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From left, Sgt. George Miok, Pte. Garrett William Chidley, Sgt. Kirk Taylor and Cpl. Zachery McCormack were killed in a bomb blast on Wednesday in Afghanistan. ((Sgt. Daren Kraus/DND/Canadian Press))

A top military commander has released the names of four soldiers killed in a bomb blast in Afghanistan, describing the men as dedicated and passionate soldiers.

Brig.-Gen. Daniel Ménard said Thursday the men were dedicated to the military's mission to bring stability to Kandahar City.

Killed were:

  • Sgt. George Miok, 28, of Edmonton.
  • Cpl. Zachery McCormack, 21, of Edmonton.
  • Sgt. Kirk Taylor, 28, of Yarmouth, N.S.
  • Pte. Garrett William Chidley, 21, of Langley, B.C. 

The soldiers were killed Wednesday, along with journalist Michelle Lang of the Calgary Herald, who was reporting on the war. The group's light armoured vehicles were struck by an improvised explosive device in the city of Kandahar.

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Reporter Michelle Lang of the Calgary Herald is the first Canadian journalist to die in Afghanistan. (Calgary Herald)

Several soldiers and another Canadian civilian were also injured.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said it was with "very heavy hearts" that Canadians learned of the five deaths.

"The five men and women who perished are true Canadian heroes. Canadians will never forget their dedication and sacrifice," he said in a written statement.

The huge blast at about 4 a.m. local time occurred just 1,500 metres from the Dand district centre, which Canadian soldiers helped rebuild after a suicide bombing in April. The attack came during a community security patrol to gather information on the pattern of life and maintain security in the area.

On Thursday, a spokesman for the Taliban told The Associated Press that his group was responsible for the attack.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay expressed his sympathies to the families and friends of the five Canadian victims.

"Canadians will always stand proudly behind the brave men and women of the Canadian Forces, and our partners, as they courageously risk their lives every day towards our goal of a stable, strong and peaceful Afghanistan," he said in a written statement.

"Their sacrifice inspires those who will follow in our commitment to this mission and for this, the government of Canada and all Canadians will remain forever grateful."

Ménard, the coalition commander in Kandahar, said all four soldiers and Lang were dedicated to their work.

'A great leader'

Speaking to reporters in Kandahar, Ménard said Miok was a dedicated non-commissioned officer with Edmonton's 41 Combat Engineer Regiment. The reservist, who taught physical education in a junior high school, was a meticulous planner who always put the welfare of his soldiers first, Ménard said.

Prime Minister Harper's statement

It is with very heavy hearts that we learned that five Canadians were killed when an improvised explosive device detonated near their vehicle, south of Kandahar City. On behalf of all Canadians, I offer my deepest sympathies to the families and friends of Sgt. George Miok, Sgt. Kirk Taylor, Cpl. Zachery McCormack and Pte. Garrett Chidley.

These four brave soldiers lost their lives seeking to help Afghans build a better future for themselves. They represent the best Canada has to offer and they perished in a far-away land, working tirelessly to advance Canadian values. We owe them a debt we can never repay.

I also offer my most sincere condolences to the loved ones of journalist Michelle Lang, who courageously risked her life reporting from one of the world's most dangerous countries. She lost her life reporting on the invaluable work being done by Canadian soldiers, aid workers and diplomats in Afghanistan. Ms. Lang was from my hometown and I know her unforeseen and tragic death is being felt in Calgary and in communities across Canada.

Our prayers also go to the families and friends of those Canadians injured in this appalling act.

The brave men and women of Canada's military face danger every day in their ongoing commitment to seeing Afghanistan flourish and stand on its own. Members of the embedded Canadian media also risk their lives to bring that story home to us.

The five men and women who perished are true Canadian heroes. Canadians will never forget their dedication and sacrifice.

"They knew they could turn to him for advice and guidance," Ménard said. "Sgt. Miok will be remembered by his soldiers as a great leader and a devoted friend."

Ménard said Taylor was known for his humour, calm demeanour and big smile. He served with the 84 Independent Field Battery in Yarmouth.

"He was a true gunner and known to the troops as Sgt. Morale," Ménard said. "He was passionate about his job back home where he mentored troubled young adults. He brought this same enthusiasm with him to Afghanistan."

Engaged to be married

McCormack, a reservist with the Loyal Edmonton Regiment, was known as a caring man who always lent a hand to others, Ménard said. He was a champion wrestler who was studying to be an electrician and was engaged to be married.  

"He always had a way of raising morale by making the rest of the section laugh. He was a great soldier and an amazing friend," Ménard said.

Chidley, who was born in Cambridge, Ont., but grew up in Langley, B.C., was also eager to help and had a knack at making tough tasks seem easy by joking to lighten the mood, Ménard said. Chidley was based in Shilo, Man., and was an infantryman in the 2nd Battalion Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry.

"His close friends recall how he always beat them at video games. He loved talking about his family, especially how much fun he and his dad had together," Ménard said. "He was a great driver, the one you always wanted for difficult tasks."

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Afghans recognized the loss.

"Your children sacrificed their lives for the people of Afghanistan and the threat of terrorism," Karzai said. "The Afghans will not forget your sacrifice."

1st Canadian journalist killed

Wednesday was the worst single day for Canadian casualties in Afghanistan since six soldiers were killed on July 4, 2007, when their large armoured vehicle struck a roadside bomb about 20 kilometres southwest of Kandahar.

Since 2002, when Canada started sending soldiers to Afghanistan, 138 of them have been killed, as well as four Canadian civilians.

Lang, 34, was the first Canadian journalist to die covering the conflict. Seven journalists from other countries have been killed in Afghanistan.

She had just arrived in the country on Dec. 11 for a six-week stint.

"Despite the fact that Michelle had only been in Afghanistan for three weeks, her sensitivity and ability to connect with people touched many of us," Ménard said. "Michelle was passionate about life and inspired those around her."

Lang grew up in Vancouver and was a respected health reporter for the Herald, winning a National Newspaper Award in 2008 for beat reporting. She had also worked in Regina, Moose Jaw and Prince George.

Corrections

  • Cpl. Zachery McCormack was a reservist with the Loyal Edmonton Regiment, not the Royal Edmonton Regiment, as previously reported.
    Dec 31, 2009 4:10 PM ET
With files from The Associated Press and The Canadian Press