Soldier reflects on dangerous mission

Mission soldier had the dangerous job of bomb disposal in Kandahar province for nine months.

Master Cpl. Mark Midan on patrol in Kandahar

Master Cpl. Mark Midan on patrol in Kandahar

On this Remembrance Day a Mission soldier will be thinking of friends who fell in combat and those who remain in Afghanistan.

Master Cpl. Mark Midan, 30, worked as a combat engineer in a counter-IED (improvised explosive device) role for Task Force 3-09 in Kandahar province from October 2009 to May 2010. In other words, Midan’s team was the bomb disposal squad for the Canadian Army, driving deep into the Taliban heartland to ensure roads were clear of the deadly devices.

IEDs have been responsible for killing 97 Canadian soldiers to date. For he and his fellow soldiers, sudden death was something that had to be accepted.

“You kind of always have it in the back of your head,” he said in a phone interview from Chilliwack where he is now stationed. “But you get taught what you need to do if your vehicle gets hit and you don’t get killed.”

Midan responded to 67 IEDs over the course of his tour, and sometimes that meant cleaning up the “mess.”

“Sometimes that mess is just a little hole in the ground, and sometimes that mess is injured people or deceased people everywhere.”

But this is no Hurt Locker film, which Midan says is not a realistic portrayal of bomb disposal.

Midan wanted the job and the mission in Afghanistan, because he says he knew it was important, and it wouldn’t be “boring.”

Some Canadians might not understand how he could embrace such a dangerous job, but Midan explains it matter-of-factly.

“You don’t join the military just to train. You join the military to do the job for real.”

That means going to places like Afghanistan, where bomb disposal is as routine as a sunny day. The country is estimated to have as many as 100,000 land mines, most of them buried long before the Taliban began planting IEDs to kill coalition soldiers.

Midan grew up in Mission and his parents still live on Best Avenue. His sister is a police officer in Mission and another sister works for Abbotsford community services. When he turned 18 he joined the Army reserves in Aldergrove and has been a full-time soldier since 2006.

He says he loves his job, despite the inherent risks. Midan was training to return to Afghanistan when the government withdrew from combat in Kandahar and moved to a training mission in Kabul. But risks exist even there.

Midan personally knew Canada’s latest casualty in the conflict, Master Cpl. Byron Greff, who died in a suicide attack in Kabul on Oct. 29.

In fact, Midan has known 30 of the soldiers that have fallen in Afghanistan. Two of the IED attacks he attended involved dead Canadian soldiers he knew.

That makes Remembrance Day especially important to Midan. He knows some of the soldiers who are still in Afghanistan, saying he’ll think about them on Nov. 11, but often thinks about them every day.

“They’re always kind of in my mind.”

Although 158 Canadian soldiers have died in Afghanistan since 2002, Midan says that in comparison to previous wars like Korea, the count has been relatively low.

He believes the media has played a big role in ensuring each name is known, which has caused acceptance difficulties for some Canadians.

After decades of peace, Midan suggests Canadians aren’t used to it either.

But Midan thinks Canada’s participation in Afghanistan has improved the public perception of the military and strengthened our commitment to Remembrance Day.

“Before [the mission] there were times I was afraid to walk down the street in uniform. Now, I walk down the street in uniform, no matter what city in Canada, and someone stops me and thanks me or wants to shake the hand of a soldier.”

No matter what side of the debate you fall on in Afghanistan, says Midan, it has made Canadians realize we have an army and that it’s important.