Body of Canadian soldier killed by bomb begins journey home

The flag-draped casket of the latest Canadian soldier killed in Afghanistan was loaded into a military plane at Kandahar Airfield for the long journey home on Saturday.

Defence minister, top soldier attend ramp ceremony

The flag-draped casket of the latest Canadian soldier killed in Afghanistan was loaded into a military plane at Kandahar Airfield for the long journey home on Saturday.

Pte. Michael Freeman, 28, was from 3rd Battalion, the Royal Canadian Regiment based at CFB Petawawa. ((DND))

Pte. Michael Freeman, 28, died Friday when his armoured vehicle struck a roadside bomb in the Zhari District of Kandahar province during a security patrol around 12:45 p.m. local time.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay and Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Walter Natynczyk, who were in Afghanistan on Saturday as part of a three-day visit, attended the ramp ceremony for the fallen soldier.

"Pte. Freeman served his country bravely with pride and dedication. His sacrifice will not be forgotten," MacKay said in a statement.

Freeman, who lived in Peterborough, Ont., leaves behind his parents and a fiancée.

"He had a great sense of humour, [was] a dependable driver and member, and had the natural gift of complaining in a very nice way," a eulogist said at the ceremony.

Three other soldiers were wounded during Friday's blast but are said to be in good condition. One of them watched the ramp ceremony from a hospital bed wheeled onto the tarmac.

Freeman served with November Company, 3rd Battalion, the Royal Canadian Regiment based at Canadian Forces Base Petawawa in eastern Ontario. It was his first tour of duty in Afghanistan.

He was described as an avid golfer who staunchly believed in what he was doing.

Friends say Freeman loved to hit a bucket of balls into the barren flatlands from a makeshift driving range at the outpost where he was stationed.

They say Afghan children would eagerly retrieve the golf balls he had driven deep into the dusty plains in exchange for candy.

Lt.-Col. Roger Barrett, commanding officer of 3 RCR Battle Group, called Freeman a "very down-to-earth, typical Canadian boy.

"He was an easy-going, professional, well-liked soldier. [He] had a great camaraderie with his section mates in his platoon," Barrett said.

Chief of Defence Staff Walter Natynczyk, left, and Defence Minister Peter MacKay, right, attend Saturday's ramp ceremony for Pte. Michael Freeman in Kandahar. ((Steve Rennie/Canadian Press))

Freeman's death brings to 104 the number of Canadian soldiers killed in the Afghan mission since 2002. One diplomat and two aid workers have also been killed.

Roadside bomb attacks have killed seven Canadian soldiers in December alone.

MacKay, whose visit couldn't be reported until he left the country, attributed the deaths to a seasonal spike in violence — even though the number of Canadian combat casualties usually recedes over the harsh winter months in Afghanistan.

"In any insurgency, you're going to see, shall we say, hills and valleys, spikes in violence at certain times of the year," MacKay said.

"There are a number of factors, a number of cultural factors here as well. We know that the sophistication and the types of methods and the types of IEDs [improvised explosive devices] have changed as well and we've had to adapt."

Canada has about 2,500 soldiers in Afghanistan, mostly based in the south around Kandahar. The military mission is slated to end in 2011.

Also Saturday, a suicide bomb attack at a police checkpoint east of the town of Senjaray in Kandahar province killed three police officers and two civilians.

Two police officers and at least two civilians were also wounded in the attack, said Muhammad Akbar, a local police officer.

With files from the Canadian Press