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Interim CFB Trenton commander Lieutenant-Colonel Dave Murphy, left, walks with General Walter Natynczyk on the base.

The weekend arrest of Colonel Russell Williams on murder and sex-assault charges felt like "a body blow," Canada's top soldier told reporters as he stood on the huge air base that had been under the colonel's command.

"This is a very difficult time. We all feel this shock, it's very difficult to deal with," General Walter Natynczyk said yesterday. "A lot of people are deeply affected, directly and indirectly, we have to support them and their families."

Flanked by Lieutenant-General André Deschamps, who heads the Air Force, and navy chief Vice-Admiral David Rouleau, as well as other senior officers, Gen. Natynczyk made his remarks in a passenger terminal used by troops on their way to and from Afghanistan.

It was, by any measure, an unusual news conference, and as the military grapples with the fallout from Col. Williams's arrest, its purpose was clear.

Earlier in the afternoon, he had given an address to troops on the base. "And I told them to stand proud... . Let's move forward."

Gen. Natynczyk said he had met the colonel several times.

He declined comment on the charges but said the National Investigative Service - the criminal investigation unit of the Canadian Forces - was working closely with Ontario Provincial Police as the criminal investigation continues.

He lauded the military's role in Afghanistan, Haiti and at the Vancouver Olympics and urged that this chapter in its history be kept in perspective.

"Some soldiers have even asked me if they should go out in their uniforms. I said 'Stop it. We can't go back, we go forward and we're proud to wear the uniform.'

But, he added, "any time you have this kind of ... perceived violation of leadership, that's when you know you have a body blow."

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