04 July 2006

Happy Birthday America - Land of the Free Because of the Brave

Please meet Master Bombardier Bounyarat Tanaphon Makthepharak of the 30th Field Regiment of the Royal Canadian Artillery.

So what does a Laos-born Canadian Soldier have to do with the American Independence Day holiday?

Well, I wanted to write about Mbdr Makthepharak because he illustrates that freedom is an ideal, not a country.

Makthepharak, alternately called "Mak" or "Boun" by friends and family came to Canada from Laos with his mother when he was 10 years old after spending time in a refugee camp.

The Army appealed to Mak because he enjoys being in good physical shape and was always determined to serve his country. He loves training for upcoming missions and looks forward to serving.

According to friends, the Army is like a second family to him. Not that he doesn't have plenty of friends outside the service - I've been told that Mak enjoys meeting people, socializing, going to the movies, dancing, having a drink at a pub but most of all he just loves eating and is always looking to eat out somewhere.

"I met him in high school about 13 years ago and we had some courses together like English and art," says Mak's close friend Nora. "I can still remember him asking me 'So how about that English homework? Do you think that I can take a peek at yours so that I can come up with ideas?' When in reality he just wanted to copy my homework!! He's always been a very funny guy. Never in a bad mood always smiling and wanting to do something."

Mak and his Mom don't have much contact with the local Laotian community, but the president of Lao Ottawa-Hull Association still wanted to weigh in:
"We feel very proud of him," Bounnom Souphilavong said. "And we're looking to help the family."

"We're definitely proud he's representing our community which is so small," said Vilaphong Suyavong, the past president of the organization. "We're all worried as well."

Last Friday, the day before Canada Day, Mak was seriously injured in the Taleban rocket attack on the coaltion base in Kandahar that also injured another Canadian soldier, five U.S. troops, and three civilian workers.

I was contacted by several friends of Mak's to ask if we could check on him at Landstuhl hospital, where he was medevac'd on Saturday. On Sunday, Mrs. G and I saw him in the Landstuhl ICU. His condition has since been upgraded to critical but stable.

As soon as he could speak, Mak asked the nurses to tell his mother he's "going to be ok."

Mak was on his second tour in Afghanistan, having been previously deployed there from December 2004 to June 2005.
Close friend Samearn Son, who works as a House of Commons constable, said Makthepharak wanted to go right back to Afghanistan after the first tour, but the rules kept him home.

"If anyone were to pull through something like this, he would be the most mentally and physically prepared. He is a great fighter," Son said.

We often wonder where men like Mak come from. After reading this statement released by his mother, I think I know the answer:
"I really wish that my son, along with his army friends in the Canadian Forces, have success and bring honour and come home safe and sound together."

Meanwhile, US troops are eager to find the attackers. Aircraft of the 10th Mountain division have been scrambled to hunt down those responsible. One AH-64 Apache assault helicopter crashed during the search on Sunday night, killing the pilot. The other airman on board was injured and evacuated to the military hospital. Enemy fire is not believed to be the cause of the crash according to Col. Steve Williams, 10th Mountain Division spokesman.

So on this 4th of July let's thank Mak and all of the defenders of freedom everywhere. We can never repay our debt to them, but we can bear witness to their sacrifices.

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