Veterans reflect on Afghanistan mission
Foothills: Canadian mission to country ends March 12
By: Don Patterson
| Posted: Wednesday, Mar 12, 2014 06:00 am
It was a mission that saw Canadian soldiers fight terrorists, build schools and help rebuild a war-torn nation. It was Canada’s largest combat operation since World War Two and the mission cost the lives of 158 Canadian soldiers.
As of March 12, the Canadian mission in Afghanistan officially comes to an end.
Foothills veterans of the Afghan war say time will tell how successful it is, but it’s a mission they are proud to have been a part of.
By the end of High River native Dan Stegmeier’s tour in Kandahar, he said he believed the Afghan people wanted Canada’s help to rebuild their country.
“There were a lot of good Afghan people who really wanted a change,” he said. “Some of them didn’t care, but for the most part the ones I was around wanted a change. They wanted their kids to be happy and safe.”
Canada’s involvement in the war in Afghanistan began soon after the 9/11 attacks. U.S. and allied forces and elements of the Canadian Battalion Group began arriving in February 2002. In 2006, Canadian soldiers moved to Kandahar. At the height of the mission, nearly 3,000 Canadian Forces members were in Kandahar.
Since Feb. 2002, 158 Canadians were killed in the Afghan mission.
Stegmeier, who is now attending college in Edmonton, served one tour in the country in 2008. He was a combat engineer in the 1 Combat Engineer Regiment, searching for and removing improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
It was a high-pressure job searching for and clearing bombs well-hidden by the Taliban or Al-Qaeda. Stegmeier said bomb makers would often put new bombs in areas that had already been cleared, making it difficult to know whether areas that had been deemed safe were not.
“It was extremely, extremely intense, extremely stressful,” he said. “A lot of people are relying on you. If there was something there and you didn’t find it, potentially somebody is going to get hurt or killed.”
Stegmeier said Canadian soldiers kept the Taliban and Al-Qaeda busy in the combat mission and made it difficult for them to establish a hold on the country.
“For me, I always though of it that way, we kept them very busy and we were more of a thorn in their side so they couldn’t expand their network. They were focused in on us.”
Stegmeier had only been a member of the armed forces for a year before being sent to the combat zone. He said everything he learned in basic training was geared towards what he would do in Afghanistan. He said it helped him to be ready for when he first arrived in the country.
“Every bit of training I did was geared towards going to Afghanistan,” he said. “In basic training they’d talk to you a lot about Afghanistan, what’s happening.”
The mission in Afghanistan wasn’t just a combat mission, Canadians were also heavily involved in efforts to build infrastructure and support the creation of a new civil society in the country.
Veteran Raymond MacGregor said Canadian soldiers serving in the country played an important and successful role in supporting these efforts.
“It may not be as obvious as on a big national front in Afghanistan, but at the lower levels of their society, like the normal people we influenced personally, that’s where it made a big difference,” he said.
Afghanistan was MacGregor’s first time in a combat zone after previously serving on peacekeeping missions in Somalia and Bosnia.
He served in the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry and served three tours in Afghanistan, first in 2002 when Canadians were first deployed in the country and the last time was in 2010.
MacGregor retired from the Armed Forces as a Master Warrant Officer and is currently manager of Motorrad Performance in Turner Valley.
He said only time will tell whether the seeds Canadians working in the country planted will take root and the country will follow a new path in its development.
“It’s up to them now, we showed them different ways of doing things and hopefully they took the good out of it,” he said.
MacGregor said history will judge the legacy of the Canadian mission, but for soldiers like him it’s a legacy they’re proud of.
“We did a great job there,” he said. “Canadian soldiers always do a good job wherever they go, regardless of the mission.”
As the mission officially comes to an end, MacGregor remembers the sacrifice of the Canadian soldiers who died in Afghanistan. He said Canadians have recognized and supported the work done by the country’s soldiers in Afghanistan and the sacrifices they made. It means a lot, he said.
“I thank all the Canadian public for the support since 2002,” said MacGregor. “Twelve years, it means a big deal to the soldiers in the Canadian Forces.”