Port Mourant boy John Fingal tells his story
By Frederick Halley
Guyana Chronicle
January 7, 2007

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LOOSING four close friends during his six-month stint in Afghanistan is still fresh in the memory of John Fingal.

Guyana-born Fingal, who has been a member of the Canadian Armed Forces for the past five years, tells of his experience in the war-torn desert and mountainous former Taliban country.

Very passionate over his role as a Canadian soldier, the 25-year-old Fingal spoke extensively about the mission in Afghanistan and the sacrifices being endured to put Canadian troops at the forefront of public attention.

Touching on the deaths of his four colleagues, Fingal disclosed that this occurred during “Operation Medusa”, the largest operation spearheaded by the Canadians during his tour of duty in the early part of 2006.

“It’s a lot to take in when you watch someone go off to do this operation and you say to them, `I’ll see you in a couple of days’ or `I’ll see you when it’s over’, not expecting that they wouldn’t come back. However, at the back of your mind, you know there’s a possibility that they would not return.”

Fingal not only lost his four friends but the operation also resulted in the largest number of Canadian battlefield casualties since the Korean War, keeping Canadians riveted to developments in war-torn Afghanistan.

Forty-four Canadian soldiers have died in Afghanistan since 2002, but 36 of those deaths came in the last year.

Acknowledging that “we were able to push back the Taliban into their hides, Fingal said this was done at great sacrifice, taking into account the number of lives lost. This is why we need to remember those soldiers and honour them because of the sacrifice they made. They knew what they were getting into and they still got up, put on their armour and went forth into battle.”

Close to the end of his second three-year contract with the Canadian Armed Forces, Fingal, who is a Lands Communications and Information Systems Technician – responsible for the maintenance and upkeep as well as basic operations of all military communication equipment – explained that he was never involved in any direct combat but while stationed at the Kandahar Airfield, he endured several rocket attacks which landed within the camp, “several within a s stone’s throw of my living quarters but I never suffered any injuries as a result of these attacks.

“I was never involved in any fire fights close at hand but I was working closely with a lot of young men and women who were in combat on several occasions.”

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper (Backing camera) chats with John Fingal during a visit to Afghanistan

Speaking on the changing nature of the Canadian Armed Forces, Fingal said “Canada hasn’t been on the offensive since the Korean War, so it’s a stark change to go from a peace-keeping nation to a nation that’s actually out there on the offensive but I believe that what we are doing has to be done in order to protect Canadian interest

“I believe that a lot of Canadians are fairly naďve as to the operations that go on here within Canada that deals with terrorist organisations. We are a nation that is equally as big a target as America because of our great economy. We just cannot stand aside and let someone else deal with this problem.”

According to Fingal, granted that when America went into Afghanistan, they didn’t do it in a diplomatic manner – they invaded the country – but that’s a part of history now.

“We have to help stabilise this nation that has been destroyed. That’s our role. We’re not only over there fighting and dying, we are also building bridges, opening schools. We are giving the Afghan people a chance to help in the rebuilding of their nation. It is a war, so there will be casualties and unfortunately some of these casualties will come home in flag-draped coffins.

Marijuana field in Afghanistan

It is therefore up to us as Canadians to honour them in their deaths and in their sacrifice and respect what they are doing in Afghanistan.”

Fingal opined that despite “losing our brothers in this conflict, we will have to see it through.

“And here in the home-front, the only thing we can do is to maintain a positive mind-set to support the troops because they are the ones on the ground, in the heat, in the wild, in the snow, having sleepless nights, wounded on the battlefield, coming home in coffins and all this is done not for themselves but so that Canada could continue to enjoy the peace and tranquility we enjoy here.”

Fingal disagrees that the image of the Canadian soldiers have changed as alleged in some quarters here. “I don’t think the image of the Canadian soldiers have changed at all. I think that Canadian soldiers are now put in a different situation and the outcome is more positive.

“We are always there to support whenever the call is made so I think that it’s just that the Afghanistan war is such a newsmaker that they are starting to really see that Canadian soldiers aren’t those that murder innocent lives but are there to answer the call of our government.”

Strange enough, despite all the happenings in Afghanistan, Fingal doesn’t feel the war against the Taliban will be won. “I don’t think the war will be won against the Taliban because the Taliban believe in what they believe in and this belief is past on from generation to generation.

“In order for us to achieve success in our mission, which is to rebuild Afghanistan and to secure that nation, we have to take on the younger generation; we have to show them that education, not the right of a weapon, is the choice to make, not Jihad. We don’t need any more war in Afghanistan, what we need is for you and your brothers and sisters to say no to the Taliban.

The Taliban will not go anywhere because they are spread throughout the world. In order for us to completely eradicate the Taliban, we’re going to have to brainwash the entire world into believing in peaceful thoughts.”

“The Taliban isn’t just in Afghanistan where the war is being fought, they are throughout the world, so I believe that the war that is being fought right now needs to be fought in order to secure that nation which is a lawless one and which is a breeding ground for the Taliban. We wouldn’t be able to eliminate the Taliban.”

But while Fingal feels the war will not be won, he explained that it will come to an end eventually. “The war will at sometime come to an end. We will not give up unless our government tells us to but if we stay the fight and train the Afghans to take care of their country, then we will be able to withdraw from that country and still be able to give them support, education, food, other humanitarian aids.

“As fruitless as the war may seem now, the Russians were there and they did not succeed. They invaded the country; we are there to win the hearts and minds of the people of Afghanistan, we are there to train the National Police, the National Army and other security forces to be able to maintain the laws of that country…”

Born at Port Mourant Hospital, Corentyne, Berbice to Rawle Fingal and Ingrid Corlette, the younger Fingal migrated to Canada at the tender age of 10. A college drop-out, Fingal intends to fulfil that ambition at the end of his sojourn in the Armed Forces after April 2007, switching his skills to culinary arts.

Being responsible for the maintenance and upkeep as well as basic operation of all the military communication equipment used by the army, which include satellite telephones and radios, Fingal was enlisted into the Armed Forces in April 2001. After graduating three months later, he was posted to Kingston, Ontario where he attended the Canadian Forces School of Electronics. He departed Canada on February 24, 2006 for Afghanistan and completed his tour of duty in August of the same year.

Fingal, who attained the rank of Corporal, described his stint in Afghanistan as quite challenging as his work there dealt primarily with on the radio systems in vehicles as compared to Canada where he worked exclusively on computer systems, which included network administration.

“It was kind of difficult to go back and forth in that you lose touch with some of the shortcuts that you use with the radio systems when you work with computers all the time.

“So it was a great challenge. It was an experience living in a country that has absolutely no infrastructure and working in the environment, the desert, the rocks, the other dangers, such as animals, enemy fire, rocket attacks, the constant danger of carrying your own personal weapons with ammunition and the stress of being in a war zone.”