This moving entry was written by Iain Campbell...a friend of my DH and a member of the Canadian Military who is currently deployed with my husband Dave.
LEST WE FORGET
It is a cool and pleasant evening tonight, with a gentle breeze. (Day and time withheld). We walk onto the apron at Kandahar Airfield, (KAF) Sgt. Amos in the lead. No one is talking, we are alone in our thoughts.As members of 435 Sqn., Tactical Airlift Unit, we will be the first to form up and among the last to leave. We have the heavy and privileged task of forming an honour guard, aft and parallel to the starboard wing of CC130 Hercules AC#343. As maintainers of the aircraft, we will form up in three ranks, on either side of the loading ramp. I am third from the left, next to Sgt. Amos and the Captain. We stand easy and wait. The melody of the bagpipes wafts over to us on the night air, as a lone piper plays "A Scottish soldier." Motorized lighting units bracket 343's aft fuselage, and they telescope to their full extent with a low whine, as KAF comes alive in front of us. A Chinese contract worker tests the microphone 10 feet in front of us, and orange and white cones are laid to form a path to the Herc loading ramp. They also act as a front row marker for the mass of humanity to form. C.T.V. news personnel and assorted media cluster around the tail; I do not know if I appreciate or despise their presence: I finally decide that some coverage is better than none, though politically correct spin is another issue. Thousands of troops spill onto the field; it takes almost 30 minutes to form them up. Canadian troops are the largest contingent - they are in front on either side of the path forming behind 343. The cones are removed; the R.S.M. (Regimental Sergeant Major) walks smartly down the ranks, gently tapping toes to the line with his pace stick or moving the troops left or right. It seems as if all of humanity is here; mostly Canadians tonight, but also French, Dutch, Slovaks, Bulgarians, Latvians, Ukrainians, Poles, Americans, British, Australians, and others. There are more nations represented, but I do not recognize the flags on their uniforms. I scan the ranks; a quick calculation gives an estimate of at least 8,000 troops not including those I cannot see gathering off the port wing of 343. All stand easy, awaiting the word of command, and never in all my life have I hears such utter silence, not even in church. The low rumble of diesel engines of Canadian LAV III APC's (Armoured Personnel Carriers) is heard approaching from port. The first of four appears, then three more, gliding past in a graceful but somber ballet.Only the turrets, with their cannons at maximum elevation in salute, and their Crew Commanders are visible: it is as if they sail across a sea of gathered humanity. They bank right, their offload ramps facing us, and halt precisely equidistant and in line. The R.S.M. can probably be heard a kilometre away: "Task Force Afghanistan, to your fallen comrade, Atteeehaaah!!" His entire body twists with effort and sheer force. The piper begins his plainly chosen lament, "Over the Sea (to Skye)" and the first casket approaches. Master Corporal Scott Vernelli, "Vern" (28), Cpl. Tyler Crooks (24), Trooper Jack Bouthellier (20), Trooper Corey Joseph Hayer (22). "Vern" leaves behind a young wife and 6 month old daughter. Yet again, mere boys, half my age. They perished in the line of duty on Friday in two separate I.E.D. roadside bombing attacks, while on patrolin the Zhari district. All are from either the Royal Canadian Regiment (RCR) or the Royal Canadian Dragoons (RCD). The R.S.M. yells "Task Force Afghanistan, to your fallen comrades, salute!" We will hold our salute for perhaps 5 or 6 minutes; it seems like hours, as the caskets of our brothers-in-arms pass through our vale of tears. Some cough, some sniff, some weep openly - but all to a man are unmoving, and rigid in salute. Are we hurt? Yes. Are we lacking in determination and resolve to defeat the forces of evil and darkness? No. Will we ever forget this night? Never. Some of the pallbearers stumble under the weight, both physical and emotional. A tall young man, blonde, with curly hair and a beard, takes charge. "In...out...in...out," he intones. They recover and march up the loading ramp. This procedure is repeated three more times, the media filming and taking snapshots of our grief, which their handlers in Toronto can manipulate to their own devices later. 343 rocks gently and creaks as they enter. The RSM brings us to attention, and the Padre speaks of those young men, their sacrifice, Psalm 23, and the promise of the resurrection to come. We pray; he for the dead, and I ask the Lord to pour out His love and grace upon those poor families at home. The piper has now finished his task with honour, and he marches smartlyleft in front of me, now sobbing like a child. He is followed by the pallbearers, past the three horribly injured survivors of the bombing, lying swathed in bandages, hooked up to IV's and tended by gentle medics who hug them repeatedly as they cry for their brothers. They are thinking "Why me? Why am I still breathing and my buddies aren't?" The RSM calls us to attention, dismisses the Officers, and then us. Right wheel, halt. Cpl. Dave Bower and MCpl. Bob Muise peel off to talk to the wounded; I have another mission. I must view the price of freedom, I must touch the cost of our right to think and speak and worship and vote as we choose. I clamber up the ramp of 343, no-one stops me. I freeze in my tracks, for what I see in front of me will forever be burned into my consciousness. The pallbearers have returned. They are all to a man on their knees; some are talking to the caskets quietly, gently, stroking or patting the flag. Some have their eyes closed in prayer. Some are weeping loudly, others are clinging to each other in embrace. And this is what the Taliban, and those cynical hypocrites back home both share and lack: love for the fallen. I am grateful for what I see, but now I must go to my own private place, to think and ponder all those things. And it is then, only then, that the tears come. LEST WE FORGET
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