Another Team Canada mission to Afghanistan ended yesterday, full of memories for the participants and the troops alike.
Some interesting themes emerged this week. For many of us who had been before, the progress the coalition is making is obvious and our soldiers are proud of that. They believe in this mission and the good it is doing. That is why they are prepared to make the sacrifice they make.
Canada needs to be a part of this coalition. When you see it first hand you realize (in hockey terms) we are an important part of this “team.” Other countries have more players on the team, more guys that can score, but Canada is that invaluable second line that can be counted on to score sometimes but always play a responsible game. Not being on this team wouldn’t feel right.
There are a lot of Leaf fans in Afghanistan and they had a great time with guys like Trees (Mark Laforest), Tiger (Williams) and Lanny (McDonald). You can see by the photo, even the Afghans recognize how many Leafs fans are at Kandahar Airfield. Probably the best Leaf story though, came from a non Leaf.
Tony Currie is from Sydney Mines, New Brunswick, and was drafted by the St. Louis Blues. He is one of only three of us who have been on all four trips to Kandahar. Tony’s mother, Lois, is a staunch Leaf fan and still lives in Sydney Mines and still watches every single game. Back in the 70s when Tony played his first game at Maple Leaf Gardens, she did not attend (Lois doesn’t like traveling), but she did call him on game day. In those days you didn’t call on game day but Lois found a way to get through. She called Tony and said, “Now Tony bye, I wants to wish you best of luck for the game tonight. I’ve taught about it and I want the Leafs to win 3-2, but I wants you to get both St. Louis goals. And byes the way, see if you can get me Lanny McDonald’s autograph.”
The juxtoposition of playing ball hockey in the South East Asian desert and soldiers lining up for a picture with the Stanley Cup, while F-18's and A-10 Warthogs take off to do their business is brought home by repatriation ceremony for a young soldier from another country. Soldiers of every nation, thousands of them, line up to pay the ultimate respect. To be asked to participate is very diffiicult but it's an honour.
Thankfully comraderie, like casulaty also knows no borders. Last night thousands filled the boardwalk to hear some serious Canadian rock and roll. Well known, Toronto band, The Carpet Frogs. The 'Frogs started it off and then were then joined by Alan Frew and Sam Reid of Glass Tiger fame. Then Vancouver recording artists, Default took the stage to close it out. The highlight of the night had to be former Leaf goaltender, Marc (Trees) LaForest and host, Andi Petrillo of Leafs TV body surfing the crowd.
Now that's juxtoposition. Or some might call it a deserved break for these hard working soldiers, a piece of home in the middle of a long tour. A chance to let off some steam knowing that people back home care and appreciate the job they are doing. Whatever country they are from.
One of the great outcomes of Community leadership, is the stories of human spirit that emerge. Every time Team Canada visits Afghanistan, there are many.
Wednesday has been all about a pair of back to back wins over the US and Slovakia, both recognized ball hockey super powers in Kandahar. The Slovakian team are noted for a physical style of play here and they didn't disappoint. Their cheering section would make many NHL teams' fan clubs jealous. But a hat trick by Lanny McDonald and the work in the corner was the difference. After acting as head coach of the US team in the morning, Burkie looked back at home behind the Team Canada bench and the game plan (shoot at the net and don't let them shoot at Marc (Trees) LaForest, worked like a charm.
Andy Petrillo of Leafs TV, called the game along side her co-host Darren Millard of Hockey Central,
and Rogers Sportsnet, the official broadcast partner of the Leafs. They have been doing a terrific job and their creative scoring helped keep it close last night as Team Canada lost for the first time in four years to an upstart All Star team from the Canadian Forces. Although we clearly beat them in average age and average weight. But the story has a loop that is now closed. Darren's wife Jennifer of Maple Leaf Sports, was a co-host of the first Team Canada mission in 2007, and four years later Darren is here and got to hook up with his brother Derek, a Warrant officer based in Edmonton and now deployed in Afghanistan.
Sean Wilson is from London , Ontario and an avid Leafs fan. Sean's brother Mark, was an armoured crewman with The Royal Dragoons and was killed in action in 2006 shortly after his tour started. Sean made a point of meeting Brian and Andi , the Leafs Alumni and myself because he wanted us to know his story and how much our visit meant. Sean left a career to come over to Afghanistan "just to sell coffee" (his words) at Tim Hortons to honour his brother's memory. He said it like selling coffee wasnt important, but Tim's is the social epicentre of Kandahar airfield. And you can't help but think that working at a great Canadian success story like Tim's is the perfect job this Canadian success story
David Ariggo is an sports artist who has painted everything from mural walls at NHL All Star to masks for some of the best known goalies in the NHL.Sean Wilson's story was the inspiration for the fist "charity" mask he did. The tagline for his Art company is "The sky is no longer the limit". David, with a little help from Cold FX (another great Canadian success story), has brought a 4 foot mask, that is painted and will be left behind as a permanent legacy of the four Team Canada missions.
The Leafs anthem, Free to Be
was concieved by Alan Frew a year ago on this very same trip. The award winning artsit and composerwho co-wrote "I Believe
", the theme for the 2010 Olympics, is a die hard Leafs fan. Free to Be (Canada's song) is another legacy of the Team Canada mission and to hear it sung live in Kandahar a year later is evidence of the inspiration our troops provide all of us as Canadians. And the Leafs fans in Kandahar of which there are thousands, love the tune by the way.
All of these are stories of the power of the human spirit and the enormous capacity we have as leaders and as teammates. On any team. Canada's mission in Afghanistan is not without it's challenges. But it's important and these people believe in what they are doing. If you set your sights high , you can achieve anything. The Canadian forces prove that here everyday. We have seen it and we believe it. The sky is no longer the limit.
One of the amazing outcomes of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver is the "emotional revolution" where people all across our country are expressing their Canadian pride with a new sense of purpose and intensity. This has been building for some time now, but the great job our neighbours to the west did hosting the Games and the record gold medal haul, has helped to unleash it or perhaps, permitted us to express it more vocally than before. And that Canadian pride is alive and well in Afghanistan.
Team Canada 2010 arrived here yesterday and has been again overwhelmed by the same sense of pride we saw in our country during the Winter Games. And it's because of the extraordinary way we are represented here by our men and women in the Canadian Forces.
Team Canada is 15 NHL alumni, 12 rock musicians, two Leafs executives, one NASCAR driver, one artist, one "dragon slayer", one bull rider, one Stanley Cup and a lot of good natured fun all here for the fourth time. The mission is a simple one: take a little bit of Canada over to the many military and civilian men and women who are serving and protecting our country from 10,000 kilometres away; be inspired by their commitment, their bravery, their energy and their Canadian pride. And take that message back home so that they know their country cares.
This morning at 6 a.m., we dropped $400 at Tim Hortons buying morning coffee for the troops. Tonight there’s a little ball hockey and some rock and roll. Tim's, hockey, rock and roll – it doesn't get any more Canadian. And it doesn't get any better.