Pride and determination: Celebrating Canada’s birthday in Kandahar
KANDAHAR — Kandahar Air Field was transformed Canada Day as dashes of red and white were added to the muted dusty beige landscape of the air base. CF personnel and civilian staff participated in a variety of Canada Day activities, carried miniature Canadian flags, played with red Frisbees and wore red and white shirts and maple leaf temporary tattoos.
The festivities began with an emotional presentation ceremony at the Task Force Kandahar (TFK) HQ monument to fallen soldiers. Mrs. Maureen Eykelenboom, mother of medic Corporal Andrew “Boomer” Eykelenboom, who was killed by a suicide bomber in August 2006, presented TFK deputy commander Colonel Jamie Cade, with a cheque for C$80 000.
“We in Canada, in our safety, in our beautiful country, in our land of opportunity – we have so much,” Mrs. Eykelenboom said. “And we need to learn in this world that [from] those to whom much is given, much is expected.”
Ordinary Canadians raised the money, which will go into the Afghanistan Assistance Trust Fund, to be used for small projects assisting Afghans. Medics treating Afghan villagers in Spin Boldak discovered five-year-old Habibur Rahman, for example, who has dolichocephalism, a birth defect resulting in major facial disfigurement. Money from the fund will be used to send Habibur to Karachi, Pakistan for a consultation with specialists. Then, further funding will be considered for Habibur’s treatment.
KAF Canada Day celebrations provided both an opportunity to reflect on the importance of the Canadian mission in Afghanistan and a much-needed chance to kick back and enjoy the company of friends and colleagues.
Members of TFK enjoyed a barbeque and cold drinks on the boardwalk, and had their photos taken with the Grey Cup (in KAF accompanied by Rough Rider alumni and hall-of-famers Roger Aldag and Steve Mazurak). A giant Canada Day cake was shared around, eliciting cheers and an impromptu rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’.
“As I walked around the boardwalk with my mother,” said Corporal Sonya Haskell, of the Joint Task Force Afghanistan all source intelligence cell, “I was filled with a lot of pride about being Canadian.” Her mother, Commander Bonita Thornton, is also in-theatre, serving as TFK senior legal advisor.
As evening set in, Canadian personnel moved to New Canada House, where comedian Mike MacDonald regaled them with his wit and humour. Then, it was back to the boardwalk for the final Canada Day event, a concert by country singer George Canyon. Before the first song was even played, however, the telltale whistling sound and subsequent bang of a rocket impacting the ground was heard, but the festivities continued in the concrete blast shelters. Although it was not Mr. Canyon’s first visit to KAF, it was his first rocket attack, which he marked by inscribing the concrete wall of the shelter by lighter-light. And after the ‘all clear’ was given, the show went on.
“It was the best Canada Day ever,” said Sergeant Maranda Robertson, an analyst working in the information operations cell. “I haven't been to many concerts, so being 10 feet from the stage was amazing.” When the band launched into the Johnny Cash classic ‘Ring of Fire’, the audience sang along and the speakers were turned up so our insurgent neighbours could partake in our Canada Day merriment.
“The whole band was really down-to-earth,” Sgt Robertson said. “They all just seemed so happy to be able to come here and put on a show for the soldiers. That means a lot. It’s nice to know that people back home support us and appreciate the hard work we are doing here.”
During the day’s festivities, the work of colleagues in the field during Canada Day was not far from mind.
“Many spent the day engaged with the enemy in remote places around Afghanistan,” said Captain Peter Boyle, a Calgary Highlander with the national support element and one of the event organizers. “Their efforts in providing security so that the Afghan people will be able to build a nation with democratic principals are the true reasons to celebrate on Canada Day.”
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