Soldiers bound for Afghanistan get pep talk before mission
Marc Bence/For Metro Edmonton
More than 1,000 Edmonton-based soldiers bound for Afghanistan know the dangerous challenges that are ahead of them, a senior military leader said during an official farewell ceremony yesterday.
"We’re tragically losing people," Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie told soldiers from across Alberta gathered at the Edmonton Garrison. "But, in part, it’s a soldier’s duty, wherever a nation sends them, to fight a good fight."
His comments were delivered while U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates was backpedalling on earlier statements he made criticizing NATO’s preparedness in Afghanistan.
"I wanted to make sure (Canada) understood our respect for their contribution and how much of an impact they are making," Gates told reporters in Washington.
The Los Angeles Times had quoted him earlier this week as criticizing NATO’s ability to fight a counterinsurgency.
"We have the technologies, we have heavier vehicles, but it’s boots on the ground that’s going to contribute to the mission’s success," Leslie said in Edmonton, telling reporters later he thought Gates’ comments had been taken out of context.
Among the deploying soldiers, half will serve in the war-torn country for the first time and Leslie says the troops will be "extraordinarily well-equipped" to take on the mission’s challenges.
Edmonton soldiers also defended their training yesterday, saying they have all the tools and expertise they need to make a difference.
"I’m well trained for the job that I am going to be doing and I have been looking forward to it ever since I signed up for it," said Adam Nasland, 19, who is leaving behind his parents and a girlfriend for six months.
Capt. Ray Chiason, 32, is leaving his wife behind in Edmonton for the second time, but it’s the first year his kids will not see him for six consecutive months. "Seeing him leave was tough, but it prepared me for this mission," said his wife, Jennifer Chiason, while holding their seven-month-old baby boy, Ray Jr.