While she could not be prouder of her son Randy-- a lieutenant-colonel in the Canadian military-- for the work he is doing in Afghanistan, Ann Smith of Georgetown admits that it's nerve-racking having him there. With the recent deaths and injuries of Canadian soldiers in that country, Ann dreads watching the news. "I feel like I've got butterflies in my tummy all the time," said Ann. "I feel nervous for all the ones over there." But while she worries for her son's safety, she says she knows that he is exactly where he wants to be, doing the work he loves. Randy Smith's role in Afghanistan is a little different than the average Canadian soldier. The former Georgetown resident, who grew up here but now lives in Ottawa, is the senior ranking Canadian legal officer in Kandahar dealing with Canadian legal issues for the country of Afghanistan. A McGill-educated lawyer, Smith's main role in the country during his six-month tour, is to advise the commander, Brigadier-General David Fraser, on operational law, claims and personnel law issues and discipline. Smith, 50, credits local lawyer Fred Helson of Helson, Kogon, Schaljo and Ashbee, where he articled, with providing him a solid grounding in law that he continues to benefit from today. In Afghanistan he also settle claims when Canadian soldiers are in accidents with Afghan civilian vehicles, as was the case March 2 when an armoured vehicle collided with a civilian taxi claiming the lives of two soldiers and injuring six others. Smith spoke to The Independent & Free Press via email about the past month he's spent in Afghanistan.
"We have had two deaths (recently) and soldiers that were seriously injured. The French also lost a soldier," said Smith. "Although we are constantly being reminded of the Taliban's presence, our soldiers are well trained and can easily rise to this challenge." He said the recent deaths of the Canadian soldiers "have, of course, affected all of us." "Many here are friends of the fallen soldiers and their families. That said, we are fiercely determined to make a positive difference in the quality of life for Afghans." Smith, who is single, works seven days a week-- 14-hour days Monday through Saturday, and Sundays he begins at noon. He said he does not feel he's in danger, but stressed that all the military personnel are carrying weapons. "The soldiers cannot leave the compound without being in a convoy. The area is heavily mined so one would not be inclined to go for a stroll." The roads in the area are potholed and largely chaotic. Accidents are commonplace. "Imagine driving to the cottage on a back dirt road multiplied tenfold," said Smith, who added that the Canadian military equipment is excellent and adapts to every situation. He said the Afghan people are extremely poor and their living conditions are far below those of Canadians. They are very friendly to the soldiers, he said, and grateful they are there. "They are a people that have been tormented by terrorism and violence and it has to stop." he said.
When asked to comment on the sentiment of some Canadians who don't feel Canadian soldiers should be in Afghanistan, Smith said he strongly believes otherwise. "Afghanistan is a poor country that continues to be confronted by terrorists and with extreme violence. Canada's goal is to help the Afghan people," he said. "All Canadians serving here are prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice, so that the Afghan people may one day enjoy a quality of life that is not only secure but safe." The recent visit by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to Afghanistan was a real boost for the soldiers, said Smith, who has nearly 27 years service with the Canadian Armed Forces. "He was extremely well received by all of us," said Smith, who was thrilled to meet the PM. "What a great thing he has done for us by coming to visit so early in his new job. Morale went up 150%. He is solidly behind us in what we are trying to do." Ann is looking forward to May when her son will be home for a vacation and says the weekly calls she gets from him are "very comforting." She can't imagine what it must have been like in past wars and conflicts where people back home in Canada had no contact with their loved ones except for letters that could take weeks to arrive, she said.