Tears flow as Edmonton school pays tribute to fallen soldier who was teacher

EDMONTON — When Marie Bolianatz, 13, heard that her former homeroom teacher, George Miok, was one of four Canadian soldiers killed last week in Afghanistan, she thought of a book that reminded her of his military mission in the poverty-stricken country.

Marie Bolianatz

Marie Bolianatz

EDMONTON — When Marie Bolianatz, 13, heard that her former homeroom teacher, George Miok, was one of four Canadian soldiers killed last week in Afghanistan, she thought of a book that reminded her of his military mission in the poverty-stricken country.

She bought a copy of Three Cups of Tea, a book about former U.S. soldier Greg Mortenson’s effort to counter extremism by building schools in central Asia. She donated it in Miok’s memory to the library at St. Cecilia Junior High School.

The part-time soldier and sometime bartender taught math, physical education and religion at the Catholic school in a north Edmonton neighbourhood.

“(The book) is about a man who was in the army and he leaves the army and … encourages peace and helps the children make a school.

“I thought that reminded me a lot of Mr. Miok,” Bolianatz said Monday.

Fellow students and staff members have papered the hallways with photographs, personal notes and memories of the much-loved teacher.

Bolianatz wrote a letter to Miok and pasted it up along with dozens of other such tributes.

“You were my favourite teacher and you will never be forgotten. You will be terribly missed,” she wrote. “You are our hero, our super hero and you always made us laugh and smile.”

Miok was killed last Wednesday along with Sgt. Kirk Taylor of Yarmouth, N.S., Cpl. Zachery McCormack of Sherwood Park, Alta., Pte. Garrett Chidley, born in Cambridge, Ont., and Michelle Lang, 34, a journalist with the Calgary Herald.

With their families looking on, their flag-draped coffins were unloaded from a military transport plane in a ceremony Sunday in Trenton, Ont.

Austin Trachuk, 13, a Grade 8 student at the school, remembered Miok as a strict teacher with a soft side, who would help students who needed extra time to learn.

Being able to write down their thoughts is likely helping his classmates cope with the tragic news, Trachuk said.

“I believe it can be helpful because you can remember all the good times you had with him,” he said.

Other notes pinned to a quilt in a hallway had the messages “your smile lit up the world” and “thanks for the laughter.”

Grief counsellors were at the school Monday to talk staff and students through their tears and grief.

Science teacher Ross Caria, 30, laughed as he recalled how Miok’s military training came through, whether he was straightening up the staff room or conducting a physical education class.

“Chairs were lined up with military precision. He had that place the cleanest we’d ever seen. It was almost regimented,” Caria said.

Miok even blew his whistle with military-sounding authority during gym classes, and to great effect, Caria said.

“Within three seconds he’d have all the boys lined up in a single file ready to go for the drill or whatever activity they were going to do,” he said. “They knew his background so they knew he wasn’t messing around.”

Chatter in the staff room before Miok’s latest deployment in the fall would sometimes turn to discussions of Canada’s role in Afghanistan, the fellow teacher said.

“He would talk about the whole purpose of what they’re doing there because there were always some doubters. He would tell them … that he enjoyed the role that he was to play when he was down there and it wasn’t a lost-cause mission,” Caria said.

Miok often talked about the importance of training Afghan police to help ensure the safety of citizens in Kandahar. He also told his students that they were just like children in Afghanistan who were endlessly curious and wanted to know what was going on in other places.

The only exception to that observation were the occasions when Afghan children threw rocks at Canadian military vehicles, he wrote in a letter to students Nov. 8, 2009.

“They claim that it’s just a fun game so it’s tolerated at this point,” he wrote. The letter came with several photos, including one of a smiling Miok, posing with members of the Afghan national police force.

He talked about going on security patrols and how the camp he lives on is “one of the nicest in the country.”

He was proud of his role with the military’s reconstruction team, he wrote. “I am pretty passionate about being able to be a part of making a difference here.”

The school is organizing a memorial service for Miok, though no date has been set for it.