KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — The Canadian army struggled to come to terms on Sunday with the non-combat death of a soldier, the second in a month.
Master Cpl. Francis Roy, a member of the country’s special forces regiment, was found mortally wounded by fellow soldiers early Saturday at a forward operating base in Kandahar city.
His death is still under investigation by military police, but enemy action has been ruled out and investigators are treating it as a possible suicide.
Regardless of how the person died, the task force chaplain said soldiers are affected by the loss of a comrade.
“I can’t say there’s been anything unique about the way people grieve in any of the instances,” said Maj. Grahame Thompson. “If you lose a friend, you lose a friend. It’s hard.”
Brig.-Gen. Dean Milner, the commander of the Canadian task force, says Roy was a logistician, responsible for transport of troops and equipment.
The military announced the death Saturday, but the release of Roy’s name was delayed at the family’s request.
Understanding suicide, its warning signs and triggers is something that has preoccupied the Forces over the last few years and grown more urgent as the combat mission in Kandahar grinds to its conclusion in three weeks.
The U.S. military, with its year-long deployments, has faced a rash of suicides among returning vets unable to cope with the more passive State-side life.
The much smaller Canadian army, with its six-month combat tours, has not seen a dramatic increase in soldiers taking their own lives. The rates — for both sexes — remain well below that of the civilian population, according to a 2010 statistical review.
But numbers have a way of losing their power when confronted with the tragedy of a life ended too soon.
Originally an infantry soldier with the Royal 22e Regiment, Roy “volunteered for service with the Canadian Special Operations Regiment in 2009 and quickly became an effective member of the regiment,” said Milner of the latest casualty in a short statement Sunday night.
Roy, 32, served a regular forces overseas tour in 2008-09 at Camp Mirage in the United Arab Emirates supporting the Afghanistan mission.
In a statement, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said Roy and other soldiers have “made an invaluable contribution to stabilizing and developing that country.”
Roy, whose hometown was listed as Rimouski, Que., was on his first deployment with special forces and becomes the 157th Canadian to die as a result of the Afghan mission.
If suicide is determined, it would be the second such case in a month.
The body of Bombardier Karl Manning, 31, a native of Chicoutimi, Que., was found by fellow soldiers at a remote base near Zangabad on May 28.
Thompson said it’s a tough time for the soldiers who are so near to going home.
“We are focused on what we need to do,” he said. “I think for some, those who were closest to the member are going to find it more difficult than others.”
The special forces operate independently of regular troops and are tasked with hunting down the Taliban leadership and conducting specialized raids and disruption operations against insurgents.
It’s a highly secretive organization and none of Roy’s friends are allowed to speak with the media.
The death is the fifth suspected suicide involving a soldier overseas since the Afghan mission began in 2002.
The Military Police Strategic Criminal Intelligence section was asked last year to analyze data involving cases of suicide reported to the Forces cops between 2009 and end of January 2010.
The probe was ordered after three service members took their own lives at one base within four days in the winter of 2010.
The findings in many reinforced the enigma.
The study, released to The Canadian Press under access to information laws, found no correlation between post traumatic stress and post-deployment activities, military occupation, unit or even rank.
Military police typically don’t examine motive in suicide cases.
The report documented 28 suicides involving regular force, reservists, defence civilians and commissionaires between January 1, 2009 and January 12, 2010.
Of those who died 20 were members of the Forces, 88 per cent of them were male, mostly in the junior non-commissioned ranks and the majority came from the army.
“Although a clear majority of the suicides occurred within the army environment, no supporting data could be observed to substantiate why a higher suicide rate might have occurred in any of the other environmental commands,” said the media analysis of the report.