Newfoundlander killed in action

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One of six dead after roadside attack in Afghanistan

Pte. Kevin Kennedy

Just over a month before he died in the deadliest day of fighting for Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan, Pte. Kevin Kennedy spoke of his excitement in being part of Operation Achilles, a major offensive to drive the Taliban out of Helmand province.

Kennedy, of St. Lawrence, could barely contain the rush of adrenaline as he was interviewed by The Canadian Press in early March.

Everyone is really pumped here this morning, Kennedy said.

We came here. Weve trained for years and we are finally going to go out and do our job and we are ready to do it.

Kennedy, 20, was one of four soldiers from the Gagetown, N.B.-based 2nd Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment, who died in a roadside bomb attack Sunday in southern Afghanistan.

The other dead men were identified as Sgt. Donald Lucas, 31, of Burton, N.B., Cpl. Aaron E. Williams, 23, of Lincoln, N.B., and Pte. David Robert Greenslade, 20, of Saint John, N.B.

Also killed was Cpl. Christopher Paul Stannix, 24, of Dartmouth, N.S., who was a reservist from the Halifax-based Princess Louise Fusiliers.

A sixth soldier who was killed was not identified at the request of his family.

But Wade Rowsell, the mayor of Kennedys hometown of about 1,500 people, remembered a young man with a lot of potential.

Kevin was certainly very jovial, very witty, and a character of sorts, and a leader, Roswell said in an interview Sunday.

He was always military-minded, wanted a career in the military to serve his country, and certainly he did admirably.

He said Kennedy moved away from St. Lawrence after graduating from high school a number of years ago and began his military training.

He said the tight-knit community will be deeply affected by the news.

Its very difficult to heal the wounded heart. We have to be proud of his efforts for his country. This young gentleman had so much to offer and its really tragic.

New Brunswick Premier Shawn Graham extended his sympathies Sunday to the families of the soldiers, saying it was a sad day for the province and the country.

The explosion in the Maywand district near the border with Helmand province also caused serious but non-life-threatening injuries to one Canadian soldier and light injuries to another.

The more seriously injured soldier will likely be flown to Germany for treatment at a U.S. military hospital.

Sundays toll brings the total number of Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan since 2002 to 51. A Canadian diplomat has also been killed.

You can appreciate, clearly we are saddened by the loss of six of our best soldiers but we stay committed to the mission, said Col. Mike Cessford, deputy commander of Task Force Afghanistan.

This is what we do. We are focused on rebuilding Afghanistan, on doing the right things for those kids who wave at us every day as we drive down the roads here.

Ten soldiers, all members of Hotel company, were in a LAV-3 armoured vehicle when the blast occurred around 1:30 p.m.

They had been out in the desert for a month living off their vehicles, eating field rations and sleeping under the stars.

Over the past few days they were busy shepherding coalition convoys to the Sangin district, the scene of fierce fighting between the coalition and the Taliban.

Loved by the troops, the LAV-3 is an eight-wheeled, light armoured vehicle capable of handling a variety of armaments and reaching speeds of up to 100 km/h.

In Afghanistan, LAVs have weathered many roadside bombs and suicide car bomb blasts, usually limping away with a few destroyed tires.

Earlier this week, soldiers from Hotel company proudly handed around home-made pictures and construction paper cut-outs of Easter bunnies sent by their children, with greetings and endearments scrawled in crayon.

Some of the troops said they were going to save their treats until Sunday.

Word that something terrible had happened quickly rippled through the base at Kandahar as helicopters brought the wounded in from Maywand.

Attempts by the troops to call home were stymied for hours when the military imposed a communications lockdown because of the deaths.

Speaking in France to mark the 90th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said it has been a difficult day in Afghanistan.

He broke the news of the six deaths at a dinner for veterans and said our hearts ache for them and their families.

Hours before Sundays explosion, Lt.-Col. Rob Walker, the battle group commander, said his troops were making progress cracking down on Taliban roadside bomb activity in some parts of Kandahar province.

He said his troops recently eliminated an insurgent cell.

We have killed or captured a number of individuals, and we have had no mines or anything for at least a week now, Walker said.

There have been reports that Taliban leaders pay cash bounties to insurgents for killing NATO troops and Afghan security force members with roadside bombs.

Bronzed, sunburnt and dirty from their time in the desert, the troops of Hotel company were in high spirits earlier in the week.

On Thursday, some soldiers stripped off their sweaty body armour after a day of patrolling in the desert and played hacki-sack in a rough circle while listening to hip-hop tunes. There was lots of laughter and joking.

Another soldier serenaded the sleepy crew of his light armoured vehicle in the pre-dawn darkness by singing Good morning, good morning, to you over the vehicles intercom system, to catcalls and curses from his comrades.

Hours before the deaths were officially announced, a subdued hush fell over Canadian troops at the base in Kandahar as they tucked into their evening meal at the dining hall, which was decorated with blue-painted Easter eggs and chocolate bunnies wrapped in gold foil.

Without fanfare, soldiers at headquarters quietly lowered the Canadian flag to half-mast in the darkness.

It has been a bad day, said one officer, his face twisted in pain.

Organizations: Taliban, Canadian Press, Royal Canadian Regiment NATO

Geographic location: Afghanistan, Helmand, Gagetown Southern Afghanistan Burton Lincoln Saint John Dartmouth Kennedys Kandahar New Brunswick Germany U.S. France

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