Canadian Soldier Killed and Another Injured in Afghanistan
Corporal Michael Starker, of 15 Field Ambulance, was killed today and another soldier was injured when they came under enemy fire during a patrol in the Pashmul region of the Zharey district. The soldiers were immediately evacuated by helicopter to the Canadian-led multinational hospital at Kandahar Airfield, where one soldier was pronounced dead. The other soldier is in fair condition and stable. The incident occurred at about 11:45 a.m. Kandahar time. The families of both members have been notified.At the time of the incident, the soldiers, their colleagues and Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) were conducting a civil-military cooperation (CIMIC) patrol in the area. These patrols are part of the many ways ANSF and ISAF show their presence, interact with the local population and discuss development needs of the community.
He's Coming Home -Our fallen soldier, Corporal Michael Gunter Starker, a member of 15 Field Ambulance, based in Edmonton, is scheduled to return home to Canada Friday, May 9, 2008. Corporal Starker was a reservist from Calgary, Alberta.
Where: 8 Wing Trenton, Canadian Forces Base Trenton, Ontario.
When: Friday, May 9, 2008, 2:00 p.m.
Present to pay their respects will be the Honourable Peter Gordon MacKay, Minister of National Defence and Minister of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, and other dignitaries.
She's Not Alone - We Stand Beside Her - She stands straight, her head held high, one hand clutching a single, perfect rose. Dark sunglasses don't shield her eyes, a courageous gesture for someone who knows millions are watching her.
The only giveaway to Nicole Starker's unfathomable grief is her lower lip that quivers with such ferocity at times it appears as though she is murmuring to herself.
Other than this one involuntary physical response, the pretty woman widowed far too young gives an exemplary lesson in grace under unimaginable pressure.
She shows the strength of character her friends cite as one of her many positive qualities.
It must seem all too surreal on Friday, then, as she stands under a makeshift white tent, positioned at the front of a group of her and her husband's family, watching a military plane unload a flag-draped casket containing the body of Cpl. Michael Starker.
On Tuesday morning, Nicole, a publicist for E! Network National, was walking into her office at the Global TV offices in Calgary. One of her colleagues yelled out, "Have a great day, Nicole!" and she responded in kind.
She was excitedly marking down the days until she'd meet her husband Michael in Africa, the dream-of-a-lifetime trip to celebrate his upcoming leave from duty in Afghanistan.
Less than an hour later, Nicole would be escorted into the office of a colleague who was away on a business trip. The door would close, and she would get the devastating news from a military team that included a chaplain, that her paramedic-reservist husband was killed that day while on a community outreach mission.
Barely 72 hours later, she and Michael's closest loved ones are in Trenton, Ont., a community two hours east of Toronto, where the biggest employers are Quaker Oats, Nestle and Canadian Forces Base Trenton.
At noon Calgary time, the heartbreaking ritual known in military-speak as the "repatriation ceremony" for Michael's body begins.
It's a hectic scene in the newsroom, as people working on the noon show rush back and forth, and one TV monitor shows live footage of firefighters rescuing stranded workers from the top of Bankers Hall (yet another reminder of everyday heroics).
Still, it's easy to blot out all distractions thanks to the moving events unfolding live from Trenton. White-haired veterans with chests full of medals; middle-aged couples dressed head-to-toe in red and waving large Canadian flags; and moms with their tots all mingle on the other side of the flag-dotted barbed-wire fence that overlooks the drama.
Inside, a procession of military personnel wearing a wide variety of uniforms files into position as a lone bagpiper plays. Nicole stands alone, her relatives a few steps behind her, the women each holding a single rose.
A woman dressed in black steps forward and escorts Nicole to the back of the black hearse in which the casket has been gently set by the eight young, uniformed, white-gloved pallbearers. She says her goodbyes, places the rose on the casket, then turns away to weep as a man puts his right arm around her shoulder.
A chaplain gives her a hug, and she shows her courage once again, offering him a warm smile.
If there is any comfort at all to be had in a time of such great sorrow, it is that others, near and far, are feeling the loss on this day.
While I watch the live feed of the ceremony in the Global newsroom, Nicole's colleagues are viewing it on another television downstairs. Afterwards, one colleague, who had earlier agreed to make a few comments, is too overwhelmed. "It's too tough, too raw right now," he says, acknowledging that the mood among her closest work friends is one of deep sadness.
At City Hall, paramedic Brent Thorkelson stands guard beside a condolence book that is already close to full.
Thorkelson, a friend of fellow paramedic Michael Starker, lets me thumb through the book, which has page upon page of expressions from the heart: "This is a great loss to the city"; "thank you for your love of your country and your love for all mankind"; "too young and too soon."
One note jumps out from the rest: "As I said goodbye to my children this morning, I said 'Thank you, Michael,' for letting them grow up in a safer world."
It is at once a very private and public grief. While those who knew and loved Michael Starker are feeling it most, there are thousands willing to help shoulder at least some of the burden for the loss of a true hero. Valerie Fortney, The Ottawa Citizen
Cpl. Starker was also a paramedic for the city of Calgary. Durham EMS was just one of many ambulance services to travel to Trenton on Friday to pay respects to one of their own.
Funeral of Cpl Starker - Friday, May 15th
Nicole Starker, wife of Corporal Michael Starker, a medic who was killed in Afghanistan on May 6, attends his funeral in Calgary on Friday, May 15, 2008 Photo Credit: Canadian Press
Thousands of people turned out Friday to say farewell to a paramedic and reservist killed in Afghanistan with a service that mirrored his life -- quiet and dignified.
His wife, Nicole Starker, and sister Carolyn Straub had joked with reporters earlier in the week that Cpl. Michael Starker would be embarrassed by all of the attention his death had generated.
"I think he would be laughing his a@# off right now saying, `I don't know why you guys are making such a big deal of this,' '' chuckled Straub.
"He'd be uncomfortable,'' Nicole Starker agreed. "But on the other hand, had this been one of his buddies instead of him he would have said they absolutely deserve it, every bit of attention they're getting.''
Hundreds of uniformed friends and colleagues from EMS, the Canadian Forces and police departments across Alberta turned out at the Calgary Roundup Centre to make sure Starker received the attention he deserved.
There were no eulogies in the 90-minute Catholic service, as the family decided to read the eulogies at a private service Thursday evening.
Pictures of Starker, both as a member of the Canadian Forces and as a paramedic, were placed in the hallway leading into the salon, which had a seating capacity of 3,000.
The entire event was simple -- there was no table of favourite photos or trophies. A screen at the front by the altar flipped through front page stories on his death from local newspapers.
Starker, 36, was a reservist medic with Edmonton's 15th Field Ambulance unit and a former member of the Canadian Airborne Regiment.
He was killed May 6 during an ambush west of Kandahar City in Afghanistan, becoming the 83rd soldier and 84th Canadian killed there since 2002.
Members of the 15th Field Ambulance acted as pallbearers, their heads held high and eyes straight ahead, carrying his coffin draped with the Canadian flag into the service. An insignia bearer carried Starker's headgear.
"Michael was a good guy,'' said Father Robert Rocheleau, Nicole Starker's cousin, who delivered the homily. "He was a person of love. He would want us to recognize that the things that he did was because of his desire, because of the gifts that God had shared with him.
"We can only imagine how many people's lives Michael has touched. Reaching out for them, caring for him. Each day he shared the gift of life.''
Rocheleau said he was fortunate to attend the wedding of Michael and Nicole back in 1997. He remembered when Nicole first brought him home to meet the family in Windsor, Ont., on Boxing Day.
"He was shy, he was afraid, he was uncertain and rightly so because we weren't going to let him take our Nicole without making sure he was the right guy,'' Rocheleau said with a smile. "He spent the entire day with us experiencing a lot of teasing, a lot of jokes at his expense and the third degree and he took it all in quite well. The next time he came, Michael was glad there was a new boyfriend with another cousin on the scene.''
Rocheleau said Starker spent his life working to help others and acknowledged he was not one to look for the spotlight.
"He was always wanting to be a better person. Michael enjoyed his family, his friends, his work, his colleagues. He enjoyed the opportunity to share and make our world a better place. I don't think Michael would enjoy such celebrity.
"We must also remember all of Michael's colleagues in Afghanistan today who grieve with us. We offer them our support as they continue to do the work that has been entrusted to them.''