Afghan vet re­calls sac­ri­fice in con­flict with no end in sight

Calgary Herald - - CITY+REGION - BILL KAUF­MANN BKauf­mann@post­media.com on Twit­ter: @Bil­lKauf­man­njrn

When Sgt. Sa­man­tha Dean was caught in the pro­pel­ler wash of a Chi­nook he­li­copter in a base sur­rounded by the Tal­iban, she’d un­know­ingly dodged more than a bul­let.

Tossed by the pow­er­ful gusts of the twin-propped chop­per, she was in­jured and evac­u­ated from the of­ten-em­bat­tled For­ward Op­er­at­ing Base Ma­sum Ghar in Afghanistan’s Kan­da­har prov­ince.

“I got sent out and that night the camp got rock­eted,” said Dean, now 43. “One of the in­ter­preters and an Afghan Na­tional Army sol­dier were killed in the at­tack I just missed.”

But there were darker days dur­ing her six-month de­ploy­ment in 2007.

On July 4 of that year, a road­side bomb west of Kan­da­har City de­stroyed the ve­hi­cle car­ry­ing her good friend, Capt. Jef­fer­son Fran­cis, who had been spot­ting for the gunners of his 1 Royal Cana­dian Horse Ar­tillery.

An Afghan in­ter­preter and five other Cana­dian sol­diers, Capt. Matthew Dawe, Cpl. Jor­dan An­der­son, Cpl. Cole Bartsch, Mas­ter Cpl. Colin Ba­son and Pte. Lane Watkins also per­ished.

“I’m still kind of hav­ing to grieve ... it was a re­ally hard tour, we lost a lot of peo­ple,” said Dean of Ed­mon­ton-based 1 Ser­vice Bat­tal­ion who served as a sup­ply tech­ni­cian in Kan­da­har. “We had a cou­ple of those dur­ing our tour, but it was good to be there, know­ing you were mak­ing a dif­fer­ence.”

The safety of the huge base was only rel­a­tive, given its tar­get­ing by Tal­iban in­sur­gents, said Dean.

“There were a lot of rocket at­tacks over the six months. You kind of got used to them af­ter a while, which prob­a­bly isn’t a good thing,” she said.

“We’d look at each other, then the siren would go off and at the end of it, it’d be like, ‘We’re still alive.’”

Be­fore Canada’s com­bat mis­sion in Afghanistan ended seven years ago, 158 of the coun­try’s troops died, along with four civil­ians in­clud­ing Cal­gary Her­ald re­porter Michelle Lang.

Since Canada’s exit, the Tal­iban con­trol more of the coun­try than they have since 2001 and last month, an in­sider at­tack at Kan­da­har killed the re­gion’s top Afghan gen­eral and its in­tel­li­gence chief while nar­rowly miss­ing the U.S. mil­i­tary’s com­man­der in Afghanistan.

Dean said she doesn’t fol­low the con­flict much any­more but ad­mits the war’s down­ward spi­ral is a tough pill to swal­low given all that’s been sac­ri­ficed.

Those losses have mag­ni­fied the rel­e­vance of Re­mem­brance Day.

“Re­mem­brance Day, ob­vi­ously, has a spe­cial mean­ing,” said Dean adding she’ll hon­our those sac­ri­fices at Ed­mon­ton’s Kingsway Royal Cana­dian Le­gion on Nov. 11.

Her hus­band, a mem­ber of the Lord Strath­cona’s Horse (Royal Cana­di­ans), will be man­ning one of the unit’s Leop­ard tanks at an Ed­mon­ton cer­e­mony.

That mil­i­tary theme in her fam­ily ex­tends to her son, who serves as an am­mu­ni­tion tech­ni­cian at CFB Dun­durn in Saskatchewan.

Look­ing back, a grand­fa­ther was a ve­hi­cle me­chanic in the Bri­tish Army while an­other one nar­rowly missed fight­ing in the Sec­ond World War in the air force.

For as tough as some of the coun­try’s cur­rent sol­diers have it now, the chal­lenges faced by her pre­de­ces­sors were stark, said Dean.

“When I think back to World Wars I and II, it’s hard to wrap my head around, with the kit they had com­pared to what we’ve got now.”

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