KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – Sapper Matthieu Allard, identified as the second soldier killed in a weekend explosion in Afghanistan, was remembered as a kind young man who sought his family’s advice on joining the army.
Canadian military officials released the name of Allard, 21, of the 5th Combat Engineers Regiment, on Monday after his next of kin had been notified of his death.
Allard was killed Saturday alongside his friend, Cpl. Christian Bobbitt, in a roadside bomb attack in the Zhari district, west of Kandahar.
Bobbitt’s name was released Sunday, but Allard’s was withheld while military officials contacted his next of kin.
Allard’s father Rene works in Mexico and got the sad news there late Sunday night, according to members of his family.
Therese Allard, the soldier’s aunt, said the family was proud of him and supported his decision to join the army and go to Afghanistan.
“He’s a boy who was very polite, very kind,” the aunt said in a telephone interview from Val d’Or, Que. where Allard was born and raised.
“He asked for advice,” she said, noting he consulted his father and grandmother.
“He was told it’s your life’s choice. We can’t be against that. It’s what you want.”
The young soldier was very close to his grandmother, Janine Rivard, who said she spoke with him for the last time a week ago.
He told her he was still carrying in his pocket the tiny Virgin Mary statue she had given him for protection when he first entered the army.
“I said ‘Matthieu, I pray all the time for you. Everyday’,” she said, sobbing during a telephone interview.
During that conversation he admitted he was at risk but that he was happy, the 74-year-old grandmother said.
Although she worried about him, Rivard said the family has always supported Allard’s decision to go to Afghanistan and that they were proud of him.
“It’s something he wanted to do. He wanted to go there,” she said.
Rivard said the two were very close. He called her grand-maman and she was the first person he would visit when he returned to Val d’Or.
“He took good care of me. He was very good,” she said.
Allard enrolled in the army March 29, 2007 and deployed to Afghanistan in April this year.
Allard and Bobbitt, both combat engineers, were in Afghanistan with the 2e Batallion of the Royal 22e Regiment, based in Valcartier, Que.
They had dismounted from their vehicle to secure the area after an initial blast near the town of Senjaray, when they were killed by a second explosion.
Brig.-Gen. Jonathan Vance, commander of Task Force Kandahar, said Allard was a leader among his squad, who used his humour to keep up their morale.
Maj. Yannick Pepin, commander of the 51 Field Engineering squadron, said Allard and Bobbitt, 23, were good friends.
“They were always together,” he said following a ramp ceremony honouring the men at the NATO airbase in Kandahar.
He described Allard as a hard-working team leader.
“If you didn’t say stop, he’d always continue working.”
“The loss of these two is very difficult,” Pepin said, but the work will continue.
Their remains are scheduled to arrive back in Canada on Tuesday. A 2 p.m. EDT repatriation ceremony is planned at CFB Trenton, Ont.
Rivard said Allard’s father was returning to Canada from Mexico. Allard’s mother, Christine Jobidon, and his brothers Pierre, 18 and Yves, 17, are going to Trenton for the repatriation ceremony.
Combat engineers are on the forefront of the deadliest aspect of the war in Afghanistan – clearing roads of deadly improvised explosive devices.
“The roads in Kandahar are heavily travelled by Afghans and soldiers like Christian and Matthieu work tirelessly under extremely hazardous conditions to try and prevent restrictions to the freedom of movement of Afghans, so that they can begin to live more normal lives,” Vance said.
He said there has been a lot of media attention on the coalition death toll this summer, but appealed to the public not to “succumb to the temptation” to see it as a failure of the mission.
Vance announced that soldiers had disrupted two bomb-making factories the same day Allard and Bobbitt died.
“I assure you that hundreds of thousands of Kandahar citizens are deeply grateful for the work of soldiers like Christian and Matthieu.”
Vance said Allard and Bobbitt were likely involved in defusing half of the IEDs found in Kandahar last month, saving dozens of innocent lives in July alone.
-With files from Tobi Cohen in Montreal.