KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Petty Officer 2nd Class Craig Blake, deployed for the first time to Afghanistan only a couple of weeks ago, died from the blast of a makeshift bomb, the very type of device he was in the country to defuse.
The 37-year-old was killed Monday by an improvised explosive device while he and his team were walking back to camp after disarming another IED near Pay-e-Moluk, a village in the Panjwaii district about 25 kilometres southwest of Kandahar City.
Blake was known as a compassionate and approachable leader among his military brethren whose pockets he picked at games of chance, the commander of Canadian troops in Afghanistan said.
“Jokingly known as the ’Poker Pirate,’ he enjoyed pillaging his army friends during friendly card games,” Brig.-Gen. Dan Menard said Tuesday.
“He had a great smile and a genuine laugh and his friends considered themselves very lucky to have known him.”
The Simcoe, Ont., native is the first Canadian sailor to die in Afghanistan since the mission began in 2002, according to the Canadian Forces. He was a navy clearance diver based in Halifax but was sent to Afghanistan as an explosive ordnance disposal operator.
Menard said he adapted to the precarious hardships of land-based operations with ease.
“Incredibly fit with a backbone of steel, Craig put 100 per cent into everything he did.”
A spokesman for the Canadian Forces said the navy has sent sailors to help with the disposal of IEDs in Afghanistan before because of commonalities in training.
Blake, who coached pee-wee hockey and competed in triathlons, leaves behind his wife and two sons.
“Petty Officer Blake was a brave Canadian who made the ultimate sacrifice while proudly serving his country,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a statement.
“This is a loss for Canada and the Canadian Forces, but it was not in vain. With the help of the international community, Afghans are rebuilding their communities and improving their lives.”
Gov.-Gen. Michaelle Jean also offered her condolences.
“(Blake) offered the best of himself and we salute his tremendous courage, his generous spirit and his commitment to excellence in the line of duty,” she said in a statement.
“Our thoughts are with his mourning parents, his fellow sailors and his friends. We can only imagine their great suffering and grief.”
The entire Panjwaii district, the cradle of the Taliban, has been a bloody battleground for Canadian troops since they arrived in the province of Kandahar in strength four years ago. Villages and towns have been repeatedly cleared, only to see the Taliban reassert itself by stealth.
Blake’s death brings to 143 the total number of Canadian Forces personnel who have died as part of the eight-year-old Afghan mission.
Two civilians — diplomat Glyn Berry and journalist Michelle Lang — have also died.
The Canadian military didn’t say whether anyone was injured in the blast as it no longer releases information on those wounded on the battlefield.