor General Michaelle Jean and Defence Minister Peter MacKay were among the family members and friends for the sombre and highly emotional ceremony. The coffins were placed in a line of waiting hearses, which headed along the highway now known as The Highway of Heroes, where every fallen soldier is saluted by ordinary Canadians from an overpass running across this highway.
A week earlier, Fox News had aired its late night talk show, Red Eye, hosted by Greg Gutfeld. "On his show, Gutfeld criticized the Canadian military for planning to take a 'synchronized break' after its Afghanistan withdrawal. 'Meaning, the Canadian military wants to take a breather to do some yoga, paint landscapes, run on the beach in gorgeous white Capri pants,' he said.
'Isn't this the perfect time to invade this ridiculous country? They have no army!' he quipped.
Panelist Doug Benson, a comedian, replied: 'I didn't even know they were in the war. I thought that's where you go when you don't want to fight. Go chill in Canada.' " - AFP
Brandon Friedman served as an infantry officer in the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division in Afghanistan and Iraq. The author of The War I Always Wanted: The Illusion of Glory and the Reality of War wrote this scathing but hilarious post about the Red Eye broadcast on the VetVoice blog:
Fox News Mocks Service of Canadian Soldiers
In it he tells of retired Canadian forces infantry sniper Rob Furlong, whom I previously saw profiled on a CBC documentary. Newfoundland-born-and-raised Furlong "killed an al Qaeda fighter from 2430 m (a mile and a half away,) the rough equivalent of standing at Toronto's CN Tower and hitting a target near Bloor Street.
Part of the 3rd Battalion of Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, Furlong was one of 900 Canadian soldiers deployed as part of the U.S.-led retribution for Sept. 11, hand-picked as Canada's contribution to Operation Anaconda.
It was March 3, 2002 - the Chinook helicopter carrying Canadian Master Cpl. Arron Perry, another sniper, twisted its way onto the mountain just before dawn. Within minutes, enemy fighters opened up, feeding the new arrivals a steady stream of small-arms and mortar fire. New Brunswick-born-and-raised Perry, hauling his rifle on his back, headed for higher ground. 'Anyone who says they are not scared is crazy,' he recalls. In that first hour, Perry fired at target after target, some as far away as 1,500 m. 'His shots were incredible,' says Sgt. Maj. Mark Nielsen, a veteran of America's 101st Airborne Division. 'One shot, one kill. If I had to send him a sweatshirt, that's what it would say.'
When the helicopter returned to the mountain a few hours later, dozens of US troops spilled out the side doors and onto the valley floor, scanning the horizon. As dusk approached, mortars and muzzle flashes lit up the sky, hammering the ground all around their position. Amid the onslaught, the Canadian snipers pummelled at least one enemy hideout. Everyone else took cover.
For the next nine days, the Canadian snipers disposed of rival fighters with diabolical precision. They became an all-star unit of sorts, shuttled from hill to hill as needed, sometimes by foot, sometimes by four-wheeler. Their bullets destroyed enemy lookouts, protected U.S. troops as they moved through the valley, and, in those moments when all hell broke loose, annihilated the source of fire.
'These guys were just excellent military professionals,' says Capt. Justin Overbaugh, the commander of a U.S. scout platoon that worked alongside one of the Canadian sniper teams. 'We didn't want to give them up. I would have brought them home with me if I could.' " - Michael Friscolanti, Macleans Magazine
" 'I don't need to remind Canadians of the actual facts, but Canadians are fighting extremely hard in perhaps the most dangerous part of Afghanistan,' said Michael O'Hanlon, a specialist on U.S. national security policy and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
'And in addition to having suffered such severe losses, they are also to my mind the No. 1 ally most admired by American commanders when I hear them speak off the record about counter-insurgency application, military heroism and general combat skills.' " - Lee-Anne Goodman, The Canadian Press