Petawawa battered but unbowed by Afghanistan deaths

More than 1,700 mourners attended a service Friday for the five Canadians recently killed in Afghanistan.

The military community at CFBPetawawa was stunned by the news that five soldiers based there had been killed in just twodays in Afghanistan, a memorial service for the men was told Friday.

"News of the magnitude that we received in Petawawa over the Labour day weekend was greeted with disbelief.And while the casual observer might believe they are gazing on a sea of stoic faces, make no mistake, we're hurting," Col. Denis Thompson said.

"But our resolve is not shaken. Not one iota," he continued.

About 1,700 mourners attended the service, some in the 1,500 seats inthe drill hall at the base, some standing in the rear and some outside the hall.

The crowd at Petawawa, about 150 kilometres west of Ottawa, was honouring Warrant Officer Richard Nolan, Warrant Officer Frank Mellish, Sgt. Shane Stachnik, Pte. William Cushley and Pte. Mark Graham.

Photos of the men rested on an altar holding a small, plain wooden cross.

Nolan, Mellish, Stachnik and Cushley were killed on Sunday in a battle with Taliban fighters west of Kandahar, while Graham died Monday when two U.S. warplanes mistakenly strafed Canadian troops.

Stachnik was with 2 Combat Engineer Regiment and the other four were with1st Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment.

Errol Cushley said his son, William,was so proud to be part of the Royal Canadian Regiment, he had RCR tattooed on his back.

"William died with his friends whom he both admired and respected. He died doing his duty, and serving his country," Errol Cushley said.

One after another, friends and fellow soldiers stood at the podium to tell stories about ordinary men who died doing extraordinary jobs.

Dead from Alberta, Ontario, Atlantic

Stachnik, 30, grew up in Alberta andwas to return from Kandahar in February to get married. He was part of the Disaster Assistance Response Team operation following the 2004 Asian tsunami and assisted when flooding plagued southern Manitoba in 1997.

Mellish, an 18-year veteran of the military,grew up in Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia.The 38-year-oldwas married with two children.

Nolan grew up in Newfoundland and is survived by his partner Kelly, also a soldier in Afghanistan, along with three school-aged sons and a teenage stepdaughter. He was a veteran peacekeeper who had served in Kosovo.

Cushley, 21, grew up in Ontario and had planned to build a career in the military.

Graham was an Olympic sprinter and member of Canada's 4x400-metre relay team at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, where they finished 13th. From Ontario,the 33-year-oldjoined the military after his track career ended.

Canada has more than 2,000 troops in Afghanistan, most of themstationed in Kandahar.

Canadians have been leading Operation Medusa, a large-scale offensive launched onSaturday to remove armed militants from the Panjwaii and Zhari districtswhere the Taliban have established a stronghold.