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Silver Cross Mother remembers mission Canada's military would rather forget

Silver Cross Mother remembers mission Canada's military would rather forget
From CBC - November 10, 2017

It was a mission the Canadian military would rather forget, but Diana Abel keeps big reminder of it in her Brampton living room.

"The most important thing in here is the flag," says Abel, this year's Silver Cross Mother, gently caressing the golden wings emblazoned on the blue-and-maroon banner that rests neatly folded in a curio cabinet. "This flew over the base in Somalia and it was presented to me at my son's funeral."

It is the flag of the Canadian Airborne Regiment, of which her son, Cpl. Michael David Abel, was a member.

The Airborne went to Somalia on a peacekeeping mission in 1992. That mission ended up costing the Canadian military its reputation. And Diana Abel her son.

"I always said they would never choose me [as the Silver Cross Mother] because of the Somalia incident," reflects Abel.

Somalia mission

The Airborne was in Somalia 25 years agoto try and restore some peace and order to a country that was beset by civil war and famine. It was part of a larger United Nations operation.

"My son's job with 3 Commandothey were at the airport, they were to make sure the planes could land with the food because it was a humanitarian mission," Abel says. "So they had to get the food from there to a Belet Huen, which they did."

But things quickly went sideways for Canada.

A Somali teenager, Shidane Arone, was captured sneaking into the Canadian base on March 16, 1993. He was tortured and killed. Eight soldiers would face court martial and four were convicted. In 1995, partly as a result of its disgrace in Somalia and after a public inquiry, the Airborne was disbanded.

Diana Abel's personal tragedy happened in a separate incident a few weeks later on May 3, 1993.

Michael was in his tent when his good friend, Master Cpl. David Smith, came in. Smith began cleaning his gun, dry-firing it without bullets. Smith got up up leave, but then sat down again.

Smith told a court martial hearing that he forgot he had loaded his weapon and thought he was dry-firing again a few minutes later when he pulled the trigger and hit Michael Abel, killing him.

Smith plead guilty to negligent performance of duty. He was sentenced to four months in jail and was reduced in rank. A more serious charge of criminal negligence causing death was stayed.

"I was angry, very angry to think that, you know, how could he be so stupid to do this," says Abel, with just a little edge on 'stupid'. "But it was purely an accident."

That accident cut short Michael's mission to help people, a job he truly enjoyed, says Abel. One of the pictures she has of her son shows him surrounded by children, everyone with a big smile.

Military roots

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