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    Unhappy Not A LODD Or Combat Death But Worth A Mention

    Canwest journalist Michelle Lang remembered by colleagues

    Canwest News Service December 31, 2009 6:01 AM

    CALGARY- Calgary Herald journalist Michelle Lang never took the easy way out, whether it was holding government to account or travelling to a busy African AIDS clinic to chronicle the downside of recruiting foreign doctors.

    Assigned to cover Canadian military efforts in Afghanistan for the Herald and Canwest News Service, the 34-year-old Vancouver native could have remained in the relatively safe confines of the base.

    But Lang wasn't wired that way. Days after arriving in early December, she couldn't wait to get "out of the wire" -- off the main military base -- and on the ground with the troops.

    This week, she ventured out with a provincial reconstruction team, soldiers and social workers working with ordinary Afghans to help repair the damage done by decades of war.

    "Hopefully this will produce some interesting stories on the civilian-reconstruction side, as well as some military ones," Lang wrote in an e-mail two days before her death.

    Travelling Wednesday afternoon with a Canadian convoy, their vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb four kilometres south of Kandahar city, killing Lang and four soldiers.

    The soldiers' names have not been released.

    Four other soldiers and a Canadian civilian were injured. No other details were released.

    Lang's death, the first of a Canadian journalist in Afghanistan, was felt at home and in newsrooms across the country.

    "It's a devastating day. I'm totally heartbroken. I feel for her family, her fiance, her friends and I feel for the newsroom," said Herald editor-in-chief Lorne Motley.

    "It creates this hole, not only for the Herald, obviously, but also for Canwest and any other news organization because we're a pretty tight-knit group as journalists. We're family and when we lose one of our own, that's difficult for all of us to accept."

    Her death was also marked by the Prime Minister's Office as a tragedy that would resonate in many Canadian communities.

    "While not regularly the subject of news, those journalists who risk their lives reporting alongside the men and women of the Canadian Forces in one of the most dangerous regions in the world should not be forgotten," said PMO press secretary Dimitri Soudas, calling her "a brave reporter."

    Lang's death is especially tragic considering 2009 was a standout year for her on various fronts. Earlier this year, she captured a National Newspaper Award as the top beat writer in the country. She distinguished herself for daily health coverage in Calgary and for investigating Alberta's efforts to recruit South African doctors -- travelling from Cape Town to Johannesburg to chronicle the story.

    On the home front, Lang was recently engaged to Calgarian Michael Louie and slated to be wed in the summer.

    "She had everything going for her this year," said friend Colette Derworiz, a Herald reporter. "She excelled in journalism. She excelled in her personal life."

    Despite the heartache, however, the tragedy serves to remind Canadians of the important work being done by journalists in foreign locales. Robert Bragg, a journalism instructor at Mount Royal University, said journalists play an integral role in Afghanistan.

    Without them, Canadians wouldn't know what's happening on military missions and in Afghan villages.

    Professionally, Lang's achievements were earned the hard way. She didn't get a traditional journalism degree, but graduated from Simon Fraser University with a bachelor of arts in English.

    She started out at small weekly newspapers in British Columbia, but with hard work found her way to the Regina Leader-Post in 2000. The former West Coast resident was hired on as an agriculture reporter because she was talented and tenacious.

    Bruce Johnstone, who was Lang's editor at the Leader-Post, said she personified the old journalistic creed of affl icting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted.

    "The minute you met her, you knew she was something special," he said.

    "She was the very best kind of journalist -- a person who was hard working and fun to be around -- she was a very principled journalist and would always do the right thing."

    Lang joined the Herald as a business reporter in 2002 and began covering health for the newspaper four years ago.

    She embraced the beat, bringing attention to the plight of rural health care and the travails of patients who fell through the cracks because the province didn't cover their drug costs. Lang also shone the spotlight on health-care spending, growing wait times and the controversial salaries of top health bureaucrats.

    Her dogged approach often put her at odds with health offi cials and cabinet ministers. On health reform, she once badgered then-premier Ralph Klein into his famous quote about not reacting to the "reaction to the reaction to the reaction."

    Ultimately, however, she earned health officials' respect. "Michelle covered health issues with professionalism, accuracy and thoroughness," Alberta Health Minister Ron Liepert said in a statement. "She was tenacious in her quest to inform Albertans, and for her diligence she was very well respected."

    NDP Leader Brian Mason called Lang "a wonderful reporter; insightful, intelligent and compassionate."

    Around the newsroom, reporters admired her work ethic, diligence and compassion. Nicknamed "Doctor Lang" by colleagues, they frequently sought her out for medical advice.

    Lang made the decision last year to cover the work of Canadian soldiers, aid workers and diplomats in Afghanistan. Friends recall she recognized the dangers, but felt there were still important stories to be told from the country.

    Canadian Forces have been stationed there since 2002, with 138 soldiers, one diplomat and one journalist perishing in the wartorn country.

    "She just didn't want to sit in the base either," Derworiz said. "She wanted to go out and tell the real stories on what was going on."

    In a blog post from outside the wire, Lang wrote, "I traveled to a Canadian forward operating base in Panjwaii, a district southwest of Kandahar city. I was struck by the beauty of the area . . . Panjwaii is a volatile and dangerous district for the Canadian Forces."

    Scott Anderson, editor-in-chief of Canwest News Service, said Lang was doing important work.

    Friend and colleague Gwendolyn Richards said while work was important to Lang, nothing meant more than family and friends.

    "I am sure you could count on two hands the number of times she left work on time," said Richards, noting the long hours Lang poured into her job. "But I would argue that she approached everything with the same fervour."

    tseskus@theherald.canwest.com

    jfekete@theherald.canwest.com

    rdaliesio@theherald.canwest.com

    Copyright (c) The Victoria Times Colonist

    PHOTOCREDIT:

    Calgary Herald reporter Michelle Lang, 34, was killed by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan Dec. 30, 2009, while covering the war for the Canwest News Service. She is seen in this Dec. 3, 2009, photo before leaving for Afghanistan. Four Canadian soldiers also died in the blast.Photograph by: Grant Black files, Calgary Herald
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    Default Additional information

    Four Canadian soldiers in horrific Kandahar blast were reservists, military says

    1 hour, 41 minutes ago

    By Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press

    KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Four Canadian soldiers killed by a powerful insurgent bomb along with a journalist were all reservists, part-time members of the armed forces who volunteered to serve in Afghanistan, the military announced Thursday.

    The military identified the four as Sgt. George Miok, 28, Cpl. Zachery McCormack, 21, both of Edmonton; Sgt. Kirk Taylor, 28, of Yarmouth, N.S.; and Pte. Garrett Chidley, 21, of Cambridge, Ont.

    "The security patrol our soldiers were conducting is part of our continued efforts to bring stability to Kandahar city," said Brig.-Gen. Daniel Menard, coalition commander in Kandahar.

    "These patrols help us connect with communities and learn about the challenges they face."

    The soldiers, along with Michelle Lang of the Calgary Herald, died Wednesday in a powerful blast while on patrol in Kandahar city.

    The deaths - the worst such incident in two-and-a-half years - bring to 138 the number of soldiers killed on the Afghan mission since 2002.

    In Ottawa, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said it was with "very heavy hearts" that the nation learned of the deaths.

    "These four brave soldiers lost their lives seeking to help Afghans build a better future for themselves," Harper said in a statement.

    "They represent the best Canada has to offer and they perished in a far away land, working tirelessly to advance Canadian values."

    Gov. Gen Michaelle Jean called the tragedy "shocking."

    "It reminds us of the underhanded, blind, daily violence facing our Canadian soldiers, journalists and humanitarian workers in Afghanistan," Jean said.

    Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said: "Their service exemplifies the very best in courage and selflessness, and their deaths will not be forgotten ..."

    In his statement, Menard spoke of each soldier with pride, describing them as enthusiastic, passionate soldiers.

    Miok, he said, was with the 41 Combat Engineer Regiment.

    "He planned meticulously and was always available to his troops," Menard said. "The welfare of his soldiers came first and they knew they could turn to him for advice and guidance."

    Taylor, who had a "calm demeanour," served with 84 Independent Field Battery and always spoke fondly of his loved ones back home, where he mentored troubled young adults.

    "He was a true gunner and known to the troops as 'Sgt. Morale'," Menard said.

    McCormack, a member of the Loyal Edmonton Regiment, was "an outstanding soldier" who was caring and always ready to lend a hand to others.

    Chidley, was with the 2nd Battalion Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry. Menard described him as an avid video game player and someone who "made tough tasks seem easy by joking around."

    The general also praised Lang, the first Canadian journalist killed in Afghanistan, for her sensitivity and ability to connect with people, someone who "strove to excel at her job."

    Harper, who is also from Calgary, also praised Lang for her courage in risking her life to report from "one of the world's most dangerous countries."

    Earlier Thursday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said deaths of the five Canadians killed would not be forgotten.

    In a statement of condolence, Hamid Karzai said Afghans recognized the loss.

    "Your children sacrificed their lives for the people of Afghanistan and the threat of terrorism," Karzai said.

    "The Afghans will not forget your sacrifice."

    All five died when their armoured vehicle hit a powerful improvised explosive device that left a massive crater in the road on the edge of Kandahar city.

    Several soldiers were wounded, as was another civilian, although all were expected to survive.

    The loss of life was the third-worst single incident for the eight-year Canadian mission in Afghanistan and the worst in two-and-a-half years.

    Lang, 34, was the first Canadian journalist to die covering the war.

    She had been in the country little more than two weeks and had a few days earlier declined to go out on a mission she considered too dangerous.

    The patrol she was on, however, was in an area said to be extremely safe.

    Two soldiers spent part of Thursday cataloguing and photographing Lang's personal effects for return to her parents in Canada.

    Numerous soldiers at Kandahar Airfield stopped by the media tents to express their sympathies to the two remaining journalists covering the Canadian mission.

    It was not immediately known when the bodies of the five would be returned to Canada.

    Wednesday's deaths marked the second deadly incident for Canada in a week. Lt. Andrew Nuttall was killed Dec. 23 during a foot patrol in Panjwaii.

    In a statement, the Taliban took responsibility for the deaths of eight Americans at a base in Khost province.

    The Associated Press said the insurgent group had also claimed responsibility for the attack on the Canadians.

    Small note of possible interest: of the four listed, only one was from a Regular unit, the other three were from Reserve units. No matter though, they will all be home soon, and may they all rest in peace.

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