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In Depth

Afghanistan: Atlantic Canada's role

Witness to a final farewell

Last Updated March 16, 2007

This is Capt. Scott Lang's account of the ramp ceremony for fallen Cpl. Kevin Megeney, a 25-year-old reservist from Stellarton, N.S., who was killed on March 6 at the airbase in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in an incident that Canadian Forces officials described as an accidental shooting.

The funeral was held at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Stellarton, N.S. (CBC)

A deployment to Afghanistan for myself has been one of many firsts — including one this week that I had hoped to never experience. It was my first ramp ceremony. All available Canadians, soldiers and civilian, collected at the Kandahar airfield. There was conversation and light banter, and an avoidance to discuss the reason we had all gathered.

The sun had set a while ago but it was still relatively warm. There was a continuous breeze blowing, and if you believe in such things, it could have easily been taken as prophetic. We gathered with a bit more purpose than I've usually seen among large groups of soldiers: there was little complaining, little noise.

We quickly found ourselves on the march to take our positions. We made the solemn and quiet march through the hazy darkness. The only sound was the mild and continuous wind in my ears, and the muffled staccato of hundreds of combat boots on the tarmac. We marched from the weak light of the hanger through the darkness towards the looming brightly lit beacon that was the waiting Hercules transport plane.

As we Canadians formed, tightly packed shoulder-to-shoulder-to-shoulder, three-deep in a long line, we formed a corridor that would act as the final Kandahar road for a fallen comrade, Cpl. Kevin Megeney.

As we shuffled into position, quietly, reverently, I heard something that surprised me, though it shouldn't have. Row after row of soldiers from other countries, U.S. marines, Brits, Aussies, Dutch — all formed row after row behind us.

I was positioned in the front rank about nine metres from the yawning open end of the Herc. We waited for what seemed an eternity, lined at attention.

The precision, formality, and ambiance reminded me of the final tributes for ancient Viking or fighting kings. It made me think in that moment that it is only in death we soldiers, we average Canadian men and women, are kings and queens, if only to our peers.

Bagpipes send emotions swirling through ranks

Then there was a whine from a microphone, as it caught the wind. As the padres spoke their lines, they no longer seemed to be the trivial platitudes of Remembrance Days past. The words reverberated, stuck. They were quick, efficient and articulate.

The emotion was thick and palpable. And then the command sang out. "Task Force Afghanistan to your fallen comrade, salute."

I have always been moved by the haunting skirl of the bagpipes, but hearing it here, under these circumstances was like an emotional punch in the gut. I think we all stood there steeling ourselves, but still the weight of it hits you like a tidal wave.

'You haven't seen anything until you have seen soldiers cry'

It was a slow-moving tsunami that started at the far end of the lines, and then progressed as the slow cadence brought another Nova Scotian son his last 500 metres across Kandahar airfield. The procession was slow, building and building as if purposely driving the point home.

Tears glittered on grim faces

I watched the padres, then the coffin itself pass in front of me, so close that I could have reached out and touched it.

The world was then like a kaleidoscope, colour and light blurry and refracted.

The wave passed me by and I hitched in a deep breath. A few minutes later, there were the muffled footsteps inside the belly of the aircraft.

I watched the faces of those across from me, knowing that many of them were like me and didn't know the corporal. But he was Canadian, he was young and he might be only the first of our rotation to die.

So etched on many face were grim looks, made even more fierce in the weird shadows cast by the spotlights, with telltale glistening sparkles of tears in eyes and cheeks.

You haven't seen anything until you have seen soldiers cry.

I hope I never see it again.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Capt. Scott Lang is a member of Air Defence Regiment 4, who was stationed at CFB Gagetown, outside Fredericton, until just before his own deployment to Kandahar. His family now resides in Moncton. Lang is originally from the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia.

RELATED

External Links

National Defence and the Canadian Forces
CFB Gagetown
Canadian Army
Canadian Navy - Operations & Exercises
NATO in Afghanistan
CIA World Factbook, Afghanistan

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