Young infantryman killed just days before end of tour
24-year-old hit landmine during night patrol south of Kandahar City
As a lone piper skirled a lament, the flag-draped casket of Pte. Kevin Thomas McKay of the Alberta-based 1st battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry was borne by eight of his peers to a CC-130 Hercules aircraft late Friday for the long journey home.
The grief at the death of "Mickey" McKay -- the 144th Canadian soldier to die in the Afghan mission -- was particularly profound because after nearly seven months in-country the young infantryman from Richmond Hill, Ont., was only to patrol for two more days "outside the wire." After that he was to begin several days of decompression leave with his unit at a seaside resort in the Mediterranean. Such leave is mandatory before every soldier returns to Canada.
"Mickey was a great soldier and an even better individual," his platoon commander, Michael Hughes told reporters. "The boys in the platoon really loved Mickey ... He was one of the most generous guys in the platoon, any of the boys would tell you that. He would give you the shirt off his back."
McKay was the sixth Canadian soldier to die in Afghanistan this year. He was killed by a homemade landmine Thursday while on a night patrol near the village of Nakhoney, 15 kilometres southwest of Kandahar City, in an area that the Canadians had taken from the Taliban several months ago.
McKay had "answered the call to serve his and country and laid down his life in the cause of freedom," Padre Carol Bateman told 1,500 NATO soldiers and civilian workers who gathered at Kandahar Airfield to witness his ramp ceremony. "May all that was good in his life not be lost, but be of benefit to the world."
McKay, 24, died while on what the military calls a "presence patrol" designed to disrupt insurgents, said Col. Simon Hetherington, the deputy commander of Task Force Afghanistan.
"He was a highly skilled soldier who loved his job and whose positive outlook spread to all those around him," Hetherington said. "He was the type of soldier that Canadians must think of when they think of their army in Afghanistan: the tough, courageous infantryman, living in austere conditions and doing remarkable work."
McKay's battalion was in the final stages of handover to a battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment.
McKay, who was on his first tour in Afghanistan, was described to mourners as an avid hockey player, cook, camper and fisherman who had a cabin in northern Ontario. He was also known as something of a tease in Delta Company, often poking fun at "less vertically challenged platoon mates," said Hetherington. The private had recently won a moustache-growing contest staged by his platoon.
Canada has nearly 3,000 troops in Afghanistan and South Asia. Its combat mission is slated to end next summer.
Von: Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen, By Matthew Fisher, Canwest News Service May 15, 2010