CFB TRENTON – U.S. Army Sgt. Cindy Curtis had never seen a repatriation ceremony.
But Tuesday, Curtis, a member of the 861st Quartermaster Company based in Nashville, Tennessee, and nine of her parachute rigger colleagues, watched as the flag-draped casket of Bombardier Karl Manning come home.
For Curtis seeing hundreds of people standing along the fence along Highway 2 to pay their respect to the fallen soldier as well as news photographers covering the ceremony up close and personal on the tarmac was “more than an unfamiliar sight.
“We don't hear much about the repatriation of our fallen soldiers in the United States,” she said, while keeping an eye on the C-17 Globemaster pulling up on the hot tarmac. “Unless you were serving with the man or woman who lost her or his life on mission, or are a family member, or a close friend ... People know about it, but locally. The local newspaper and TV network of the town or city where the fallen soldier was from will cover the ceremony and report it the next day, but they (media) don't publish any advance stories or anything as well documented as the work you guys do here today.”
The body of the 31-year old gunner from Battery X, the 5e Regiment d'artillerie legere du Canada and Chicoutimi, Que., was found shortly after dawn last Friday by fellow soldiers at an austere forward operating base in the Horn of Panjwaii.
Manning was the 156th Canadian soldier to die in Afghanistan.
Neither hostile fire, nor foul play was suspected in Manning's death, which is under investigation.
Curtis said she took upon herself to attend Manning's repatriation ceremony.
“We are currently on training here in Trenton with the parachute school (Canadian Forces Land Advanced Warfare Centre),” said Curtis, as she approached the CFB Trenton tarmac while accompanying members of the Canadian media. “We arrived on Sunday, the same day the news of Manning's death was announced, I believe. As a public affairs officer myself with my unit in Tennessee, I asked if I could attend the ceremony with members of the press in order to learn more about how Canadian Forces hold this particular kind of ceremonies.
“I had heard about it (how Canadian Forces repatriate its fallen soldiers) back home and wanted to see it with my own eyes,” said the rigger. “I am using a little camera and my phone to do a chronological documentation of what's happening here during the ceremony.”
Curtis thinks more people in the United States should see and know more about how Canadians Forces repatriate and honour the sacrifices their soldiers make when they are killed in action.
“I think attending those ceremonies is a good thing,” she said. “I think media in the United States should pay more attention to what's going when one of us gets repatriated from Iraq or Afghanistan. It shows the reality of war. And I think it's even more important that people can show their support to the families and to the military. I guess the mentality is just really different here in Canada.”
Outgoing commanding officer at CFB Trenton Col. Dave Cochrane attended the ceremony along with Governor General David Johnston, Defence Minister Peter Mackay, and Chief of Defence staff Gen. Walter Natynczyk.
"The repatriations held here serve as a constant reminder of what we do every day and what so many before us have done in service of our country, and it is not without sacrifice,” said Cochrane. “During these emotional times, we endeavour to do our absolute best to ensure that these men and women who make the ultimate sacrifice are welcomed home with the dignity and respect that they have so valiantly earned. Our most heartfelt thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of Bombardier Manning on this very difficult day."
- With files from Emily Mountney and QMI Agency.