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    Categories: National News

Garrison soldier dies in Edmonton

An Edmonton soldier made it back from Afghanistan last week only to die from his wounds.

Cpl. Darren James Fitzpatrick of the 3rd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (3 PPCLI), died Saturday afternoon at the University of Alberta Hospital surrounded by his parents and brothers. He was 21.

An improvised explosive device wounded Fitzpatrick on March 6 during a foot patrol about 25 kilometres west of Afghanistan’s Kandahar City. Treated at the Kandahar Airfield and moved to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Centre in Germany, he was transferred to the University of Alberta hospital in Edmonton Friday, where he died.

Fitzpatrick was never one to quit, said his friend, Cpl. Cole Prier. “Even overseas, he never gave up,” he said, speaking at a press conference at Edmonton Garrison Tuesday. “He got back to see his family. That’s what we’ll always remember him for — as a very courageous and strong soldier.”

His first tour

Born in Prince George, B.C., Fitzpatrick joined the army in 2006. He was dispatched to Afghanistan on his first operational tour last October.

Fitzpatrick would have served as an infantryman with the Operational Mentor and Liaison Team, said Lt.-Col. Peter Dawe, commander of 3 PPCLI, working closely with members of the Afghan army. He was likely on a “presence” patrol at the time of his injury — an on-foot operation where soldiers meet face-to-face with locals.

Called “Fritz” by his friends, Fitzpatrick was a former high-school football centre and a consummate team player, Dawe said. “In short, he was the prototypical infantry soldier.” His friends described him as a frank, go-to guy who appreciated a good laugh.

Fitzpatrick was an uplifting person who never gave up, Prier said. Fitzpatrick once passed out during a march, he said as an example, and instead of dropping out, got back on his feet to keep marching as soon as he got some water. “He never quit for anything.”

Cpl. Bryan Sorensen said he met Fitzpatrick during basic training. They became fast friends when they realized they were both from B.C. and shared a love for snowmobiles, ATVs and loud music. “We always stuck together in hard times,” he said, and hung out on free weekends. “He’s a friend I’m never going to get back. I don’t think anyone’s going to replace him.”

In a statement, the family said they and their friends would miss Fitzpatrick terribly. “Despite our grief, we are immensely proud of Darren as such an incredible young man.”

Fitzpatrick is the 141st soldier to die since the beginning of Canada’s mission in Afghanistan.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered the family his condolences in a statement released Monday and hailed Fitzpatrick as “a Canadian hero” who would not be forgotten.

“This incident is a stark reminder that the mission in Afghanistan is a difficult one,” Harper said, “but the Canadian Forces are making a difference and are improving the lives of the Afghan people.”

Fitzpatrick’s funeral will be at 3 p.m. on March 27 at St. Joseph’s Basilica in Edmonton. Dawe encouraged the public to attend. “Nothing will bring Darren back,” he said, “but a display of solidarity would certainly help a family who need to be reminded that their country appreciates those young Canadians who choose to lay their lives on the line in the pursuit of a better and more just world.”

Kevin Ma: Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.