Maureen Eykelenboom is filled with sadness watching the Taliban capture parts of Afghanistan, but Canada’s presence there and her son’s death “was not for nothing,” she said.
Cpl. Andrew (Boomer) Eykelenboom, 23, died Aug. 11, 2006 when a suicide bomber crashed into his vehicle in Spin Boldak on the border with Pakistan, just three days before his tour was due to end.
A medic from Comox, Eykelenboom had saved many lives during his six-month tour, said Col. Jammie Hammond (retired). Eykelenboom had completed the last of his duties “outside the wire” and was supposed to be packing for Cyprus on the way back to Vancouver Island when a call came in for a medic to join a patrol. He volunteered.
On Saturday, the Associated Press reported that amid the U.S. pullout, the Taliban had captured Mazar-e-Sharif, the country’s fourth largest city giving them control of northern Afghanistan.
“I think my general reaction is sadness that peoples of this world, we still have to feel that we have to overtake it, overpower others — there’s huge sadness on that end, but it was with not for nothing,” said Eykelenboom, from her home in Courtenay.
“Nothing is when you do nothing, when you see a problem and you do nothing to try and resolve it. That is a shame and a waste. Trying to help is not a waste.”
Eykelenboom said her son would have been the first one to speak these words today in reaction to what is happening in Afghanistan.
Eykelenboom said there’s no denying disappointment that as a result of Canada’s role in Afghanistan — about 40,000 Canadian troops served in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2014 — the world didn’t get the “rosey coloured” outcome that was hoped for.
Three soldiers from Vancouver Island never came home: Eykelenboom; Bombardier Myles Mansell, 25, a former Belmont High School student, reservist, firefighter and carpenter, struck by an improvised explosive device on April 22, 2006; and Lt. Andrew Nuttall, a 30-year-old commander from Saanich, who volunteered at the University of Victoria radio station and taught CrossFit, who was killed on Dec. 23, 2009, while on a joint foot patrol with Afghan National Army troops.
Nuttal received a rare, posthumous award of the Meritorious Service Medal for his work.
As a result of Canadian troops’ service and given the sacrifice of those who died there: “We wanted all those kids [in Afghanistan] to be able to play again in the field, we wanted a woman to be able to be educated, we wanted everyone to have food on their tables, and that’s not happening,” said Eykelenboom.
Still, there has to be some residual effect from the help Canadians gave, if not in political outcomes at least at the ground level with acts of kindness.
Niaz Hussaini, the son of an Afghan police colonel, lost his lower legs to a rocket-propelled grenade fired into his G Wagon in May 2006 while working as an interpreter for Canadian troops in Afghanistan. Eykelenboom, as a medic, saved his life.
The Courtenay mother, who is trying to help Hussaini and his family move from the United States to Canada, talked to him Saturday. She said his heart too is heavy over what is happening in Afghanistan but he is grateful that his 16-year-old daughter, now in the U.S., will not face the challenges of young girls in Afghanistan.
Eykelenboom concedes not having “won the war” makes her son’s death cut a little deeper “but losing a child is losing a child, I don’t care if that child 23 years old, he’s still your child, he was my baby.”
“He was due to be home. He wasn’t supposed to go out again. For him to be killed was just beyond … he was packing to come home. How can that happen? Because Andrew was Andrew and Andrew would say, 'Oh you’re short, I’ll go.' And that’s exactly what he did.”
For many years, Eykelenboom told herself that Aug. 11 was just another day — that every day a child is gone is painful — but she’s come around to saying the anniversary is harder.
“I’d say it doesn’t matter if it’s now 14 years, nine months and six days, or 15 years, what’s the difference? Gone is gone” said Eykelenboom. ”But I had to admit there is a difference, you relive the whole thing again on the actual day of the anniversary.”
Eykelenboom said today she wishes for peace, for people to respect one another and not judge one another based on what country they are from or their faith. Her husband has Parkinson’s and they’ve downsized from the home that Andrew helped build.
Eykelenboom said she finds her own peace in smaller things now, tending to her flowers for much of the day in her small garden.
“I will sit and watch the bees and listen to them buzz and just be thankful for that sound.”