KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Fighter jets roared through the cloudless Afghan sky and Chinook helicopters hovered overhead as Canadians marked a final Remembrance Day in Kandahar.
Every takeoff and landing was a reminder that even as the Canadian military closes a chapter on the decade-long conflict in Afghanistan, a fierce battle still rages beyond the confines of Kandahar Airfield.
Defence Minister Peter MacKay made the long trip to southern Afghanistan to mark the occasion with the 1,000 or so troops who are packing up Canada's gear now that the combat mission has ended.
He read aloud the names of the Canadians who have died as part of the decade-long mission in Afghanistan as poppies were placed on each black marble plaque on the cenotaph.
"It is obviously very poignant, it's a very solemn feeling knowing that with each name, it's piercing the heart of a family to have lost a loved one here," MacKay later told reporters.
"But there's also an enormous sense of pride that those sacrifices are not in vain."
The family members of some fallen soldiers placed poppies on the plaques of their lost loved ones.
Amanda Cushley laid a poppy next to the etching of her brother, Pte. William Jonathan James Cushley, a member of 1st Battalion, the Royal Canadian Regiment, who died in Afghanistan in September 2006.
Silver Cross mothers Karen Megeney and Mabel Girouard then laid poppies next to the plaques bearing the names and likenesses of their sons, Cpl. Ronald Kevin Megeney and Chief Warrant Officer Robert Michel Joseph Girouard.
Later, Cpl. Kelly James laid a poppy next to the etching of her brother, Cpl. Mark Robert McLaren of the 1st Battalion, the Royal Canadian Regiment, who was killed in Afghanistan in December 2008.
Then MacKay read the names of American soldiers killed while serving with the Canadians.
At least one Canadian soldier was overheard sniffling as MacKay read the names of the dead. An American soldier with the name tag "Scott" on the back of his cap took a photograph with a small point-and-shoot camera.
"Lest we forget," MacKay said before returning to his seat.
One female soldier mouthed the words to the poem "In Flanders Fields" before Canadian musician George Canyon sang "Danny Boy" as two more Chinooks rose into the sky behind him.
Flags were lowered to half-mast and wreaths were laid in honour of the 158 Canadian military personnel killed as part of the Afghan mission.
One diplomat, one journalist and two aid workers have also been killed.
Starting Saturday, military engineers will start dismantling the cenotaph so it can be shipped back to Canada. The military is considering several spots in Ottawa to put the memorial, with one of the preferred locations being Beechwood Cemetary in the city's east end, home to the national military cemetery.
Canada's combat mission officially ended this summer, but 950 military trainers will remain in and around the capital city of Kabul through 2014 as part of NATO's training mission.
Smaller contingents of Canadian trainers have also been deployed to the cities of Mazar-i-Sharif in the north and Herat in the west near the border with Iran.
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