The National Day of Honour was marked on Parliament Hill and across the country, as Canadians gathered to remember Canada’s mission in Afghanistan. The 12-year mission formally ended six weeks ago. Prime Minister Stephen Harper — along with his wife Laureen, and Governor General David Johnston — reflected on the one hundred and 58 soldiers who died, while in the hall of honour Friday. The day was also marked by a parade in Ottawa, as well as a memorial service in the senate.
And Hamilton is one of the many cities holding a ceremony. The armouries on James Street North will be the end venue. We spoke with some of the soldiers who served in Afghanistan.
Canada’s Afghanistan mission lasted 12 years. Cost the lives of 158 Canadian soldiers and left many others with lifelong memories.
“It was hot and dry, a very dusty country. There was this stark beauty to it too.”
Sgt Dave Ganong of the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry did a tour in Afghanstan and found a new sense of purpose in his work, even in the face of rocket attacks on his camp: “There was this incredible sense of fulfillment being there. That I was actively particpating in something that was going on, forwarding the aims of Canada and helping people that were there.”
“It’s a C3 howitzer.”
Chief Warrant Officer Paul Elliott of the Royal Canadian Artillery in Brantford was in Afghanistan and learned things about being a soldier: “How the canadian army worked together as a whole, a battle group, as a team. How the soldiers just not myself all the young soldiers. How they performed and how they did their duty.”
And Captain Kevin Smith was an artillery instructor who came under fire in Afghanistan but also taught some of the soldiers who were killed.
“It’s mostly those I knew who didn’t come back, that to me is what the Afghanistan experience is about.”
While there’s criticism of the Afghan mission, Smith says Canadians should recall the terrorist attacks that sparked the war: “What it was like on that morning of 911. How we felt then. That we had a sense that we had to do something.”
And from the point of view of soldiers who were there, Canada can point to a mission accomplised.
Paul said: “I’ve personally seen things with the Afghan people. They were allowed to vote. Girls were going to school.”
“I think that we were there to help people. I think that we were there to stablize the region and I think we did accomplish that.”
This Day of Honor was put together fairly quickly. We only found out about it in March, when the Canadian military operation in Afghanistan officially ended. But the Afghan vets say the ceremonies are appreciated as a recognition of what the Canadians did in Aghanistan and the sacrifices they made.