MA’SUM GHAR, Afghanistan – Even though Canada Day meant more missions to hunt for insurgents and roadside bombs along with an ambush for the commander of the forces in southern Afghanistan, Canadian soldiers still found peaceful ways to mark the country’s special day on Wednesday.
Members of Lord Strathcona’s Horses, for example, decked out their tanks with several small Maple Leafs that fluttered colourfully against the drab camouflage brown and green as the Leopards rolled out from this small forward operating base in the dangerous Panjwaii district.
Trooper James Lajoie, of Calgary, sporting a bright red tie with white maple leaf over his combat fatigues, joked his celebration would be to “stay alive.” He made no apologies for his non-regulation outfit.
“We got a whole bunch of good Canada stuff from home, so figured we’d put it on for the day, celebrate as much as we can, keep the spirits and morale high,” Lajoie said after taping a flag to the tank’s barrel.
While Lajoie said Canada Day was special, it was “good to be a Canadian every day.”
Meanwhile, Brig.-Gen. Jonathan Vance was spending his day visiting troops out at remote bases in Kandahar province’s Zhari district when he happened upon an ambush of a convoy of military and non-military equipment under private security escort.
“We heard the ambush start, and we moved up to investigate. We saw the ambush was happening, and tried to stop it, and they did,” Vance told The Canadian Press.
Vance said his escort crew, which travels in a well-armed command convoy, killed several insurgents in warding off the ambush.
For hundreds of other Canadians at the main base of Kandahar Airfield, Wednesday offered a chance to let their hair down and have a rollicking good time.
Soldiers and civilians were in festive mood as they took part in or watched several events that included a tug-o’-war, a volleyball tournament, tire flipping and the quintessential ball hockey.
In remarks kicking off the fun, Col. Roch Lacroix, deputy commander of task force Kandahar, had a message for Canadians back home.
“Your support for our efforts here is valued and very important as we carry on with our task at hand,” Lacroix said.
The colonel also took a moment to remember three soldiers who died in action over the past few months: Trooper Karine Blais, Pte. Alexandre Peloquin and Cpl. Martin Dube.
All three were killed by dreaded explosive devices.
“They’re not here physically, but certainly they are with us in our hearts and in the spirit and in the conduct of our activities,” Lacroix said.
The day was capped off at Kandahar with a cake-cutting, an evening barbecue, music, and a much prized, carefully rationed two beers or half-bottle of wine.
Back at the Ma’sum Ghar base, the lack of festivities and need to kit up and head out into the Panjwaii district wasn’t about to dampen the patriotism of Trooper Luc Ringuette, of Edmunston, N.B.
“It’s Canada Day and we’re proud to be Canadian and show it to everybody,” he said as he fastened a small plastic Maple Leaf to his tank beneath a Jesus figurine swaying on a spring.