This article was originally published in Maclean's Magazine on May 6, 2002
Friendly Fire Victims Mourned
Canadians are not normally accustomed to outward displays of patriotic pride over their fallen warriors. Since 1948, more than 100 Canadians have lost their lives nobly in peacekeeping missions around the world, their passing hardly noted beyond their immediate families and regiments. Yet from the moment the country learned that four of our own were senselessly killed and eight others wounded when a U.S. F-16 fighter pilot mistakenly took their nighttime training exercise in Afghanistan as enemy fire, the tragedy awakened grief across the country - and a new appreciation for the dangers faced by our fighting men and women abroad.
Last week, the four dead - Sgt. Marc Léger, 29, Cpl. Ainsworth Dyer, 25, Pte. Richard Green, 22, and Pte. Nathan Smith, 27 - got a hero's send-off. In Kandahar, the entire Canadian contingent of 830 gathered to bid farewell in a 40-minute ceremony held in a newly planted rose garden at the city's airport. Across Canada, crowds of friends, relatives, CANADIAN FORCES members and well-wishers turned out at four emotional funerals held over three days. A memorial service for all four soldiers was scheduled for Sunday in Edmonton, home of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, to which they belonged. "I can't remember anything like this," said retired captain Bruce Poulin, spokesman for the Royal Canadian Legion in Ottawa. "Perhaps it will set a benchmark for giving tribute for our serving members in the future if they're asked to make the ultimate sacrifice."
But there was pettiness as well. Last week in the House of Commons, Canadian Alliance MP Jason Kenney initially scuttled a private member's motion from Liberal MP David Pratt to designate the first Sunday of every June as Canadian Forces Day. The feel-good motion required unanimous assent, but Kenney said he would only go along if his own bill - advocating two minutes of silence on Remembrance Day instead of one - also passed. "Can't they do anything right?" screamed Tory MP Elsie Wayne at the Alliance from her Commons seat. Said retired general Lewis MacKenzie: "It's been a long time since I have seen self-interest so unashamedly trump common sense and decency." Cowed, Kenney backtracked the next day and the motion was quickly adopted.
The families of the fallen, meanwhile, are awaiting the outcome of two separate inquiries - one Canadian and one American - to determine how the pilot, as yet unnamed, could have mistakenly dropped a 500-lb. bomb on allies engaging in exercises. Worries that the Canadian probe, headed by retired general and former chief of defence staff Maurice Baril, would not be able to interrogate the pilot were diminished by the announcement in Washington that Canadian Brig.-Gen. Marc Dumais will co-chair the U.S. investigation, which will have access to the pilot. Both inquiries have been given 60 days to report, although Baril has promised to issue an interim report in three weeks.
Experts expect the inquiries to get to the truth. "Military investigations of this sort are usually quite objective," John Thompson, a security analyst with the Mackenzie Institute in Toronto, told Maclean's. For one thing, determining what went wrong is as important to the U.S. military as it is to the Canadian. "They want to find out what happened," he said, "because the next time, it could just as easily be U.S. troops that are hit by mistake." And perhaps the most important way of showing respect for fallen warriors is doing everything possible to prevent such deadly mishaps in the future.
Maclean's May 6, 2002