Last weekend I had the privilege of attending the Kandahar Cenotaph rededication ceremony at the NDHQ Carling Campus in Ottawa honouring 158 fallen soldiers. For veterans, serving members, and families, our time in Afghanistan holds a significant importance in our lives. Certain moments will always be ingrained in our memories … good or bad.
The weekend was well executed. Its focus was exactly where it needed to be: with the families. I had no impression of politics or agendas being pushed; simply a weekend of remembrance.
The weekend started Friday with the families arriving in town and being met by serving members that were friends of their lost brother, sister, son, or daughter. These serving members escorted the family the entire weekend to ensure everything they needed was provided. The memorial was open for the families, so that they could a have private moment prior to the public and televised ceremony the following day.
That Friday evening I had the honor of meeting several families at the hotel where we shared experiences and stories of our departed until the early morning. It was a positive experience seeing how some of the families have dealt with one of the most tragic moments of their lives. I met Sean Wilson, brother of Trooper Mark Wilson who was killed in 2006, he was outspoken, energetic and soaking up life, which was contagious to everyone around him. I then had some good conversation with Private Corey Hayes’ mother, Donna Beek. Corey was a Dragoon on ROTO 3-08 and passed at the tail end of the tour. We had stories to share since I was on the same rotation.
Saturday started like all others: breakfast and getting into uniform. However, there was an underlying tone. We all knew this would be an emotional day, but to what extent? Shortly after arriving to the Carling Campus, I was joined by two friends: MWO Callum Campbell and WO Robin Hill. We had time to walk around the memorial before the official function commenced. It was busy and we refrained ourselves from taking too much time in order for the families to have priority. From my perspective the ceremony went as planned. The opening video set the stage, the speeches were on point, but the moment I will always remember would be the last post. The weather was a little humid, but the rain held off. After the last post, a light rain started during the 2 minutes of silence. It was poetic. We held our silence and remembered them. The rain stopped in time for the reveille and the chinooks flying overhead.
Following the ceremony, a wonderful lunch reception was provided which gave us an opportunity to meet the families. For myself, Cpl Chad O’Quinn was a good friend that I had known shortly after completing Basic Training in 2003. He was killed on the 3rd March 2009, which generated complete disbelief for all who knew him on tour and at home. I never had the opportunity to meet his mother, Rhonda, until this event. What a wonderfully close family, and just like Chad, full of energy and living every day to its fullest.
With more than 1,000 family members, military personnel, and government officials in attendance, the Kandahar Cenotaph rededication delivered on every account. It provided a moment for the families to pay tribute to our fallen comrades. We will remember them.
Captain Eric Brisebois