TRURO - Sacrifice.
The gesture is a common act in our communities as most people are willing to give up something to benefit others in need.
But it's the depth of sacrifice that sets civilians apart from Canadian Forces members and their families who have endured unfathomable sacrifices during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.
"There is no more an honourable way to die than in service to your country," said Petty Officer 1st Class Paul (Knobby) Walsh, who served in the war-torn country from August 2006 to April, 2007.
"I was there when 26 Canadian sons returned home in a box with a flag draped over it and I want their parents to know they died honourably doing something they loved."
Walsh, a Truro native who now resides in New Glasgow, was recently one of the first soldiers to be awarded the national Sacrifice Medal for courage and dedication to duty while deployed as Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) chief during his stint on foreign soil.
He was part of operation MEDUSA that claimed the life of another Truro native, Warrant Officer Frank Mellish, who was killed during a firefight with insurgents on Sept. 3, 2006, and said his fallen comrade was a very honourable man.
Walsh said there are people he will never see again from his time serving overseas but they will always be a part of his life.
On Sept. 13, 2006 Walsh's EOD team had cleared three Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) on Route Vancouver in the Pashmul region and had requested the assistance of an American Route Clearance team vehicle.
Walsh was only about 20 metres from the approaching vehicle when it struck an undiscovered IED triple stacked anti-tank mine, exploding with such force he was knocked to the ground suffering head injuries and hearing loss.
He and his team are credited with saving the life of an American soldier pulled from the vehicle.
"There is a saying in Afghanistan there are days when I'd rather be lucky than good," said Walsh. "It's not an award of bravery. I was lucky."
He is humbled by the honour but said his team deserves recognition for their efforts as they worked together, forming an incredible bond.
"We are there for each other and we try to take care of each other in any small way," said the officer.
Despite the near-death experience he said serving in Afghanistan along side his fellow Canadians was an honour and feels privileged to offer his training and unique skill set.
"I was very, very proud to do it," he said. "The most dangerous job in Afghanistan is being done by these young infantry guys and my job was to protect them. Those young soldiers are the unsung heroes. They are the guys I take my hat off to."
Walsh and his team were involved in more than 100 IED or OED events, many of which involved hand-dismantling and post-blast responses.
Walsh, 49, has spent more than half his life in service to his country, joining the Navy at age 24 and trained to be a clearance diver, following in his father's footsteps.
"My dad was in the Navy and growing up it was always a part of who we were as a family," said Walsh.
He chose to specialize in the risky field of underwater bomb disposal because he likes being challenged.
"It's not dangerous as per se, because I'm trained in it and practised in it, it's just the consequences of making a mistake that make it seem risky," said Walsh.
The soldier is a member of an elite club of only about 100 people in the nation with his skills and knowledge of explosives.
He was called to duty to aid in the underwater salvage and recovery of Swissair Flight 111 and may return to duty on foreign soil again next year.
He is currently based at Canadian Forces Base Halifax in Shearwater.
Walsh has also been awarded a Mention in Dispatches from the chief of defense staff for his work in Afghanistan.
He said Canadian Forces members are extremely proud to serve their country and the progress they have achieved in Afghanistan, adding the continued support of all Canadians is valued.
"It's not about the right or wrong of that place," he said. "Our country's role in Afghanistan is to try to help."
TRURO - Sacrifice.