Montreal Gazette

Latest casualty leaves for home

‘A FINE MEDIC’ Soldier was 87th Canadian to die

- GRAHAM THOMSON CANWEST NEWS SERVICE

KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, AFGHANISTA­N – Combat medic Colin Wilmot didn’t want to be left behind when his friends shipped out for Afghanista­n from Edmonton last February. So he good-naturedly pestered his regimental sergeant major to let him go with them.

“He wasn’t slated for this tour,” Chief Warrant Officer Chris Kaye said yesterday. “We had others more senior to him, but he was always hanging around my door and wanting that one chance to come over here.”

Yesterday eight of those same friends lifted Wilmot’s casket onto their shoulders and carried the unbearable burden into the waiting belly of a C-130 Hercules aircraft as the sun set over Kandahar Airfield.

There was the usual skirl of bagpipes and the unified snap-toattentio­n of more than 2,000 troops saluting as the casket passed by – all of it done with a seamless precision that has tragically been perfected through practice. Canadian troops have performed the ramp ceremony for their fallen comrades 87 times since coming to this warridden country in 2002.

Wilmot – who had eagerly volunteere­d as a medic with 1 Field Ambulance to save lives, not take them – was killed by an explosive device while on foot patrol in the troubled Panjwaii district in Kandahar province.

“He had gotten to see a lot over his three months that he was here,” Kaye said of the young medic who had recently become engaged.

“He probably accumulate­d two years worth of experience. Every day that he was out there he was chalking up great experience and became a fine young medic.”

Wilmot was praised for his keen mind and contagious smile – two attributes that convinced his senior officers to give the young man a chance even though he lacked experience.

“He made up for it in character, in charisma, his personalit­y, his intellect, and all those things,” said Kaye whose voice caught when he recalled Wilmot’s promise to him. “He stepped up to the plate and assured me that he’d give everything – and he did.”

Wilmot died in one of the most violent districts in Afghanista­n while on a nighttime “framework” patrol, one of the daily tasks undertaken by Canadian troops to make their presence known in the area to help keep the Taliban at bay.

“We need to be present in order to reassure the population that they can get on with their normal life,” said Canadian commander Brig.-Gen. Denis Thompson, “and we need to do that day and night, otherwise the security bubble becomes challenged by the Taliban.”

Prime Minister Stephen Harper praised Wilmot’s commitment. “The dedication and bravery of Pte. Wilmot will long be remembered by Canadians and Afghans alike,” Harper said in a written statement. “We mourn the loss of this exceptiona­l Canadian.”

A few hours before the ramp ceremony for Wilmot, troops held a similar ritual at a Canadian base in the Persian Gulf called Camp Mirage for a soldier whose death is under investigat­ion by military officials. The body of Cpl. Brendan Downey was discovered in the camp’s living quarters Friday.

The location of Camp Mirage is considered a military secret because the host Arab state does not want to officially acknowledg­e it is helping a western power in the Afghanista­n conflict.

Downey’s body was to arrive at CFB Trenton yesterday.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay was to attend the ceremony for Downey, 37, a military policeman of 17 Wing Detachment, Dundurn, Sask.

 ?? GRAHAM THOMSON CANWEST NEWS SERVICE ?? Fellow combat medics bow their heads in prayer before carrying the casket of Pte. Colin Wilmot yesterday.
GRAHAM THOMSON CANWEST NEWS SERVICE Fellow combat medics bow their heads in prayer before carrying the casket of Pte. Colin Wilmot yesterday.

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