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Sgt. Jimmy Collins shows his tattoo at his Kamloops, B.C., home, Dec. 20, 2010. The tattoo bears the initials of Pte. Garrett Chidley, Sgt. George Miok, Cpl. Zachery McCormack, Sgt. Kirk Taylor and journalist Michelle Lang, who were all killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan Dec. 30, 2009. (Jonathan Hayward/Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)
Sgt. Jimmy Collins shows his tattoo at his Kamloops, B.C., home, Dec. 20, 2010. The tattoo bears the initials of Pte. Garrett Chidley, Sgt. George Miok, Cpl. Zachery McCormack, Sgt. Kirk Taylor and journalist Michelle Lang, who were all killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan Dec. 30, 2009. (Jonathan Hayward/Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

One year later

The full story of one of Canada's deadliest days in Afghanistan Add to ...

The sound of Sgt. Taylor's voice surprises Cpl. Elfner, who is nearby. "I thought he was dead." Not until Sgt. Taylor is back at Kandahar Air Field will the trauma surgeons declare him so.

Meanwhile, Ms. Saeed tries in vain to claw her way out of the vehicle. Cpl. Girard-Dallaire, the medic, drags her from the wreckage in one swift yank. Cpl. Naslund carries the petite policy analyst to a nearby casualty collection point as Cpl. Shier helps to steady her lifeless legs. Ms. Saeed remains convinced one of her limbs is still lying in the wreckage.

"Go back and grab my leg. Grab my leg," she screams.

"You're fine, you're fine, your legs are on," comes the response.

"No, no, don't lie to me. I know it's off, but it's okay. Just get my leg. I know it's off. Just get my leg."

Finally, to placate her, someone says: "Okay, we have it."

Ms. Saeed's pants are bloody, her jelly-like lower limbs swollen and dark. Sgt. Collins does not think she will make it.

At the casualty collection point, Ms. Saeed lies back. To avoid looking at her lower body, she gazes at the sky. She thinks about her family, fears how they will take the news. She has broken her promise to not get hurt.

Cpl. Shier, who has training in combat casualty care, comes over. He is convinced her legs are done for. "I was feeling her legs to try to find bone to put the tourniquets around but didn't find any," he later says. "That's why I just rammed them up into her crotch as far as the tourniquets would go."

The blinding pain of the life-saving treatment comes as a shock to Ms. Saeed. Then, suddenly, all she wants is a hug. She takes hold of Cpl. Shier's arm, lifts herself slightly, and for a few seconds presses herself close to him. He pats her reassuringly before returning to the carnage.

Sgt. Collins, smoke grenade in hand, is scanning the sky for reinforcements. After what seems like an eternity, the first U.S. Black Hawk helicopter throbs into view. He pulls hard on the detonating string to trigger a plume of colourful, high-visibility smoke.

Instead, the string snaps. "Can this day get any fucking worse?" he says to himself.

Ms. Saeed can see bodies around her, but recognizes no faces. She thinks again of her family. The din of an arriving helicopter brings with it one thought: "I get to go home now."

The members of 4-2 Bravo help to secure the area and carry the victims to the choppers, which sink to their bellies in the mud of a freshly tilled field. Night is approaching. The temperature is falling.

It is ghastly work. "I stood for hours with the rest of my unit in a field filled with their scattered remains," says Cpl. Brian Cadiz, with 4-2 Bravo. "Their blood stained my gloves and soaked through the mud into my boots."

Ms. Lang is found semi-suspended in the back of the shattered LAV. She died instantly, the bomb detonating almost directly beneath her. After nine years of combat, she is the sole Canadian journalist killed in Afghanistan, and the second Canadian civilian after Mr. Berry to die as part of the Afghan mission.

The quiet betrayal

In 1972, a youthfully adventurous Art and Sandra Lang travelled through a vastly different Afghanistan. It was seven years removed from a Soviet invasion that would trigger a blood-soaked downward spiral to ruination and a new war - one that would lure the Vancouver couple's journalist daughter to her death four decades later.

"She told us a year before she went," Sandra Lang says. "Gradually, I got used to the idea. I wasn't actually as worried as I should have been."

Adds her husband: "We [now]belong to a very exclusive club - one that you don't want to belong to."

Two days after the blast, members of Call Sign 4-2 are preparing for the ramp ceremony, during which they'll shoulder the caskets of their dead comrades into a waiting military transport. Cpl. Yee is getting a haircut.

He overhears a Canadian Forces officer talking about the tragedy. The inexperienced reservists had brought the disaster on themselves by failing to check the road properly, the officer suggests.

"I looked right at him and gave him this dirty evil glare, like an animal would before it pounces," he recalls. "The officer just shut his mouth after that."

The explosion did more than cause death and destruction. It also marked a massive intelligence failure that cast a long shadow across Canada's difficult nine-year struggle to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people.

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