Fallen soldier's casket begins journey to Canada
Tearful soldiers carried the casket of Trooper Karine Blais onto a waiting plane at Kandahar Airfield in southern Afghanistan on Tuesday during a solemn ramp ceremony honouring a woman described as "full of energy" and "friendly to everyone."
Blais, 21, was killed Monday when the armoured vehicle she was in hit a roadside bomb north of the city of Kandahar.
At the ceremony on Tuesday, bagpipe music played as 2,400 soldiers — some weeping openly — lined the tarmac to salute Blais's casket, which is being flown back to Canada.
"We will remember Karine as a woman who loved to smile, who was full of energy and who was very friendly to everyone around her," Padre Martine Bélanger, a Catholic lay chaplain, said during the ceremony.
Blais, who had only been in Afghanistan for two weeks, was the second female Canadian soldier to be killed in the war-torn country. Her death comes nearly three years after Capt. Nicola Goddard was killed in a grenade attack west of Kandahar.
Blais was from the 12th Armoured Regiment of Canada based at Canadian Forces Base Valcartier in Quebec, but she was serving with the 2nd Battalion, Royal 22nd Regiment Battle Group, also based in Valcartier.
She grew up in the small town of Les Méchins on the Gaspé Peninsula in Quebec, where she spent her teen years babysitting and working at a convenience store and restaurant.
A statement released by her family on Tuesday said she often asked her mother if she was proud of her.
"To answer your question, yes, we are always proud of you, despite the sadness that has enveloped us," the statement said.
"In our eyes, you were a soldier who displayed dynamic leadership and who was dedicated to your regiment. You loved your job in the military and you were very proud of yourself … You are our ray of sunshine and you will always be in our hearts. Your sense of humour and your vivacity will remain forever in our memories."
Blais leaves behind her mother, Josée, her grandmother, Laurette, and her brother, Billy. She also had a partner named Hugo who she lovingly called Kermit.
Before the ramp ceremony began, Brig.-Gen. Jonathan Vance said Blais believed in her role in Afghanistan and was dedicated to the mission.
"She was an energetic soldier who gave 100 per cent to every challenge she faced," he said. "Frank and direct, she demonstrated the qualities of a future leader who was respected by all members of her squadron."
Her death brings the total of Canadian soldiers killed to 117 since Canada's combat mission in Afghanistan began shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. One Canadian diplomat and two Canadian aid workers have also been killed in Afghanistan.
With files from the Canadian Press