Military unveils memorial for slain journalist at Kandahar Airfield
The Canadian Press
Published Saturday, March 13, 2010 3:00PM EST
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - A memorial for the first Canadian reporter killed in Afghanistan will now greet every journalist working out of the Kandahar military base.
The military unveiled a plaque Saturday for Michelle Lang, the Calgary Herald reporter killed alongside four Canadian soldiers late December.
The plaque, affixed to a wooden post and braced by small sandbags, stands between the two media tents in the Canadian compound of Kandahar Airfield.
Beneath a photo of Lang is the inscription "In memory of Michelle Lang, journalist, Calgary Herald & Canwest, KIA 4:00 p.m. 30 Dec 2009, Kandahar city."
It is a simple but significant tribute to a life cut short when the armoured vehicle she was travelling in struck a huge roadside bomb.
And it stands as a reminder to journalists covering the war of the perils that come with reporting from the front lines.
The acting commander of Task Force Kandahar said the military wanted to honour Lang in much the same way it has fallen soldiers.
"If you look around Kandahar, you'll see forward-operating bases, patrol bases and camps that are named after fallen Canadian soldiers," Col. Simon Hetherington said.
"After Michelle's death, it became natural for us to think that given her personality, her dedication and her professionalism, that she should be granted some similar form of recognition."
Lang, 34, was killed only two weeks into her first assignment as a war correspondent for the Herald and Canwest News Service.
Also killed in that blast were Sgt. George Miok, 28; Sgt. Kirk Taylor, 28; Cpl. Zachery McCormack, 21; and Pte. Garrett Chidley, 21.
Matthew Fisher, a veteran Canwest reporter, remembers meeting Lang at a Calgary steak house last October before she shipped out to Kandahar.
"She was just full of enthusiasm," he said. "She so badly wanted to get here."
The two colleagues spoke about Lang's apprehensions about the assignment, from the dangers that come with the job to the difficulties of filing stories from a war zone.
Lang, who won a National Newspaper Award last year for coverage of health and medical issues, wanted to shift her focus away from the bombs and bullets of the war.
"She had a specific line she wanted to follow," Fisher said.
"Journalism, I believe, is a very big church, and there's room for people with many different kinds of interests in it. Some of us are more interested in the hard-core, if you like, military aspect. Others are interested in things that are equally important but maybe a little bit softer in focus. And that was Michelle."
Lang spent her final days at the provincial reconstruction team headquarters in Kandahar city.
Jess Dutton, the acting representative of Canada in Kandahar, recalls spending Christmas morning with the reporter.
"We were at one of the forward-operating bases Christmas morning. And there was a sink in a room somewhere that we were all sharing. And I went in there and she was brushing her teeth and doing things, and of course she had forgotten her towel and she was soaking wet," he said.
"So I gave her my towel and she was very embarrassed and thankful. But we kind of had a good laugh at that. And so that was a joke that kind of stayed with us throughout the day."
Lang's dedication to her job impressed Dutton.
"When I interviewed her, she was very professional, and was asking some very difficult questions, so I was kind of like, 'Woah, oh boy. She really is a hard-nosed, professional journalist,"' he said.
"So I spent just a few days with her, but you could see her warmth."
Lang's father said her family was honoured that the spirit which drove his daughter to seek and tell truth was being recognized in Kandahar.
"This tribute means a great deal to us, for it will carry her memory and spirit forward as we continue to seek the truth during these difficult and turbulent times," Art Lang said in a statement. "It is our hope that the light she brought into our lives will endure in the hearts and minds of those who follow her path of seeking greater understanding."
The newspaper Lang made her name at thanked the military for the tribute.
"We're thrilled with the tribute obviously and very happy to see the military pay tribute to her outstanding dedication and her passion for life. The military has been wonderfully supportive through this experience -- to the newspaper, to her colleagues, to her friends and family," said Lorne Motley, editor-in-chief of the Calgary Herald.
"We give them a lot of credit for what they've done in recognition of Michelle and how they've recognized the importance of journalists -- to their getting their work done in Afghanistan."
He added the memorial will remind journalists of Lang and the perils they face leaving the base to cover the war.
"I think for other journalists going over and spending time now at the base they have something that reminds them of course of not only Michelle and her dedication but also that this is a dangerous place and that you need to take the proper precautions," Motley said.
"It's nice to see her memory well served."
To journalists here, the weatherhavens they work out of are known simply as the media tents. But Hetherington said they'll now unofficially be the Lang tent lines.
"This is hers. There are her lines."