HUNTING DEATH IN THE SAND

ADNAN R. KHAN October 13 2003

HUNTING DEATH IN THE SAND

ADNAN R. KHAN October 13 2003

ON GUARD AGAINST AN UNSEEN FOE

LIEUT. CHRIS NOBREGA

WHILE STUDYING at the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont., Lieut. Chris Nobrega wrote a paper on the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Now, like so many foreign soldiers before him, he has faced danger in the desert as he led a rapid-reaction team to the site of last week’s explosion that killed two Canadians. “When we came onto the scene we realized it was one of our units that was involved,” the youthful looking 34-year-old Torontonian tol¿Maclean’s. “We had to extract the unit that was involved in the mine strike.” Well aware of the risks entailed in his assignment to Afghanistan, Nobrega had practised repeatedly how to react to this type of incident. “Everyone knew what they had to do when they got out into the scene,” he said, “and it was just a matter of trying to gain control of the situation as it unfolded.” With the realization that two of their colleagues were dead, their determination to proceed with the mission only stiffened. “This event solidifies my resolve to be out here and to accomplish the task that we’ve been assigned,” he said. “It’s a greater justification, a more personal justification.”

In addition to being prepared to engage the enemy while he’s on patrol, Nobrega has to undertake community diplomacy—a role he relishes. “It’s important for us to keep

a close tie with the local population,” he’d told Maclean’s as he dropped by a police station a few days before the attack. With his troops standing watch outside, he and police chief Alijan drank tea and discussed Canada’s role in the city. “We are very happy you are here,” said Ali. “This is Afghanistan’s last chance. If we miss it, our country will be destroyed.” Nobrega nodded in agreement: “That’s what we’re here to prevent.”

Understanding a foreign culture comes easily to Nobrega, who immigrated to Toronto with his Guyanese parents when he was six. He quickly adapted, and was soon playing pickup hockey at a rink in the city’s west end. At the age of 12 he joined the cadets and has been involved with the military ever since. Nobrega takes great joy in meeting people, especially kids. “They’re the same wherever you go,” he said, stepping from his vehicle. A crowd of children swarmed around him. “When they see a guy in uniform, they always rush over and try to talk to you, try to take your hand,” said Nobrega with a mischievous smile. “Who here can tell me where I’m from?” he asked. “Canada,” the children replied in unison. “How far is Canada from here?” he asked. “Far,” they shouted back. Last week, to the troops, Canada seemed very far away.