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A Canadian soldier who was killed just two days away from finishing his tour in Afghanistan is on his way home after an emotional ramp ceremony at the Kandahar Airfield Friday.
Pte. Kevin McKay, 24, was killed Thursday by an improvised explosive device while on foot patrol southwest of Kandahar city.
Some of his comrades struggled to contain their tears as they hoisted his casket into the back of a Hercules plane at a nighttime ramp ceremony.
"He was the type of soldier that Canadians must think of when they think of their army in Afghanistan — the tough, courageous infantryman,
living in austere conditions and doing incredibly difficult work," said
Col. Simon Hetherington, the deputy commander of Task Force Kandahar.
"His platoon brothers and friends will remember Kevin, better known as 'Mickey' to his buddies, as a generous man, dependable, with a quick
wit and a great sense of humour that was exemplified by his awesome
McKay's father Fred is a captain with the Toronto Fire Service, and the city
said it would honour the soldier by lowering flags at city hall and all
civic centres to half-mast.
"Everybody loved Kevin. He was a lot of laughs, outgoing, generous ... a great soldier," Fred McKay told CBC News Friday. "We're very, very proud of him. We miss him already."
McKay was "a good Canadian boy" who loved to fish, camp and play hockey, his father said.
"The room would light up when he walked in the room. That's the hard part."McKay was
The vice-principal at Eastview Secondary School in Barrie, Ont., where McKay graduated from
in 2004, said one of his teachers remembers McKay as a funny kid who
loved sports and hanging out with friends.
The school and the Barrie fire department also lowered their flags to half-mast to honour McKay.
Born in Richmond Hill, Ont., McKay was a member of the 1st Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, based in Edmonton.
McKay was killed around 8 p.m. local time Thursday while on patrol near the village of Nakhonay in the Panjwai District, about 15 kilometres southwest of Kandahar city, military officials said.
Until recently, Taliban insurgents walked the streets in the community openly and armed, CBC journalist Darrow MacIntyre reported.
But over the past several months, Canadian soldiers — including McKay —
have established a strong presence in the area, driving most of the
Taliban out of the area.
Despite the progress, the area is riddled with roadside bombs, and Canadian soldiers find them on an almost daily basis, MacIntyre said.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean both paid tribute to McKay in statements Friday.
"Canadians are forever proud and grateful for his service and for the contributions of all our men and women in uniform to this UN-mandated, NATO-led mission," Harper said.
"There are risks to our mission, but the brave men and women of the Canadian Forces are showing leadership, alongside our international
partners, in standing up for something that is just: helping the Afghan
people achieve peace and stability and rebuild their country and its
In her statement, Jean urged Canadians to remember the sacrifices of men and women like McKay.
"Let us pay tribute to this soldier who sacrificed his own life in the name of this ideal of justice and freedom," she said. "We will never forget him."
Also in a statement issued Friday, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said he was "deeply saddened" by the loss of the soldier.
"My heartfelt condolences and prayers go to his family and friends," MacKay said in a statement. "The Canadian Forces family mourns with you during this difficult time."
McKay's death brings to 144 the number of Canadian Forces members who have died in the Afghan mission since it began in 2002.