By DAVID PUGLIESE, Ottawa Citizen September 7, 2012 6:00 PM
Maj.-Gen. Jonathan, director of staff, strategic joint staff, places poppies on every plaque on the Memorial of the Fallen at Kandahar Airfield during the last Remembrance Day ceremony in southern Afghanistan on November 11, 2011. The honour Canadian Forces members who died as well as Foreign Affairs official Glyn Berry, Calgary Herald journalist Michelle Lang, and Marc Cyr, a civilian from the company SNC Lavalin that was under contract to the Defence Department. Other plaques honour the U.S. military and a civilian member who died while serving under Canadian command.
Photograph by: Sgt Lance Wade , Mission Transition Task Force
OTTAWA — Veterans Affairs Canada and the National Capital Commission rejected the idea that the Kandahar air field cenotaph honouring fallen Canadian soldiers be made into a national memorial in Ottawa, according to Canadian Forces documents.
But the office of the Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney disputes those conclusions, saying no such decision has been made. And the NCC says it has been providing ongoing support to the project.
The Afghanistan conflict is Canada's longest war and there had been a push among some in the military to return the cenotaph that was erected at Kandahar air field (KAF) to Ottawa so it could become a national memorial.
But military officers wrote in a July 2011 briefing note that won't be happening. "Veterans Affairs Canada and the National Capital Commission, two major stakeholders, have already stated that there is no scope to make the KAF Cenotaph a National memorial and they will therefore not get involved in its repatriation or contribute to its emplacement or future upkeep," officers told army commander Lt.-Gen. Peter Devlin.
But they noted that the cenotaph had arguably become the highest profile Canadian memorial in Afghanistan and because of that had assumed an important status. "Because it is well recognized by CF members, Canadians and the Government, it has obtained a quasi 'National' status and its disposition therefore requires careful consideration," the army commander was told.
The government announced in November 2011 that the cenotaph would be dismantled and transported back to Canada. It is now in storage.
But the claims that Veterans Affairs shot down the idea of a national memorial are incorrect, says Niklaus Schwenker, director of communications for Veterans Minister Stephen Blaney.
He said decisions on national monuments are made on a case-by-case basis and at a high government level. "That hasn't happened yet," explained Schwenker.
He noted that Blaney was not consulted nor had given his approval for any position indicating that Veterans Affairs would not be involved with the Kandahar cenotaph.
"We think this is an incredibly important monument," Schwenker added. "Anything we can do in assisting DND or providing advice in how to deal with this, we would be more than happy to do that."
Mark Kristmanson of the NCC said he was surprised to see the details of the briefing note, noting it was not only an inaccurate view of the commission's views but it was written before DND officials had even met with him and his staff. He said the commission has helped DND with conservation for the long-term preservation of the cenotaph, as well as providing recommendations for various sites it could be located.
"It was very evident that this (cenotaph) had great meaning and importance and we treated it as such," said Kristmanson.
"They're (the DND) taking our recommendations and considering them," he added.
Defence Minister Peter MacKay said last year the Defence Department was consulting with the National Capital Commission to identify an appropriate site for the cenotaph. It would be "one that will provide a place for reflection and remembrance for the public, affected families, and the Canadian Forces," he noted in a statement.
The Canadian Forces wants to announce the location of a site for the cenotaph by the end of this year. The memorial would have to be rebuilt at that site and it is possible that some materials will have to be replaced so they can withstand Canadian temperatures.
The military wants to unveil the finished cenotaph by the end of 2014, the year the current training mission of Afghan national security forces is to end.
The cenotaph at Kandahar Airfield became a symbol for many Canadians of the losses endured in the Afghan war. Canadian Forces personnel and Afghan employees built it in 2006 and added to the monument over time.
On the cenotaph are plaques that honour Canadian Forces members who died as well as Foreign Affairs official Glyn Berry, Calgary Herald journalist Michelle Lang, and Marc Cyr, a civilian from the company SNC Lavalin that was under contract to the Defence Department. Other plaques honour the U.S. military and a civilian member who died while serving under Canadian command.
"I would say in every way, shape or form it should be a national memorial," said Retired Canadian Forces colonel Pat Stogran, who fought in Afghanistan and later became the veterans ombudsman. "Afghanistan was a profound event in the history of our country."
But Stogran sees the issues concerning the cenotaph as part of a greater theme in which he believes the government and federal bureaucrats want to distance themselves from the Afghan war. "They would like Afghanistan to go away," he added.
Over the years the war has become controversial, with a number of Canadians questioning the expense and sacrifice that was made.
Schwenker said Veterans Affairs hasn't been consulted yet by the Defence Department about the monument. "If they want VAC's expertise in terms in how to deal with a monument or in terms of placement we're more than happy to give it," he added. "But we haven't been asked. We suspect we may be asked at some point."
Another cenotaph in honour of those killed in Afghanistan was erected at Camp Mirage, the Canadian base in the United Arab Emirates. It was brought back to Canada and was installed at the National Air Force Museum at Canadian Forces Base Trenton, Ont.
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