Calgary Herald journalist Michelle Lang died in a roadside blast in Afghanistan Wednesday that also claimed the life of four soldiers.
Calgary Herald journalist Michelle Lang never took the easy way out, whether it was holding government to account or travelling to a busy African AIDS clinic to chronicle the downside of recruiting foreign doctors.
Assigned to cover Canadian military efforts in Afghanistan for the Herald and Canwest News Service, the 34-year-old Vancouver native could have remained in the relatively safe confines of the base.
But Lang wasn’t wired that way. Days after arriving in early December, she couldn’t wait to get “out of the wire” — off the main military base — and on the ground with the troops.
This week, she ventured out with a provincial reconstruction team, soldiers and social workers working with ordinary Afghans to help repair the damage done by decades of war.
“Hopefully this will produce some interesting stories on the civilian-reconstruction side, as well as some military ones,” Lang wrote in an e-mail two days before her death.
Travelling Wednesday afternoon with a Canadian convoy, their vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb four kilometres south of Kandahar city, killing Lang and four soldiers: Sgt. George Miok, 28, Sgt. Kirk Taylor, Cpl. Zachery McCormack, 21, and Pte. Garrett William Chidley, 21.
Four other soldiers and a Canadian civilian were injured.
Lang’s death, the first of a Canadian journalist in Afghanistan, was felt at home and in newsrooms across the country.
“It’s a devastating day. I’m totally heartbroken. I feel for her family, her fiance, her friends and I feel for the newsroom,” said Herald editor-in-chief Lorne Motley.
“It creates this hole, not only for the Herald, obviously, but also for Canwest and any other news organization because we’re a pretty tight-knit group as journalists. We’re family and when we lose one of our own, that’s difficult for all of us to accept.”
Her death was also marked by the Prime Minister’s Offi ce as a tragedy that would resonate in many Canadian communities.
“While not regularly the subject of news, those journalists who risk their lives reporting alongside the men and women of the Canadian Forces in one of the most dangerous regions in the world should not be forgotten,” said PMO press secretary Dimitri Soudas, calling her “a brave reporter.”
Lang’s death is especially tragic considering 2009 was a standout year for her on various fronts. Earlier this year, she captured a National Newspaper Award as the top beat writer in the country. She distinguished herself for daily health coverage in Calgary and for investigating Alberta’s efforts to recruit South African doctors — travelling from Cape Town to Johannesburg to chronicle the story.
On the home front, Lang was recently engaged to Calgarian Michael Louie and slated to be wed in the summer.
“She had everything going for her this year,” said friend Colette Derworiz, a Herald reporter. “She excelled in journalism. She excelled in her personal life.”
Despite the heartache, however, the tragedy serves to remind Canadians of the important work being done by journalists in foreign locales. Robert Bragg, a journalism instructor at Mount Royal University, said journalists play an integral role in Afghanistan.
Without them, Canadians wouldn’t know what’s happening on military missions and in Afghan villages.
Lang made the decision last year to cover the work of Canadian soldiers, aid workers and diplomats in Afghanistan. Friends recall she recognized the dangers, but felt there were still important stories to be told from the country.
Canadian Forces have been stationed there since 2002, with 138 soldiers, one diplomat and one journalist perishing in the wartorn country.
“She just didn’t want to sit in the base either,” Derworiz said. “She wanted to go out and tell the real stories on what was going on.”
In a blog post from outside the wire, Lang wrote, “I traveled to a Canadian forward operating base in Panjwaii, a district southwest of Kandahar city. I was struck by the beauty of the area . . . Panjwaii is a volatile and dangerous district for the Canadian Forces.”
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