HERO RETURNS HOME

CPL C.J. Wilneff is welcomed home by his mother Pauline Wilnefff

SYDNEY — Looking out through the window, Pauline Wilneff suddenly clasps her hands over her mouth and begins to cry.

Topics :

J.A. Douglas McCurdy Sydney Airport , Tim Hortons , Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team , Afghanistan , Sydney , Glace Bay

Outside, a small passenger airplane carrying her oldest son lands with a thump.

A few minutes later, stepping onto the tarmac dressed in military fatigues is Cpl. C.J. Wilneff, back from a nearly seven-month tour of duty in Afghanistan — his first mission to the country and possibly his last.

Family members and friends greeted the 21-year-old as he landed at J.A. Douglas McCurdy Sydney Airport on Sunday. Soon after, the soldier walked forward and tightly hugged each person, including dad Gary and brother Greg. One young man handed him a large Tim Hortons coffee.

“I’m just overwhelmed that it’s finally over,” says Pauline, sobbing. “It’s extremely hard. I’m glad it’s over.

“Although, they’re talking about sending, you know, 1,000 more troops over there. I know, he told me on the phone that if he had a month’s rest he would go back. It’s not something a mother likes to hear.”

A member of the 2nd Battalion, Nova Scotia Highlanders based in Sydney, C.J. joined the militia at age 16. After training to serve in Afghanistan, he was enlisted as a member of the Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team, and halfway through his tour was asked to join the 1 Royal Canadian Regiment to provide security through counter-insurgency operations with the Afghan National Security Forces.

“I am glad to be home with my family but at the same token if they asked me to go back tomorrow, I definitely would,” said the Glace Bay man. “I feel that if somebody has to do it, it might as well be me.”

Hands folded, a fresh tattoo of a red poppy near his thumb shows the young man’s commitment to the forces, and serves as a remembrance of friends who died along the way.

One of those friends is fellow Glace Bay native Sgt. Jimmy MacNeil, who was killed by an improvised explosive device in June. MacNeil is one of 153 soldiers who died while serving in the Afghan mission.

C.J. was home on an 18-day leave around the time MacNeil was killed, enabling him to attend a makeshift Highway of Heroes ceremony in Sydney for the 28-year-old.

At the time, he felt fortunate to be home, but says it made going back harder. On his return to Afghanistan he was sent to work in the Panjwa’i District where MacNeil was killed.

He said supportive words sent to him from the people in his home community kept him on track during the hard times.

“The support I got from not only family, but people in the community, was over the top. I couldn’t believe it and just having them giving me messages and sending me mail was just amazing. It keeps everybody over there going.”

Canada is now expected withdraw its troops from southern Afghanistan by July.

“It’s a different place,” said C.J. “It makes you realize a lot of things. It makes you realize as a Canadian how actually good you do have it, as opposed to other countries. To see what their kids and their daughters have to go through is a scary sight for sure.”

(epottie@cbpost.com)

(What a pleasure to welcome home from hell one of our own true heroes – CAPER)

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