Friday, September 21, 2007

Christian Wilson remembered by father

He was serving in his adopted country’s military, in a war he had long since grown weary of fighting.

But when Sgt. Lee Christian Wilson phoned home from Iraq on July 1, the 30-year-old U.S. army scout was in something of a celebratory mood.

“If you are there listening to this phone, pick the phone up so I can wish you guys happy Canada Day,” Wilson said in a message left on the answering machine at his parents’ home in Chapel Hill, N.C. “Love you guys and I’ll talk to you all later. Bye.”

It was one of the last times Wilson’s mother and father would hear their son’s voice.

Wilson, a Canadian citizen on his fourth tour of duty with U.S. forces in Iraq, was killed Sept. 6 in Mosul when an improvised explosive device detonated next to his Humvee. The blast also killed two other soldiers who were part of a 1st Cavalry Division convoy on a combat mission in the northern Iraqi city.

Wilson’s death has left his father, mother and sister — all Canadian expatriates — emotionally shattered and questioning why he was so often redeployed into combat.

“The last time we spoke, I won’t use the exact words, but (he said), ‘I’m getting the hell out of here,’” Wilson’s father, Lee Edward Wilson, said in an interview Thursday. “They just would not let him out.”

The younger Wilson, known to his family as Christian, was born in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ont., and grew up in Toronto, London, Ont. and Ottawa. He moved with his family to North Carolina in 1991, at the age of 13, when his mother accepted a nursing job in Chapel Hill.

Wilson’s father is a former Toronto police officer who had worked in Ottawa as a driver for Jean Chretien before he became prime minister.

The elder Wilson described his son as an avid outdoorsman who was “amazingly good with a rifle.” He enlisted in the U.S. army in January 2001 as a way to channel his personal interests into a military career.

“He liked to hunt, liked to fish, liked to cross-country ski. He liked to be outside,” his father said. “He liked shooting and his personality didn’t really suit much else ... We tried to dissuade him of the idea (of enlisting), but it didn’t work. So we gave him our blessing.”

Sent to Iraq for the U.S. invasion in March 2003, Wilson was deployed there again and again as Pentagon commanders struggled to balance the demand for combat troops against the reality of a depleted military.

The extremes of military life in Iraq became apparent to Wilson as soon as he arrived in the Middle East. The burly Canadian, who stood 6’ 5’’ tall and weighed 230 pounds, was handed a Kevlar body armour vest that did not even reach to his navel.

Wilson sometimes called home to ask his parents for help to get around severe supply shortages in Iraq.

“We sent him uniforms, boots, socks, undies, ammunition, warm-weather clothing, cold-weather clothing, Kevlar vests,” said Wilson’s father, still angry soldiers were sent to war so ill equipped.
“When they wore out, he phoned up and said, ‘Can you go to Fort Bragg and buy me some uniforms?’ We had to buy his damned uniform. When his boots wore out, we had to go down and put out 60 bucks a pair for boots.”

During his first six weeks in Iraq, Wilson and members of his platoon slept under, or on, his Humvee. He fought in some of the most difficult battles of the war and was rarely far from the front lines.

“He spent basically two years in the middle of Baghdad.”

In April 2004, Wilson’s unit was deployed from the Iraqi capital to Fallujah, where U.S. forces were staging a major campaign to capture the city from Sunni insurgents.

“Christian was a machine-gunner and, in a block-and-a-half, he went through 2,700 rounds of 50-calibre ammunition,” Lee Wilson said.

The young soldier was proud to serve in the army and initially supported the American mission in Iraq. But he increasingly questioned the war as it dragged on.

“He thought it was a waste of time,” his father said. “He didn’t think they were accomplishing terribly much. But he was just a foot soldier, so they didn’t listen.”

Wilson had hoped to be discharged prior to his most recent deployment in October 2006. But he was kept in the army because of the Pentagon’s controversial “stop-loss policy,” which requires soldiers to remain past their scheduled length of service. Critics have called the policy a back-door draft.

“This last time, Christian was quite apprehensive about going back,” his father said. Expecting to serve a final 12 months, Wilson arrived back in Iraq and “immediately after his boots hit the ground” was told his tour had been extended to 15 months.

As Wilson’s combat service dragged on, his parents grew increasingly worried about the psychological trauma he was experiencing at war.

“He was getting out next April or May, permanently. And our real concern was, what the hell is he going to be fit to do?”

Although Wilson had obtained paperwork to seek U.S. citizenship, his father said his son was “not really” that interested in becoming an American.

But when a U.S. general approached Wilson during a recreational football game in Iraq and asked if he wanted American citizenship, he answered, “Yes, sir.”

“The general said ‘We’ll make it happen for you, son,’” Wilson’s father said.

That promise, now, may be fulfilled posthumously.


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Christian Wilson remembered

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Christian (Lee C.) Wilson dies 'from wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle during combat operations'