Saturday, October 31, 2009

Canadian Combat Engineer Killed in Afghanistan

The latest Canadian victim of the relentless IED campaign by terrorists in Afghanistan was headed home Saturday after his flag-draped coffin was loaded onto a military transport plane.

Sapper Steven Marshall, 24, of 11 Field Squadron, 1 Combat Engineer Regiment, was the sole casualty of an explosion that struck his patrol Friday in Panjwaii district, 20 kilometres southwest of Kandahar city.

More than 2,300 Canadian and foreign troops gathered under the floodlights on the tarmac at Kandahar Airfield to pay their last respects to the Calgary native.

"Steven was a passionate hockey fan who loved his hometown Calgary Flames," said padre Cpt. Steve Defer in a eulogy delivered by the Hercules C130 that will take Marshall to CFB Trenton.

"His ever present grin and sense of humour was contagious."

One of Marshall's best friends, Sapper Dustin Perry, also called attention to his penchant for cracking jokes, which he said brought out the best in everyone.

"Those of us who knew him remember that he was the kind of guy who would do anything for you and ask nothing in return," he said following the ramp ceremony.

"He always put his friends before himself."

Marshall and Perry had been close since training together at CFB Gagetown three years ago, despite Perry being partial to the Vancouver Canucks.

"When Vancouver and the Flames were playing it was gloves off for me and Marshall," Perry said.

"Marshall was a very competitive hockey player. I was always kind of jealous of his skills."

There has been more than 60 per cent increase in the use of IEDs in Afghanistan between 2006 and 2008 according to some analysts.

It has already tracked well over 100 more cases in 2009 than for all of 2008.

Since April 2007, 65 of the 88 Canadian deaths in Afghanistan have been the result of improvised explosive devices.

As a combat engineer, Sapper Marshall was on the front lines of efforts to minimize the threat presented by the home-made bombs.

"With his skills Steven held one of the critical keys to a lasting peace in Afghanistan," said Defer.

"Clearing the mines and IEDs that threaten our soldiers promises more than just our safety, but also, it offers the real promise that the people of Afghanistan might one day know a truly lasting freedom."

Marshall was working in an area thought critical for the future success of the counter-insurgency strategy initiated by Brig.-Gen. Jonathan Vance earlier this year.

The Canadian military is working to establish a series of model villages in the Dand district that will allow them to separate insurgents from the population at large by providing security and basic economic development.

Marshall was killed in the area around Belanday, which borders Panjwaii and was considered one of the success stories of the new strategy.

May God rest his soul.

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