LCol-Parker

Col. Geoff Parker, 42, died in a suicide bomb attack in Kabul on Tuesday. He was the commanding officer of the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment at CFB Gagetown until last year. ((Department of National Defence))

The small military town of Oromocto, N.B., was shattered by the news Tuesday that Col. Geoff Parker was killed in a suicide car bombing in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Parker was the highest-ranking Canadian Forces member to be killed in Afghanistan since the mission started in 2002. Until last June, he was the commanding officer of the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment stationed at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown.

Oromocto, a tight-knit community about 20 kilometres east of Fredericton, developed around the base. Many in the town of about 9,000 people have strong ties to the military, and many who work at CFB Gagetown live in the community.

Mayor Fay Tidd said the news of Parker's death saddened people because he became such a well-known figure during his time at Gagetown.

"I suppose we should expect these things," Tidd said. "He was working for the UN mission. But the news for Oromocto is shattering because everyone knew this man so well.

"It is unbelievable that these things happen so quickly. It is going to be with great regrets that we try to face everything that is happening."

The colonel was among 18 people killed Tuesday in a suicide car bombing in Kabul. Five U.S. soldiers and 12 Afghan civilians also died in the blast.

Rising star

Col. Simon Hetherington, the deputy commander of Task Force Kandahar, said Parker was in Kabul to speak with international organizations in preparation for an upcoming mission.

Parker was preparing to take over a senior position responsible for development work in Kandahar as part of NATO's counterinsurgency strategy in southern Afghanistan.

The Canadian Forces say Parker was in Afghanistan's capital city on a reconnaissance mission and was set to become the deputy director of stability for Regional Command South headquarters at Kandahar Airfield.

In that job, a civilian position that typically lasts one year, Parker would have co-ordinated humanitarian and development activity in support of the ISAF mission.

"The post he was preparing to fill was important and of such high profile he was hand-picked from across the army to do so," Hetherington said. "A rising star. His potential was undeniable."

'I'm in shock. You know, what can I say, I'm just afraid for our young people.'— Bob Sloanwhite, Oromocto resident

Parker's potential to rise higher in the Canadian Forces was evident to Tidd, the Oromocto's mayor, when she last saw him.

"It's startling news because it doesn't seem very long since I was [at CFB Gagetown] for the change of command and thought, 'What a great future this man has,'" she said.

Parker is the 145th member of the Canadian Forces to die in Afghanistan since 2002.

Town left 'In shock'

Hope Say, whose husband is in the military, said it's always difficult to hear that a Canadian Forces member has been killed.

"It's awful," Say said. "You always feel like [the military is] your big extended family, so when anything happens to anybody, you feel it of course.

"Because I'm a wife — I'm sure he probably had a wife and kids — and it's just sad to hear."

Bob Sloanwhite, whose son is in the Forces, said he didn't know Parker personally, but his death still hit close to home.

"I'm in shock," Sloanwhite said. "You know, what can I say? I'm just afraid for our young people."

Parker was born and raised in Oakville, Ont. A 1990 graduate of the University of Western Ontario, he was married with a son and a daughter, according to his military biography.

With files from The Canadian Press