Friday, April 18, 2008

Slain Soldiers' families see Afghan war zone

I've had my gripes about the Candian military high command in the past but now they seem to understand that the Soldiers and their families come first. I'm impressed.

'I Feel Him Here'

Ryan Cormier, Canwest News Service
Published: Thursday, April 17, 2008

KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, AFGHANISTAN - Shortly before he went to Afghanistan, Trooper Darryl Caswell invited his mother to CFB Petawawa, near Ottawa, and insisted she buy a pair of military-issue hiking boots just like the ones he would wear overseas.

"He said the good thing was, Mom, your boots will never get to Afghanistan," said Darlene Cushman.

This week, they did. Ms. Cushman wore the boots when she stepped off a plane at Kandahar Airfield on Tuesday and throughout her two-day tour of the mission for which her son died.

"I wanted to see what my son had dedicated and given his life to," she said. "I wanted to feel as much as I could about what Darryl felt. It's difficult, yet it's comforting. Even though Darryl is resting in Ottawa in the military cemetery, I know that I feel him here."

Trooper Caswell, 25, of Bowmanville, was killed by a roadside bomb on June 11, 2007.

His mother and sister, Jolene Cushman, joined family members of four other soldiers who have died in Afghanistan to tour the Kandahar Airfield and be briefed on the progress of the mission.

The military offers the trip to all family members of those killed in Afghanistan as a step in the healing process, said Lieutenant-Colonel Gerry Blais, director of casualty support for the Canadian Forces. It is the second such trip, after a similar one in November. The military limits each trip to members of four or five families to sustain a close feeling among them.

Some take the military up on their offer, others don't.

When the invitation came to his Bridgewater, N.S., home, Jim Davis decided to go "in a heartbeat." His son, Corporal Paul Davis, 28, was killed when the light-armoured vehicle he was in crashed and rolled on an Afghanistan road six weeks after he arrived.

"I always wanted to come when I heard my son was killed," Mr. Davis said. "I knew I had to come to Afghanistan. He sacrificed his life for what I believe was a good cause. I believe in that cause. I wanted to come here and see it for myself."

As part of his trip, Mr. Davis rode in the same type of vehicle in which his son died.

For Barry Mellish, the trip from Truro, N.S., was important for two reasons. He wanted to confirm for himself that there was still progress being made in the country and to see how his son was being remembered.

As he sat next to the Canadian cenotaph, his eyes watered whenever a soldier passed and saluted the monument to fallen soldiers.

Warrant Officer Frank Mellish, 38, died during a ground offensive on Sept. 3, 2006.

Each family was provided with a military escort who served with their son in some way. For Barry Mellish, it was Master Warrant Officer John Barnes, who was standing near his son when he died and was injured in the same attack.

"He was right there," Mr. Mellish said. "We were able to ask him questions about the incident. You look them in the eye and they look you in the eye and you know they're not misleading you. You see their feelings, too. They have a lot of memories, hurt and pain from losing fellow comrades. It helps to see that."

The trip concluded yesterday with a memorial ceremony attended by family members, senior Canadian officers and members of the Afghan National Army. Each family laid a wreath at the cenotaph in honour of their sons and brothers.


Ky Woman said...

May a American say how proud I am of all the Canadians who have stood with us and the Afghani people in the fight against evil?
My daily prayers are not for just our Armed Forces but for all the men and women from all Nations who have bled a common blood in those battles.

May God Bless and keep them all safe.

What a wonderful thing for the Canadian government to give their Heroes families...

Long-time RN said...

I'm closed to speechless after reading the Canandian government's offer to family members of those KIA. An incredibly thoughtful option for those suffering loss.
Thank you for this post.