Ramp ceremony held for killed Canadian soldiers

More than 2,000 Canadian, U.S., Dutch and British troops turned out for a ramp ceremony at Kandahar Airfield on Saturday to pay tribute to three soldiers who died in the line of duty.

More than 2,000 Canadian, U.S., Dutch and British soldiers turned out for a ramp ceremony at Kandahar Airfield on Saturday to pay tribute to three comrades who died in the line of duty.

The soldiers stood quietly at twilight as the bodies of Cpl. Mark McLaren, Pte. Demetrios Diplaros and Warrant Officer Robert Wilson were sent home.

The three men were killed west of the city of Kandahar on Friday when their armoured vehicle struck a roadside bomb — pushing the number of Canadian troops killed in Afghanistan to 100 since the mission began in earnest in 2002.

Padre Michel Dion told soldiers at the ramp ceremony that Warrant Officer Wilson, 38, of Keswick, Ont., was on his second tour in Afghanistan. He leaves behind a wife and two small children.

"Known simply as R.J. by all those who knew him, he was a model soldier and a charismatic leader who excelled at everything that he did," Maj. Dion said. "Our condolences go out to his wife, Debra, and their two children, Owen and Emily."

Cpl. Mark Robert McLaren, 23, of Peterborough, Ont., was also on his second tour in Afghanistan and was engaged to be married.

"His bravery and sense of duty are a testament of what we all aspire to in wearing the uniform. He will be remembered as a courageous soldier, a proud Canadian and a true friend," the padre said.      

"We honour Pte. Demetrios Diplaros, another proud member of the Royal Canadian Regiment.  Despite being on his first tour, all were impressed by his exceptional driving and gunnery skills," Dion said.

The city of Toronto will honour Scarborough native Diplaros on Monday by lowering the flags at city hall and local civic centres to half mast.

Diplaros, 24, joined the Canadian Forces three years ago, following in the footsteps of his father, who served in the Greek military.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered condolences on Friday when he visited the soldiers' military base in Petawawa, Ont., for a Christmas tree ceremony.

"I never feel able to put the depths of my feelings at times like this into adequate words," Harper told the crowd.

"These are very special people who have put their lives on the line in the service of their fellow human beings and in their devotion to our country."

Harper vowed during the fall election campaign to withdraw Canadian troops from Afghanistan in 2011. Canada has about 2,500 soldiers in the province of Kandahar, the former Taliban stronghold that has emerged as the epicentre of violence.

Canada increased its deployment in Afghanistan after declining a U.S. request to send troops to Iraq.