Home
 
Choose Your City
Change City

Canadian soldier's death overshadows Kandahar handover ceremony

The death of a Canadian soldier cast a dark shadow Tuesday over a ceremony marking her regiment's succession as Canada's lead battle group in Afghanistan.

The death of a Canadian soldier cast a dark shadow Tuesday over a ceremony marking her regiment's succession as Canada's lead battle group in Afghanistan.

Trooper Karine Blais, 21, was killed and four other Canadian soldiers were wounded Monday when their armoured vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb blast in the district of Shah Wali Kot, north of Kandahar.

Blais, just two weeks into her first tour of duty, was serving with the 2nd Battalion of the Royal 22nd Regiment, but was a member of the 12th Armoured Regiment of Canada, both of which are based at CFB Valcartier, Que.

Her death came a day before the Royal 22nd - also known as the Van Doos - took the reins from the 3rd Royal Canadian Regiment of Petawawa, Ont., as the primary battle group in southern Afghanistan.

Van Doos battle group commander Lt.-Col. Jocelyn Paul described Blais as an exceptional soldier who showed remarkable courage.

"Karine Blais was an energetic young woman who was appreciated by her brothers in arms," Paul said following Tuesday's handover ceremony at Kandahar Airfield.

"Personnel have been prepared to face these challenges and obviously there's always a time to grieve. Today, we're thinking about her, but obviously tomorrow we will continue with the mission."

Paul said the bomb exploded on a secondary road that had recently been patrolled.

Helicopters airlifted the four wounded soldiers to a military hospital at Kandahar Airfield despite a fierce sandstorm that pounded the area. After receiving treatment, two of the soldiers were released.

The two others were still in hospital late Tuesday; their names have not been released. "They're doing OK but their injuries are serious," Paul said.

Speaking at the handover ceremony, Brig.-Gen. Jonathan Vance, the commander of Canadian troops in Afghanistan, said Monday's explosion served as a reminder of the mission's ever-present risks.

"You must be on guard at all times," said Vance, who earlier in the day was effusive in his praise for Blais and her enthusiasm for the mission.

"She was an energetic soldier who gave 100 per cent to every challenge she faced using a unique sense of humour, based on her honesty," he said. "Frank and direct, she demonstrated the qualities of a future leader who was respected by all members of her squadron."

He said Blais, who grew up in the eastern Quebec town of Les Mechins, is survived by her mother Josee, grandmother Laurette and brother Billy.

"This young woman's life did not go to waste; she believed in her role in Afghanistan and her dedication to the overall mission is beyond commendable," Vance said.

Blais is the second female soldier from Canada to be killed as part of the Afghan mission. Capt. Nicola Goddard of the 1st Regiment of the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery, was killed in a grenade attack in May 2006.

The last 15 years have seen women take on a far greater role in the Canadian Forces, said Paul.

"Right now you can see women serving in every type of environment," he said. "They are here standing shoulder to shoulder with all the men of the whole battle group. Everybody's part of the team - whatever your gender, whatever your first language, whatever the colour of your skin."

Her death marks the first Canadian loss since March 20, when Master Cpl. Scott Vernelli, Cpl. Tyler Crooks, Trooper Jack Bouthillier and Trooper Corey Hayes died in two separate explosions.

A total of 117 Canadian soldiers have died as part of the Afghan mission since it began in 2002.

Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean said in a statement posted on her website that she was "deeply saddened" by Blais's death.

"Our soldiers risk their lives answering the call of duty by working shoulder to shoulder with a people who for decades have been left idle and subjected to terror, intimidation, insecurity and barbarous confrontations on a daily basis," Jean noted.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper also expressed his condolences to Blais's family and loved ones, and praised her honourable service to Canada.

"Canadians can rest assured that their brave men and women in uniform are resilient, and will persevere," Harper said. "This is a tragic loss for the Canadian Forces and all of Canada. Canadians will be forever grateful for Trooper Blais sacrifice."

 
 
Consider AlsoFurther Articles