High military honours given for feats in Afghanistan
Two soldiers who received highmilitary honours Monday say the ceremony was a recognition of the thousands of Canadian soldiers serving in Afghanistan.
Pte. Jason Lamont, of Greenwood, N.S., Capt. Derek Prohar, of Avonlea, Sask., and four others receivedthe firstmilitary valour decorations Canada has awarded since they were created in 1993 to replace the British honours system.
"Honestly, words cannot even describe the feelings," Lamont said."I don't know if I deserve it more than anybody else. I'm just a representative."
"We're no better or no worse than anybody over there," said Prohar, who added it was "nice to be recognized."
Maj. William Fletcher and Sgt. Patrick Tower received the Star of Military Valour.
Lamont, Prohar, Sgt. Michael Denine and Master Cpl. Collin Fitzgerald received the Medal of Military Valour.
- Fletcher, of St. Albert, Alta., led his troops by foot from enemy fire, while giving first aid to wounded colleagues.
- Tower, from Sidney, B.C., assumed leadership of a military operation when his commander was killed, leading the troops safely out while under enemy fire.
- Fitzgerald, from Morrisburg, Ont., drove a burning vehicle off a road so other vehicles in the convoy could escape enemy fire.
- Denine, from St. John's, NL, manned his vehicle's exterior machine gun when the main cannon and machine gun malfunctioned, driving away enemy attackers.
- Prohar helped launch a successful September 2006 counter-attack against the Taliban while working with U.S. special forces in southern Afghanistan.
- Lamont, a medic, ran through enemy fire to check on a wounded colleague when his unit was ambushed in Afghanistan's Helmand province in July 2006.
33 others receive awards
Thirty-three other soldiers received Meritorious Service Decorations, including a posthumous award given to Capt. Nichola Goddard, Canada's first female combat soldier to be killed in battle. Goddard's husband, Jason Beam, accepted on her behalf.
Brig.-Gen. David Fraser received his second Meritorious Service Decoration for leading the multinational NATO mission in six Afghan provinces for eight months, commanding about 9,500 troops, most of them British, Canadian and Dutch.
Governor General Michaëlle Jean and Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Rick Hillier presented the awards during a ceremony at Ottawa's Château Laurier.
Fletcher said he is humbled and honoured by the medal, which he said he'll wear on behalf of the 150 men in his company.
"There [are]guys doing amazing things every day," he said. "The average Afghan in Kandahar is doing a little bit better because of the Canadians being there. I firmly believe that."
Prohar told CBC Newsworld he was hit by shrapnel during the operation.
"My mother's watching this [interview] right now and that might be the first time she's heard this," he said.
Lamont joked that his height gave him an advantage.
"The shorter you are, the more bullets can go over your head," he said.
Medals recognize valour, courage
The Governor General, who acts as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, said the medals were created to recognize valour, courage, selflessness and devotion to duty in very difficult situations.
"That is what our soldiers are enduring in Afghanistan… isolation, intense fire, injury, confusion and death," she said. "Every Canadian who learns about their courage… realizes how difficult it is and realizes their courage."
The medals are an important symbol of support, she said.
"They need to see that we understand how difficult it is, that we respect their engagement. The medals are just a way of saying that," Jean said.
Forty-four Canadian soldiers and one diplomat have died in Afghanistan since the mission started in 2002, following the U.S.-led invasion of the country.