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Funerals held for soldiers from Edmonton area slain in Afghanistan

They died together on a dusty road in a war-torn country far from home and were buried on the same day, in the same Alberta community, where hundreds mourned their loss.

Funerals were held Saturday in Sherwood Park for Corporal. Zachary McCormack, who was 21, and Sargeant George Miok, who was 28.

The Edmonton-based soldiers died when an improvised bomb exploded in Kandahar city Dec. 30. Also killed were Sargeant Kirk Taylor, 28, of Yarmouth, N.S.; Private Garrett Chidley, 21, of Cambridge, Ont.; and Calgary journalist Michelle Lang, 34.

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Cpl. McCormack's flag-draped coffin was solemnly carried into the church where grieving family and friends had gathered. The skirl of a lone bagpipe was the only sound as the service began.

Cpl. McCormack, a member of the Loyal Edmonton Regiment, was on his first tour of duty in Afghanistan.

His commanding officer said in a statement that the young reservist was "kind-hearted, determined and tough" and was "an excellent soldier and friend."

Brigadier-General Michael Jorgensen, who presented McCormack's parents and fiancee with the Memorial Cross, said the soldier's incredible and infectious smile epitomized his approach to life, but ``frustrated military photographers who prefer a more grim look."

Cpl. McCormack's father, Robin, described his son as the best anyone could have and told those gathered that his death has "completely devastated us."

"I'm not sure we have the strength to recover," he said in a letter read by Cpl. McCormack's uncle. "It makes me cry every day that we only have 21 years of memories."

Other family members described him as a vibrant young man with a gentle soul who cared deeply about those he loved.

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"Everyone who knew him, knew they were important to him," fiancee Nicole Brisson recalled. "His willingness to help other people always astounded me."

A few hours later, a second church in Sherwood Park was filled to overflowing as people came to say goodbye to Miok, also a reservist, who taught math, physical education and religion at a Catholic school in Edmonton. They were forced to stand in the doorway of the church as flags at half-mast fluttered in a gentle breeze.

Sgt. Miok had served part time with the 41 Combat Engineer Regiment for 10 years. It was his second time in Afghanistan.

"Everything he had went into everything he did," remembered his friend, Master Corporal Nathan Goisnard. "Today's service was very respectful and represented George well."

Warrant Officer Dayris Litle, also a reservist, said he had a hard time functioning at his day job this week.

"It's absolutely crushing," Warrant Officer Litle said after the service. ``This was one of the hardest weeks of my life."

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Sgt. Miok's commanding officer said in a statement that he was an exceptional leader to his peers and "always led from the front, regardless of the risks or hazards involved."

Sgt. Miok's students were so fond of him they held a tribute at their school earlier this week and papered the hallways with photographs and personal notes.

"You were my favourite teacher and you will never be forgotten. You will be terribly missed," wrote one student. "You are our hero, our super hero, and you always made us laugh and smile."

His obituary said Sgt. Miok "was so proud of the good changes that he saw in Afghanistan. He firmly believed in the importance of helping people and was determined to do more."

Both soldiers left behind large extended families.

A funeral with full military honours is to take place for Sgt. Taylor in Yarmouth on Monday as is a service for Lang in her hometown of Vancouver.

Private Chidley, whose body arrived in Vancouver from Ontario on Saturday, will be buried in Surrey, B.C., on Tuesday.

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