About 500 soldierslinedthe tarmac of Kandahar airfield on Saturdayto bid farewell to a slain comrade, the 55th Canadian soldier killed in Afghanistan since 2002.
As bagpipes played,comrades of Cpl. Matthew McCully carried hisflag-draped coffinto a waiting Hercules transportplane for the journey back to Canada.
Dignitariesattending the ramp ceremony wereBrig.-Gen. Tim Grant, commander of the Canadian mission in Afghanistan, and Arif Lalani, Canada's new ambassador to Afghanistan. Members of the Afghan army also were in attendance.
McCully, who was born in Orangeville, Ont., was killed Friday when he stepped on a landmine in the Zhari district of southern Afghanistan. An Afghan interpreter was slightly wounded in the blast.
"He was a very caring guy who just loved life," his father, Ron McCully, told CBC Newsworld from his home in Prince George, B.C.,on Saturday. "Hispassion was the army. He lived it. He believed in what he was doing."
Matthew McCully was a member of Canada's Operational Mentoring and Liaison Team, or OMLT. Maj. Peter Sullivan, the OMLT's acting commander, said hewas a well-liked and professional soldier.
SullivansaidMcCully would have wanted the OMLT's mission to continue, and that he would have been proud of how the Afghan troops performed in Friday's Operation Hoover,an offensive aimed at flushing out Taliban insurgents from the Zhari district.
Soldier's job a 'lifeline'
McCully was a signals operator from 2 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group Headquarters and Signals Squadron based in Petawawa, Ont.
He served as a communicator and radio operator for both Afghan and Canadian troops in the field— their "lifeline," Sullivan said.
"Matt McCully was a tremendously professional soldier," Sullivan said Saturday at the airfield, where aCanadian flag was flying at half-mast at a nearby cenotaph.
"I found him certainly to be a mature young man, and somebody whose company was enjoyed by all, so he will be greatly missed."
As Canadian soldiers attended the ramp ceremony, there was news of moreNATO casualties in southern Afghanistan.
A British soldier was killed and fourothers wounded inan explosion in an operation against Taliban insurgents.
Different approach needed: Layton
Federal NDP Leader Jack Layton said Saturday he hopes Canadians will ask the government to take a different approach to combat in Afghanistan.
Layton said his heart goes out to the family and friends of the fallen soldier, but addedthe debate about the Afghan mission has to continue.
"Our soldiers will risk their lives, according to what we request them to do. We saw yesterday the profound reality of that commitment," he said during an interview with the Canadian Press in Toronto.
In a surprise visit to Afghanistan last week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper gave indications thegovernmentcould extend the Canadian mission,telling soldiers it would be wrong to guarantee a pull-out date.
The NDP has called for an immediate withdrawal, while the Liberals want Canada to pull its troops when the current mission expires in 2009.