There can be no doubt Capt. Nichola Goddard, the first female Canadian soldier killed in combat, believed heart and soul in what she was doing in Afghanistan. She died a warrior at 26, like a meteor that blazed too quickly across the skies of those who loved her.
That is consolation for a mother who feels frustration about a war, in which her daughter was the 16th soldier to die, on May 17, 2006. Today, that grim tally is 152.
“I think Nichola went to Afghanistan with the belief she was going to make it a better place,” says Sally Goddard. “Is it now?
“I don’t think so. I can’t think so.”
She doesn’t question her daughter’s performance as a forward observation officer (FOO), calling in artillery fire against the Taliban, or the devotion of her crew and the quality of Canadian soldiers. Just moments before a piece of shrapnel sliced through her helmet, she and her crew had taken satisfaction in calling in the first military fire against an enemy since the Korean War.
But Sally Goddard is blunt: “Has any outcome been achieved? You just don’t know because you don’t know (what the outcomes were meant to be.) We’re just not sure what we’re doing as a country.” She bristles at the political vagueness, the way in which (in her opinion) Canadian politicians have left the public without a clear understanding of Canada’s objectives.
“Have you made that point (to the country’s leaders)?” she’s asked. “Nobody’s asked me,” she replies. Don’t misunderstand. Sally Goddard isn’t on a campaign against the government or the plan to end Canada’s military involvement in Afghanistan next year. She’s soft-spoken and reflects on these larger issues only when asked.
Still, it’s painful to see a mother who has suffered so deeply, ask, “Was it worth (Nichola’s) sacrifice?” She says that it’s disturbing to know her daughter was killed in Panjwaii district at a time the coalition was making headway, only to see the territory go back to the Taliban so many times. She wonders: “Is it just a line in the sand?”
She’s in Toronto this week to support author Valerie Fortney’s book tour for Sunray: The Death and Life of Nichola Goddard.
Both talk about a unique human being, born to pacifist school teachers (self-described “hippies) in Papua New Guinea and raised in a peripatetic household that lived across Canada, including in a First Nations community.
“What really stood out about Nichola for me . . . was her constant fear of doing the wrong thing and harming civilian bystanders, or her own colleagues,” says Fortney. “From what I could see, she had absolutely no fear for her own life, no fear outside the wire.”
She was, adds Fortney, “courage and compassion wrapped up in one human being.” At her funeral, her father, Tim, said the family wanted her to be remembered “not just as the first Canadian woman to be killed in combat, but as a person with passion, one with a great enthusiasm for life.”
Addressing his daughter, he added: “You had so much promise, so much potential, and the world is a far lesser place with your passing.” He also had a message for the Conservative government that day. Then, the media was not allowed inside the gates for repatriation ceremonies at CFB Trenton.
“I find it troubling the privacy decision means we are keeping the press outside the wire, where the bad guys are,” he said, following the example of Lincoln Dinning, whose son Corporal Matthew Dinning had died earlier that spring of 2006.
“I would like to think Nichola died to protect our freedoms, not to restrict them.” The government reversed its policy, allowing the decision about media coverage at CFB Trenton to be made by each grieving family. Sally Goddard hopes Fortney’s book will have impact and add further meaning to a life already overflowing with sacrifice.
“I’d like to think that as things come out (in the book), hopefully people will start talking about (the war),” she says..
“People are saying, ‘We support the mission.’ But nobody knows what the mission is.”