Saturday, March 21, 2009

In my home town

We've lost a young soldier. I always get misty when I hear on the news about another Canadian soldier being lost in a war that we didn't start, that we shouldn't be fighting in...but when that soldier is from my home town...oh my God, I am speechless. I didn't know him, but our little town is only 19,000 people...several of my friends did know him. He went to my highschool. He's the same age as my little brother. I'm so sad today.

From the Welland Tribune
Port Colborne soldier killed in Afghanistan
Updated 4 hours ago

PORT COLBORNE — Niagara is mourning the loss of its second soldier killed this month by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan.

Cpl. Tyler Crooks of Port Colborne was one of four Canadian soldiers killed in two separate incidents in Kandhar province, Friday Afghanistan time.

Crooks and Master Cpl. Scott Vernelli, 28, of Sault Ste. Marie, were killed by an improvised explosive device while on foot patrol in the Zhari district.

Both were of November Company, Royal Canadian Regiment, based in Petawawa. Crooks was in the 1st Batallion; Vernelli from the 3rd Batallion.

Trooper Jack Bouthillier of Hearst, Ont., and Trooper Corey Joseph Hayes, of New Brunswick, were killed just hours later when a roadside bomb exploded in the Shah Wali Kot district, a region northwest of the city that is seeing an increase in Taliban activity.

Eight other soldiers were injured in the blasts.

On March 3, Warrant Officer Dennis Brown of St. Catharines, a member of the Lincoln and Welland Regiment, was killed by a roadside bomb northwest of Kandahar.

At a Port Colborne Remembrance Day ceremony in 2007, Crooks, dressed in his fatigues, stood among civilians at the local legion branch.

Then preparing in Petawawa to ship out to Afghanistan the following year, Crooks said the Nov. 11 event is becoming more relevant these days because of the number of Canadians dying overseas.

"It's a day to remember and reflect on all the people who served in the armed forces and helped keep Canada free," he said.

Capt. Scott Costen, public affairs officer for 31 Canadian Brigade Group, said his family plans to issue a written statement today. “Until then, the family asks for privacy,” he said in an e-mail.

Things were coming together for Crooks, who was to turn 24 yesterday. He and beloved fiancée, 23-year-old Kelly Maxwell of Niagara Falls, were planning their wedding and their future together. Crooks was to return from his tour in Afghanistan in one month.

Alex Maxwell, the father of Crooks’ fiancee, called the fallen hero “the son I never had.”

“He was a wonderful kid,” an emotional Maxwell said. “I've got three beautiful daughters, and I just loved him to death. He loved my daughter more than anything in the world.”

Maxwell said yesterday was Crook and his fiancée’s sixth anniversary as a couple.

Kelly worked as a border services agent at the Rainbow Bridge before being transferred to Ottawa.

“They were going together for six years and were planning their life up in the Ottawa area.”

He said Crooks was also a “tremendous hockey player.” He played junior B hockey in Port Colborne and was a star player for the Canadian Army.

Crooks’ picture was shown Feb. 14 on Coach’s Corner, the popular weekly Saturday show that’s part of CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada broadcast. Crooks’ image was also shown on the scoreboard during a Toronto Maple Leafs game.

“He was supposed to meet Don Cherry when he was to come home,” said Maxwell.

“He was always smiling, always laughing. He ribbed me and I ribbed him, always in fun. He never had a bad word about anyone.”

Maxwell continued: "(Crooks) loved being in the army. He loved the outdoors, loved fishing, hunting with his father. He was just an incredible, incredible kid.”

An emotional Port Colborne Mayor Vance Badawey called the death of Crooks “a tragic loss for this community.”

“To lose a young man like this, on his 24th birthday, is hard to take. This was a young man who put his community and his country above himself.”

Badawey, a friend of the Crooks family, said Tyler Crooks was “a great young man, who will be sorely missed by his community.”

“Cpl. Crooks accepted his mission in Afghanistan to contribute to the freedom of democracy that we, as Canadians, enjoy every day,” the mayor said.

A book of condolences will be at city hall for the public to sign.

Niagara Regional Police Sgt. Tim Welychka coached Crooks as a member of the Dunnville Terriers Junior C hockey team from 2001 to 2003.

Welychka said Crooks at one point considered a career in policing but decided instead to pursue a life with the military.

“I was just floored when I found out this morning. Tyler was a great, great kid.”

He said Tyler was well-liked by his teammates.

“People took a shine to him. He was always a pleasure to have in the room. You wished you had 17 more guys just like him, any coach would say that."

Welychka said hockey players and coaches become part of a family. Coaches get to see their young players grow up, excel in their personal and professional lives.

It's a close connection that is hard to put into words, he said.

"Hockey people are like a family. You watch these kids grow up ... and they go out of their way to see how they’re doing (years later). That friendship is always there, that's what makes it so hard. It's a brotherhood, it's family. My heart goes out to his family. It's way too sad."

Before becoming a soldier, Crooks also played junior B hockey for the former Port Colborne Sailors, currently known as the Pirates.

Team owner Tim Toffolo said he recalls Crooks as somebody who had lots of friends and was well-respected by those who knew him.

“Tyler was a very well-liked individual in town. He was dedicated to what he was doing. It’s a sad loss for the city of Port Colborne. He sacrificed his life for a great cause.”

Lakeshore Catholic High School athletic director Dino Germano taught Crooks.

Germano remembers the young man as an avid weight lifter who was very serious about getting into the military.

“He loved to workout — he worked out hard.”

The teacher was deeply saddened that one of his former students had lost his life.

“He was a good kid.”

Germano remembers Crooks seeing the bright side of everything.

“He was always optimistic. He was well-liked.”

Germano said Crooks never forgot where he came from and visited Lakeshore last year to tell his teachers what he was doing with his life.

“He was happy to see the teachers who taught him,” he said. “He was so proud to be in the military.”

Master Cpl. Vernelli and Crooks were both well-known and popular with other soldiers in their company, which is on the cusp of finishing a six-month tour.

Both men were close with the commander of November Company, Maj. Rob McBride, who often joked with Crooks over the radio about sports.

“They were close friends of his,” said Capt. Chris Reeves, the deputy commander of November Company.

Such was his respect for the young soldier that McBride supported Crooks as a candidate for officer training.

“He was getting ready to (be) on that path to be commissioned from the ranks,” Reeves said. “He would have been good.”

Welland MP Malcolm Allen and St. Catharines MP Rick Dykstra said the loss will be deeply felt by the community.

Welland MPP Peter Kormos said while the death of Crooks is tragic for his family and friends, the reason he was in harm’s way in the first place should be a matter of pride.

“We need to remember these young men and woman are not there protecting Canadian turf. They are there to serve human kind,” Kormos said.

“We are saddened by the death of Cpl. Crooks, but we can be proud of the sacrifice he chose to make.”

Brig.-Gen. Jonathan Vance, the commander of Canadian troops in Afghanistan, is urging Canadians not to consider the deaths a failure on the part of anyone, or of the mission itself.

The deaths bring to 116 the number of Canadian soldiers who have died as part of the Afghan mission since it began in 2002.

Crooks’ death marks the third Niagara resident killed in the war-torn country.

Corp. Albert Storm, 36, of Fort Erie died Nov. 27, 2006, after a suicide bomber attack. He was a member of the 1st Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment, out of Petawawa.

No information regarding funeral arrangements for Cpl. Crooks were made public Friday.

— with files from the Canadian Press and Sun Media

RIP Tyler.

1 comment:

Bohemian Single Mom said...

Remember my best friend Brenda? Tyler was her nephew, her brother's kid.

Just another reason to despise George Bush.