Erected in Afghanistan in 2006, the Joint Task Force Cenotaph honouring the names of soldiers who died in the war became a powerful symbol of sacrifice at the base.
By the time it was dug up shipped to Ottawa the day after Remembrance Day last year, it featured 149 plaques to honour fallen Canadian Forces members, Foreign Affairs official Glyn Berry, Canadian journalist Michelle Lang, and a civilian Marc Cyr. The other 40 plaques honour the 39 U.S. military and one civilian member who died while serving under Canadian command.
The only plaque remaining to be added was for Master-Corporal Byron Greff. The 28-year-old Lacombe soldier was killed in action Oct. 29, 2011, when a suicide bomber attacked a NATO bus convoy transporting members of a security force in Kabul.
As the Cenotaph was dug up, career reservist Capt. Bob Hackett seized a piece of the marble that lay broken in the dust of Khandahar to bring home as his own token of remembrance.
Hackett, 59, was the Adjutant for the Canadian Helicopter Force in 2011. During tours in 2006 and 2009, he was in charge of all VIP visits to the combat operations at the Canadian-led Regional Command South in Kandahar, spending a total of 808 days in Afghanistan. He said there’s a world of difference between Remembrance Day ceremonies in Afghanistan and at home in Canada.
“The plaques and the names and the photographs are right there in front of you,” said Hackett.
“You’re not just standing in a parade. You’re looking at the monument so it’s a much more somber event because its all still very fresh.”
His son, a teacher at Ross Shepard High School, Hackett has appeared via teleconference to students on Remembrance Day to share what the day means to soldiers serving overseas.
Hackett believes Canada’s youth have a better idea of what soldiers experience in wartime today than when he was a child looking at the black-and-white photographs of soldiers killed in WWI or WWII.
“I think a lot more people have been exposed,” said Hackett. “They’re able to see memorial ceremonies on TV. They can see the footage of the convoys on the Highway of Heroes and when they were repatriating the remains from Canadian Forces Base Trenton to Toronto.
“Certainly the loss of life in the World Wars was much higher, but there wasn’t that closeness,” explained Hackett. “Now, everybody knows somebody or has met somebody who has served.”
The Trews did an excellent song and video in memory of the fallen Canadians in Afghanistan (proceeds going to the families left behind):