By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 23, 2014 – Yesterday, at an evening ceremony honoring the shared service and sacrifices of Canadians and Americans during the long war in Afghanistan, military leaders from both nations spoke at the commencement of Canada’s Afghanistan Memorial Vigil.
The ceremony that took place in the courtyard of the Embassy of Canada here was an hour-long event with a Canadian Honor Guard, attended by family members and colleagues of the American fallen, and officials of the Canadian and U.S. Armed Forces.
Navy Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called it a privilege to gather together with “treasured allies, the Canadian people, who honor us by honoring our fallen brothers and sisters in arms who served alongside them in Afghanistan.”
In 2002, a Canadian Armed Forces battalion was integrated into the U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom. In 2009-2011, four U.S. battalions were placed under Canadian command in Kandahar. And in the final phase of Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan, Canada provided up to 950 troops to the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan, second in size only to the U.S. contribution, according to a Canadian fact sheet.
Winnefeld said American and Canadian forces have served side by side for two centuries in world wars and other conflicts and crises, and in disasters.
“Together we’ve protected our nations for more than 55 years as close partners in the North American Aerospace Defense Command,” he added, “and when terrorists attacked the United States nearly 13 years ago … Canadian warriors quickly joined the international effort to release Afghanistan from the grip of the terrorists who attacked us and who suppressed the true ambitions of the Afghan people.”
Canada’s 12-year military engagement in Afghanistan was the largest deployment of Canadian Armed Forces personnel since World War II. More than 40,000 Canadian military personnel contributed to Canada’s Afghan military engagement, the fact sheet says.
During his remarks, Canadian Minister of National Defense Rob Nicholson said 158 Canadian Armed Forces personnel, one Canadian diplomat, one contractor, one journalist, and 43 American military personnel that served under Canadian command gave their lives for the mission in Afghanistan.
“No one has felt this sacrifice in a more profound way than the loved ones they left behind. They suffered a loss that words cannot describe,” Nicholson added. “It is a poignant reminder of the tremendous price our two nations have paid in support of security, prosperity and freedom.”
The Afghanistan Memorial Vigil consists of original commemorative plaques from a Canadian monument at Kandahar Airfield. The Afghanistan Memorial Vigil will travel to 20 cities across Canada and to Washington between May and November 12.
The plaques honor 161 Canadian lives lost during the pursuit of peace and security, Winnefeld said, but also more than 40 U.S. men and women in uniform who made the ultimate sacrifice under Canadian command in Kandahar.
“Together,” he added, “we have fought in a noble cause, we have sacrificed together, and together tonight we remember and we resolve to never forget.”
The vice chairman recalled in his remarks those serving around the globe far from North American shores in defense of freedom, and the many families who stand behind them at home.
“Thank you, Canada,” he told his hosts and one of America’s closest allies, “for this evening and for your enduring friendship.”