Shinkai Karokhail, Afghanistan’s ambassador to Canada, took a moment after the new B.C. Afghanistan Memorial was dedicated on Saturday to speak with Trevor Greene.
“We are all proud of you,” she told him, handing him a small blue bag filled with teas. The Armed Forces captain was struck in the head with an axe during a village meeting in Afghanistan in 2006, leaving him with traumatic injuries.
The exchange came after the memorial, which commemorates the 163 Canadians who died during the 12-year mission, was officially unveiled at the corner of Courtney and Quadra streets.
More than 1,000 people attended the ceremony.
“I can assure you that the people of Afghanistan have not forgotten you,” Karokhail said during the event. “We have not forgotten the support of Canadians and the sacrifices of your soldiers.
“We have not forgotten those who have given everything they had so that our children could grow, learn, prosper and live in peace.”
Nearly 40,000 members of Canada’s Armed Forces served in Afghanistan.
The memorial lists the names of those who died, including five civilians. Three were from Vancouver Island: Lt. Andrew Nuttall, Bombardier Myles Mansell and Cpl. Andrew (Boomer) Eykelenboom.
Karokhail said that unless a person lived through the Taliban regime or Afghanistan’s civil war, “it is hard to explain how much my country has changed as a result of the sacrifices of your daughters and sons, and the framework of international communities’ support to Afghanistan since 2001.”
Today, more than nine million students are in school, and of those, many are girls, she said. “You have all made the world a better place. There is nothing more noble than serving others.”
Greene, who lives in Nanaimo, praised the event.
“It occurred to me that there wasn’t any physical presence for my brothers who were killed,” he said. “This is fabulous. It is a real tangible monument.”
The monument depicts a Canadian soldier and a young boy, their hands outstretched, under a maple tree and its scattered leaves.
The image is based on a picture of Lt. Michael McCauley taken by photographer Finbarr O’Reilly on July 13, 2007, near Panjwaii village in Afghanistan’s Kandahar province.
McCauley, who is stationed at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown in New Brunswick, was in Victoria to participate in the memorial event.
“We were out on patrol with the Afghan National Army. … We were doing presence patrol through a section of the Panjwaii district,” he recalled.
“As we were kind of patrolling along the roadway, we patrolled through a couple of small villages. There was a fair bit of interest in our teams rolling through and at that point, we came across a small collection of children by the side of the road.”
The youngsters were interested in soldiers in Canadian uniform, said McCauley, who was 26 at the time.
“They came out and wanted to see more and see what we were all about. Of course, they engaged us. It was more or less just a friendly gesture.”
McCauley said he is honoured and humbled that his image is on the monument, but said similar scenes featuring other soldiers and children took places almost daily.
Dignitaries at the event included B.C. Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon, Premier John Horgan, Brig.-Gen. T.J. Cadieu, representing the chief of defence staff, and Rear Admiral Art McDonald, commander of Maritime Forces Pacific.
Richard d’Anjou, of Victoria, was among the veterans who attended the ceremony. He served in Afghanistan in 2003 and 2004, stationed in Kabul.
He attended the memorial to show respect for his fallen comrades, praising the monument as “fantastic.”
“It’s just an honour to be here,” he said. “I lost some really, really close friends. Their names are actually on that plaque.”