The Afghanistan Memorial Vigil offers an opportunity for reflection

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Article / June 10, 2014

By Alycia Coulter

The Canadian Armed Forces’ (CAF) 12-year mission in Afghanistan recently ended. It assisted in making the country more secure, better governed and more stable, but it did not come without sacrifice.

While serving their country with honour, 161 Canadians – 158 CAF personnel, a diplomat, a Department of National Defence contractor and a journalist – lost their lives in Afghanistan. In addition, 43 United States Armed Forces members sacrificed their lives while serving under Canadian command during operations in Afghanistan.

One of the ways Canada is commemorating the mission in Afghanistan is by honouring the fallen through the Afghanistan Memorial Vigil which will travel across Canada in 2014 and 2015,” said Captain (Capt) Indira Thackorie, Canadian Joint Operations Command (CJOC) Public Affairs Officer.

The Afghanistan Memorial Vigil (AMV) consists of 192 plaques representing the 204 fallen. Originally, the plaques were part of the Kandahar Air Field cenotaph – a memorial structure built for soldiers by soldiers to commemorate their fallen comrades while deployed in Afghanistan.

The first stop in the AMV travel schedule was on 4 May in Trenton, Ontario. On 9 May, it was displayed in the Hall of Honour on Parliament Hill during the National Day of Honour for the families of the fallen in attendance.

Three CAF personnel – Captain Patrick Lottinville, Corporal Martin Labelle and Chief Warrant Officer (CWO) David Mahon – will travel with the AMV across Canada.

During his time in the Canadian Army, CWO Mahon has been deployed to Germany, Egypt and Afghanistan. This task, however, holds an important significance for him. For CWO Mahon, the opportunity to be a part of the Vigil Party will round out his 41-year career with the CAF.

Working with soldiers who are tasked to set up and tear down the Vigil, and then discussing the intent and meaning with Canadian citizens has been the most meaningful experience of my career,” he explained. “My task is ceremonial and drill. I feel that my years in the field and on parade squares make me extremely well suited for this type of work.

At each stop, CWO Mahon will work with up to 20 personnel to prepare the Vigil. Although the travel schedule has just begun, he can already see the impact the Vigil has on the crew at each site. “Every member of the work parties understand that they are being permitted to take part in something that honours their fallen comrades and you can see this effort put forward by all personnel. It is inspiring to take part in something where every person involved is giving 100%.

Before the AMV continues to travel across Canada, a stop was planned in Washington, D.C. at the Canadian Embassy. A private viewing was held on 22 May for the families of the United States personnel included on the Vigil. A public viewing was held between 23 and 26 May, where visitors of military and non-military backgrounds were invited.

Retired Command Sergeant Major (CSM) Mark Oldroyd and his wife Karen Oldroyd traveled seven and a half hours from Castroland, New York to visit the Vigil in Washington. CSM Oldroyd served as a Squadron Command Sergeant Major for 171 Cavalry Squadron in Afghanistan. The squadron was assigned to Task Force Kandahar in 2010-2011, where he served under Canadians such as Lieutenant-General Jonathan Vance and Major-General Dean Milner.

He remembers the original plaques at the Kandahar Air Field cenotaph as a place of reflection. “When my Commander and I would go for a meeting, sometimes there were tough times. You would go out [to the cenotaph], walk through the panels and you would see there were so many significant stories,” he explained.

For his wife Karen, the Vigil is a reminder, as an armed forces family member, to support those who have lost loved ones. “You hear that family member and they bring up their memories of their loved one who has fallen. You try to help them go through that process,” she said.

Regardless of background, the AMV offers an opportunity for anyone to reflect on the mission. “I think it’s a beautiful way to honour any soldier, to have memorials and have those things travel where people can come and have a tiny bit of closure,” explained Karen Oldroyd.

During his two deployments to Kandahar in 2002 and 2011, Lieutenant-Colonel (LTC) John Kallerson also worked alongside the Canadian Armed Forces. In 2011, as Command Chaplain for Regional Command South, he traveled to work with Canadian padres, an equivalent of American chaplains, who were deployed across Afghanistan.

He is humbled by his service overseas and to have been able to bring counsel to soldiers who experienced loss. “They don’t have to be religious, but the fact that they know chaplains and padres are there to listen and to give them a little moment of solace, and some words of comfort to pray for the future, because you know they will deal with this for a long time,” he said.

LTC Kallerson sees the value of the Vigil as a way of honouring the families with something very sacred for Canada and the United States. “As Chaplains, we like to tell people to remember the stories, remember the faces, and remember the people. Here your plaques have the engraved face of every one of those soldiers, sailors, airmen…I think it’s an incredible gift to the people of Canada,” he explained.

While the Vigil offers an opportunity for all to reflect on the mission, the emotions it evokes is different for everyone. “For people who didn’t know those who are included on the Vigil, for them it’s sometimes a call to action to support those who have lost loved ones. For those who have lost family members or friends, it’s a stop along the journey towards closure,” said Capt Thackorie.

Over 40,000 Canadians served during the mission in Afghanistan, and thousands of other CAF members supported the mission. The Vigil stands as a reminder for everyone who has a connection to the mission to never forget those who fell. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a private to a colonel. If you’ve fought in Afghanistan, you had comrades, you lost your best buddies…your comrades in arms,” said CWO Mahon.

As the final task of his career in the Canadian Armed Forces, CWO Mahon will travel with the team to the remaining stops across Canada before it returns to Ottawa between 5 and 12 November.

To be entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring that the ceremonies are orchestrated in a manor that depicts the pride in which all of us have served is most gratifying,” said CWO Mahon.

For more information about the AMV travel schedule, please visit:

http://www.forces.gc.ca/en/honours-history-military-memorials/Afghanistan-memorial-vigil.page

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