Capt. Jon Sny­der was a true Cana­dian war hero

Sol­dier’s death helped re­shape how a na­tion views sac­ri­fice

Penticton Herald - - COMICS - By COL. (RET.) JAMIE HAM­MOND

Spe­cial to The Okana­gan Week­end

The re­silient peo­ple of Afghanistan have long used un­der­ground aque­ducts known as a karez or qanat to move wa­ter long dis­tances and pro­vide nour­ish­ment for their crops and fam­i­lies. Like the ar­ter­ies in our bod­ies, a karez pro­tects the flu­ids needed for life in that harsh re­gion.

Seen from the air, they look like the re­sult of a bomb­ing run, a se­ries of holes in the ground in a straight line. Up close, the deep holes link a stream up to 30 me­tres be­low the sur­face.

Dur­ing the op­er­a­tions in Afghanistan, there were al­ways ru­mours, and some ev­i­dence, of karezes be­ing used to store weapons and am­mu­ni­tion or to move in­sur­gents. There were how­ever, prac­ti­cal lim­i­ta­tions to us­ing them for any­thing but wa­ter trans­porta­tion due to their depth and the steep­ness of their walls as we dis­cov­ered af­ter June 7, 2008. Capt. Jonathan Sny­der, a 26-year-old mem­ber of Princess Pa­tri­cia’s Cana­dian Light In­fantry from Pen­tic­ton and a Univer­sity of Vic­to­ria grad, was on his sec­ond tour of Afghanistan. He had al­ready distin­guished him­self so well on his first tour in 2006 that I tried in vain to get him off his sec­ond tour, so he could join the spe­cial op­er­a­tions com­mand.

He was later rec­og­nized for his brav­ery on that sec­ond tour with a Star of Mil­i­tary Val­our, Canada’s sec­ond-high­est award for brav­ery, for his lead­er­ship of a team as­signed to an Afghan com­pany that was am­bushed by Tal­iban in­sur­gents.

The ci­ta­tion reads that Sny­der seized con­trol of the sit­u­a­tion, and that he and four other Cana­di­ans, “with lit­tle chance of sur­vival ... ex­posed them­selves to great peril and re­tal­i­ated against the en­emy... Be­cause of their ded­i­ca­tion, lead­er­ship and val­our, many Afghan and Cana­dian lives were saved.”

A few nights af­ter that in­ci­dent, hum­ble and ded­i­cated, he was back on pa­trol. Car­ry­ing the com­bined weight of his hel­met, body ar­mour, tac vest, mag­a­zines, weapon, ra­dio and am­mu­ni­tion, he was pa­trolling across a con­tested area of grape fields dot­ted with karez shafts.

Sny­der stepped near the edge of a karez in the dark­ness and the ground gave way in­stantly. He fell 20 me­tres down into the dark­ness and into wa­ter. His pa­trol mem­bers worked des­per­ately to re­cover him. A he­li­copter even­tu­ally car­ried him to the med­i­cal fa­cil­ity at Kan­da­har Air­field, where he was pro­nounced dead. The life­giv­ing wa­ter­way had taken Sny­der’s life.

Sny­der, who served us all so well in his short life, con­tin­ued to serve even af­ter his death. His ex­am­ple caused a re­assess­ment of how we de­fine sac­ri­fice in the Cana­dian Armed Forces. The Sac­ri­fice Medal, Canada’s equiv­a­lent to the U.S. Pur­ple Heart, was ini­tially ap­proved for pre­sen­ta­tion to a sol­dier who “died or was wounded un­der hon­ourable cir­cum­stances as a di­rect re­sult of hos­tile ac­tion.” As the task force com­man­der, Bri­gadier-Gen­eral Den­nis Thomp­son, said about Sny­der’s death: “This tragic ac­ci­dent has deeply im­pacted us all ... It’s just a tragic ac­ci­dent.” There was no doubt that it was an ac­ci­dent.

As his death was not “a di­rect re­sult of hos­tile ac­tion,” how­ever, Sny­der would not be el­i­gi­ble for the Sac­ri­fice Medal that was an­nounced later that sum­mer. He was, nev­er­the­less, pa­trolling at night in ter­ri­tory where an en­emy was ac­tive. As he was un­able to give away his move­ments, us­ing white light was not an op­tion and his death, though ac­ci­den­tal, was a di­rect re­sult of his oper­a­tional ser­vice in Afghanistan.

A re­view of the pol­icy took place and with Sny­der’s case top of mind, the el­i­gi­bil­ity cri­te­ria for the medal were amended the next year to read “as a di­rect re­sult of a hos­tile ac­tion or ac­tion in­tended for a hos­tile force” and “as a re­sult of an in­jury or dis­ease re­lated to mil­i­tary ser­vice.”

No mat­ter what the cir­cum­stances of his death, for Sny­der’s fa­ther David, his mother Anne, brother Adam and fi­ancée Me­gan, all of whom were at the un­veil­ing of the Afghanistan memo­rial last year, there was no doubt about the sig­nif­i­cance of the sac­ri­fice that had been made.

With time, Cana­di­ans have ac­cepted that all deaths and in­juries re­lated to an op­er­a­tion where a hos­tile force is op­er­at­ing de­serve recog­ni­tion. We have Sny­der to thank for that, a Cana­dian hero in ev­ery sense of the word.

Col. (Re­tired) Jamie Ham­mond, OMM, CD, served around the world for 28 years in Canada’s in­fantry and spe­cial forces.

Spe­cial to The Okana­gan Week­end

Capt. Jonathan Sny­der, a 26-year-old Pen­tic­ton man, en­listed with the Princess Pa­tri­cia’s Cana­dian Light In­fantry af­ter grad­u­at­ing from Univer­sity of Vic­to­ria.

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