They will not grow old as we that grow old
Yesterday the first Canadian female combat soldier was killed in Afghanistan. Captain Nichola Goddard was on the front lines leading her group of four to five men when she died on the field. She is the 16th soldier killed since the Canadian military entered Operations in Afghanistan.
I really felt the story yesterday. As her death was broken on the news, I watched with a former military school classmate and friend of hers. Before the fallen soldier’s identity was confirmed, my colleague was visually anxious, as there are only a few women combat captains in Afghanistan, most of whom she knew. Once her family had been informed, her story broke, and anecdotes of her life became her obituary.
Today, the newspapers carry stories of person e-mails she sent to her sister and new husband at home here. She’d been married in December, and entered the military at first as a way to pay for school, and then as a continuation of the pride she felt defending her country. Her fellow soldiers say she was well respected on the battlefield where her gender never factored into the group dynamic. When she relayed messages over the radio from the front line, her voice was described as being calm and soothing like a radio night show host. Lonely soldiers in a far away sand land were soothed by her voice and radiating confidence. A CTV reporter stationed in Afghanistan said her white smile was welcoming, and often the first thing you noticed about her. My colleague confirmed Capt Goddard really was the honest, easy-to-like person the news described.
I felt, because of this connection through my colleague, that the story had really happened to real people, at least in a way I could grasp. Yesterday afternoon, her mother, father, siblings and new husband had received phone calls saying their hero, the woman who meant so much to them, was killed, never to be again. In spite of the upbeat e-mails they received from her promising to be home in August after this adventure finished, her body is now to come home much earlier. They will have to celebrate next Christmas, her birthday, and what was to be her first wedding anniversary without her. Those thoughts make me sad. While we are capable of feeling such immense love for someone, as her family felt for her, we are also capable of feeling polar opposite grief and sadness. I think what’s important is that the news media, through which we all get our information about national events like this, has painted her not as a poor girl deserving of out pity for dying in a war-torn land, but as a hero. We can understand her decision to fight, her connection to loved ones at home and her reason for smiling into the military camera without feeling sorry for her. This is not a point to re-ignite debate over why the military is there, nor a chance to use her as an example. This is a chance to honour the risk soldiers face in the line of work they choose, and how their deaths in the line of duty make them heroes.