Canada's top soldier told cheering marchers in Toronto on Friday that their support for the military encourages Canadian soldiers who are enduring difficult and dangerous conditions in Afghanistan.
Gen. Rick Hillier was speaking at a massive rally at the Canadian National Exhibition fairgrounds, where hundreds of people turned out in red shirts to show support for the soldiers stationed overseas.
"What [this rally] does is convince them that when you're 12,000 kilometres away from home, and when you're on a dusty, and dirty and dangerous trail, and when you're walking that trail doing your mission, Canadians are walking with them," said Hillier, chief of defence staff.
"And as a result of this, maybe, just maybe, they'll do the same thing and accept the same risk again tomorrow and for as long as we need them to do the mission."
Hillier, who stood before the crowd with three wounded soldiers at his side, said the men and women serving in Afghanistan are aware of the rally and will be sent video images and pictures.
Photo Credit: Peter J. Thompson
Sharing a stage with the minister of defence, the head of the Canadian Forces and Don Cherry, wounded soldier Jody Mitic looked out to a boisterous crowd of people gathered for a Toronto rally in support of troops in Afghanistan and noted how times have changed.
"When (I) first joined in the mid-nineties, military and army were bad words," the 30-year-old master corporal from Brampton, who stepped on a land mine in the Panjwai district and now wears artificial legs, said later. "But now, everyone is supporting us. Makes it worth it, losing my legs and all."
The military estimated that 4,000 people attended the Red Friday Rally, held in the Canadian Forces display, at the Canadian National Exhibition Friday, which included addresses from Chief of Defence Staff General Rick Hillier and Defence Minister Peter MacKay, who said "we are doing this mission because Canadians care."
Some speakers alluded to the debate that surrounds the mission, which began in 2002.
"It is not my job, nor my responsibility, to articulate why we do certain missions but let me just tell you, as soldiers, we have to believe that there's a nugget of a mission before we will go out and do it," said Hillier. "Before we go on a mission where we risk life and limb, as our soldiers do every single day, we have to believe in the mission."
Hockey personality Don Cherry, who wore a red jacket, acknowledged that not everyone agrees with the war, "but when our troops are over there, we have to support them," he said.
The Red Friday campaign started in April 2006 to show support for the Canadian Forces. It encourages Canadians to wear a red article of clothing on Fridays to represent the blood that has been shed by soldiers. Since then, dozens of rallies have been held across the country.
Defence Minister Peter MacKay talked about the difference the Canadian military is already making in Afghanistan; boys and girls are able to go to school, women can work, he said.
"The rally today means so much to our troops, it means so much to the men and women who are working hard to protect us, to safeguard our freedoms and the lives of the people in Afghanistan and those who want to live in an open and free country like ours," he said.
MacKay then asked the crowd to cheer for the troops and pose for a photo that would be transmitted to Afghanistan. The crowd responded enthusiastically