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Soldier won't come home

Canadian Press, via Calgary Sun, 15 Apr 07


A Canadian soldier who braved the aftermath of a roadside bomb in a futile bid to save the life of Trooper Patrick Pentland told his tale yesterday to help his family understand why he's not ready to come home.


Cpl. Dave Gionet, 34, was part of a quick-response unit heading to the scene of an earlier attack Wednesday when the Coyote armoured vehicle in front of him hit an improvised explosive device (IED) in the volatile Zhari district west of Kandahar.


In halting English that betrayed both his Acadian roots and fragile state of mind, Gionet -- who hails from the town of Lameque in northeastern New Brunswick -- read from an emotional letter that described how he entered the burning, upended Coyote to try to extract his friend.


"When I arrived, the soldier was unconscious but breathing; I tried to stop the fire and fuel leak from getting to us, but the flame was close and I could not put them out," Gionet said.


"I said to myself ... I would not let him burn."


It took another vehicle's strength to drag free the dislodged engine panel -- Gionet became trapped underneath it as it was removed -- before the unconscious Pentland could be carried away from the wreckage.


Once the soldier was out of the Coyote, Gionet began performing CPR while waiting for the medics.


Both Pentland and Master Cpl. Allan Stewart, 30, lost their lives in the attack.


It was the second close call in less than three weeks for Gionet.


He said he wanted to explain to his family in Canada -- wife Miranda and three-year-old daughter Abrielle in Petawawa, Ont., and father Theophile and mother Celine in New Brunswick -- why he simply can't honour their fervent desire to see him home.


Gionet said he's choosing to remain in Afghanistan rather than go home to his family in Canada because he has a family in Afghanistan that needs him.


"I don't want to leave my friends behind," he said.


"I have a job to do, and my job is to take care of my friends here the best I can."


A hero soldier's special angel

Why this angel will stay in Kandahar; Canadian gunner credits mother's gift with helping him survive flames Afghanistan

Rosie Di Manno, Toronto Star, 15 Apr 07


Fuel dripping on his head, flames licking at his face, uniform smouldering against his skin.


Cpl. Dave Gionet braved all that, climbing into the inferno of a Coyote reconnaissance vehicle that was flipped on its side and engulfed in fire, trying to pull out an unconscious comrade who'd been trapped by debris.


In his own words, because the corporal carefully wrote it all down afterward, wanting to tell it exactly as it was on Wednesday night when his vehicle was first on the scene in response to a deafening blast.


"As I neared the vehicle, I could hear one soldier crying for help. When I saw the damage... I was confused, I tried to locate the crew.


"I found one soldier, he was pinned, he was in pain but I knew he was okay. I checked the next soldier and he had no pulse.


"As more people arrived, I told them to stay with this soldier, to make sure that he would be all right.


"When I turned around, I saw the Coyote on its side, with flames coming from the engine compartment. I knew the driver was still inside.


"I yelled his name but no answer. I made my way through the flame to get to the driver with some help from my friends.


"When I arrived, the soldier was unconscious but breathing.


"I tried to stop the fire and the fuel leak from getting to us but the flames were close and I could not put them out. I tried to use my combat shirt to stop the fuel leak but was unsuccessful.


"I said to myself: I will not let him burn."


As other troopers fought to douse the flames from the exterior, Gionet fought through the belching fumes and flames in search of the master switch, to shut off the spurting fuel.


Turned that off all right but still couldn't budge the trapped soldier, much as he tried pulling at the man's upper torso.


The victim's legs were held firm by the mangled intestines of the Coyote, which would not release him.


Gionet shouted at the other soldiers to tie a winch from one of their vehicles and pull, the object being to dislodge the engine compartment panel that was the primary obstruction.


When they did, the panel landed on Gionet and briefly pinned him. too.


"I told them to keep pulling. At that point, the soldier's leg was free.


"I was able to extract him from the wreckage."


Others placed the grievously wounded trooper on a stretcher.


"I was relieved that he was out of the flame.


"When we were a safe distance from the vehicle, I started performing first aid on him.


"His breathing became slow. His heart was decreasing.


"I told him: You will not die on me."


For 20 minutes, Gionet applied CPR, until a medic arrived and took over. But it was in vain.


"The soldier passed away."


Trooper Patrick James Pentland, just 23 years old, son of soldier. Also killed in the blast, caused by an improvised explosive device was Master Cpl. Allan Stewart, 30.


Two men dead out of a four-man Coyote crew, two others injured - one of them, Cpl. Matthew Dicks, seriously - and transported on Friday to military hospital in Germany.


But just before that, Dicks, with his blackened eyes, insisted on being rolled out to the tarmac on a hospital gurney for the ramp ceremony, saluting his fallen friends with an IV-punctured hand.


There is no overstating the bond of brothers-in-arms.


Gionet - a gunner with the Royal Canadian Dragoons who's on his second tour in Afghanistan, the first in Kabul in 2005 - admitted yesterday that he's feeling pressure to leave this madness, ride his trauma home to the tiny town of Pigeon Hill, N.B., where wife Miranda and 3-year-old daughter Aprille are pining for his return. But he won't do it.


"I love my family very much," says the 34-year-old gunner, who was a lobster fisherman before joining the military. "But I have a family here, too, and I love them, too.


"We come here and we know what to expect. We know about the dangers and the risks. But I'm staying with my friends because they need me and I need them. We are responsible for one another. Why should I go back home and leave them behind?"


Instead, Gionet headed back out with his reconnaissance squadron last night to a forward operating base west of Kandahar city.


With him, Gionet took the guardian-angel pendant his mother gave him - as well as Pentland's fabric name badge.


The dead soldier's name badge? That came into Gionet's hands oddly.


When he was evacuated by chopper late Wednesday night, his own shirt cast aside after he'd used it to try putting out the flames in the Coyote, someone put another shirt over Gionet's chest.


He noticed on the flight that it was Pentland's uniform.


The rest of Pentland's kit had been assiduously collected at the scene by soldiers who'd stood guard over the crumpled Coyote until it was removed the following morning.


But Gionet was permitted to keep the name badge, which he now tucks into his own uniform.


He remains devastated that Pentland perished there, in his arms, for all the lifesaving efforts.


"I tried so hard to get him out of there," he says. "At the time, I had no fear, but there was the fumes and the smoke and all the debris.


"And he was buried from the waist down. It took a lot of time to get that big piece of engine (panel) off of him.


"I tried the best I could. I just tried and tried. I don't know what else I could have done. I'm just a human being."


And yet he has been a saviour before, and just a few weeks ago.


On March 20, it was Gionet's immediate critical care that saved the life of an American, a civilian dog-handler working for coalition forces, in Kabul.


The American had been scanning the ground for explosive devices and temporarily handed his dog's leash to Gionet. Just as the Canadian was passing the animal back, its owner stepped on an IED that exploded.


The dog was killed instantly, Gionet escaped with hardly a scratch, but the handler was hideously injured, much of his face blasted off.


"His nose, it was gone," recalls Gionet.


"But I had to keep putting my fingers down his throat, to remove the blood and all these pieces that were in there. I had to make sure to keep that open so he could breath."


That casualty was has been flown stateside for further surgery and treatment. But he has survived and that's something of a miracle.


At the mention of miracles, Gionet removes his guardian angel from inside his shirt - the shirt that was returned to him after his Wednesday evacuation from the Zhari district west of Kandahar.


"I told the guys who put me in the helicopter: 'You make sure I get my shirt back because I have an angel in there.'


"I want my mother to know that this has saved my life two times now."


Gionet tucks the angel back inside his shirt.


"I know I'm a strong man. But ... two times now.


"I hope that's it."


'You will not die on me'

Canadian soldier tells how he tried to save comrade's life

Chris Lambie, Halifax Chronicle Herald, 15 Apr 07


KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - He couldn't leave his friend behind on Wednesday, and Cpl. Dave Gionet certainly isn't going to leave the rest of them behind now.


Cpl. Gionet was one of the first responders when a Coyote armoured reconnaissance vehicle hit a roadside bomb and flipped in the Zhari district of Kandahar province. The gunner jumped out of his own Coyote, which was directly behind the one that blew up, and ran to help the four-man crew.


"I could hear one soldier crying for help," Cpl. Gionet said, reading from a letter he wrote about the incident.


He found one man pinned under the vehicle and in pain. "But I knew he was OK. I checked the next soldier and he had no pulse."


Cpl. Gionet saw flames coming from the Coyote's engine and knew the driver, Trooper Patrick James Pentland, was still inside.


"I yelled his name, but no answer. I made my way through the flames to get to the driver with some help from my friends. When I arrived, the soldier was unconscious but breathing. I tried to stop the fire and the fuel leak from getting to us. But the flames were close and I could not put them out."


In the debris-filled belly of the Coyote, he struggled to reach the master switch to stop more diesel fuel from leaking into the wreck. "The fuel was just pissing on us inside and I was scared," he said in an interview on Saturday.


The 34-year-old former lobster fisherman from Pigeon Hill, N.B., tore off his combat shirt to try to extinguish the flames. But that didn't work.


"I said to myself that I would not let him burn. I tried to pull him out of the vehicle, but his leg was trapped."


Cpl. Gionet told other soldiers outside the Coyote to use another vehicle to pull the engine panel off Trooper Pentland's leg. "As they pulled the panel, the panel lay on me. I was trapped for 10 seconds. I told them to keep pulling until I became free."


Cpl. Gionet eventually managed to extract Trooper Pentland from the Coyote. He started performing first aid on the soldier, whose breathing was slowing by this point.


"I told him, 'You will not die on me.' "


Cpl. Gionet worked on Trooper Pentland for about 20 minutes until a medic arrived. But the 23-year-old from Geary, N.B., did not survive.


Master Cpl. Allan Stewart, 30, from Newcastle, N.B., also died. Cpl. Matthew Dicks of Conception Bay, N.L., was wounded in the same explosion. He was flown to a military hospital in Germany on Friday for treatment.


As he was being airlifted back to Kandahar airfield to be treated for smoke inhalation after the blast, someone threw a shirt over Cpl. Gionet's shoulders. It turned out to be Trooper Pentland's. The dead soldier's name tag lay on a table in front of him Saturday as Cpl. Gionet spoke of the attempts to save his comrade.


"I tried the best I could," he said.


This isn't the first horrific incident Cpl. Gionet has witnessed first-hand since he arrived here in February.


He was near a civilian dog handler when a bomb exploded on March 20, severely injuring the American handler and killing his dog near the village of Amadkhan, in Zhari district. The handler's nose was blown off. Cpl. Gionet used his fingers to keep the man's airway open until medics arrived.


"The last time I heard about him, he was doing OK and he was back home with his family."


On Saturday, Cpl. Gionet showed reporters a small angel pendant that his mother, Celine, gave him for protection. "This saved my life twice," he said. "This is always with me."


Cpl. Gionet, who is on his second tour of Afghanistan, is feeling a lot of pressure from home to return to his wife, Miranda, and their three-year-old daughter, Aprille, who live in Petawawa, Ont. But he believes this is where he must remain.


"I stay for my guys," he said. "I don't want to let my friends down."

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