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This article was published 25/4/2009 (4818 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
CFB TRENTON, Ont. - The body of a Canadian soldier found dead at Kandahar Airfield last week arrived home Sunday to the same adulation given to those who have died in combat.
An aircraft carrying the casket of Maj. Michelle Mendes touched down at this eastern Ontario military base at 2 p.m., with Canadian-flag waving military supporters watching outside.
Mendes was found dead in her accommodation room Thursday. The Canadian Forces are investigating the death, but have ruled out enemy action.
Mendes is the 118th Canadian soldier, and third Canadian female soldier, to die as part of the Afghan mission since it began in 2002.
As is usually the case whenever a fallen soldier returns home, hundreds of people lined a fence outside the base to pay their respects.
"It's still a soldier," said Mark Allen, who travelled from Prescott, Ont., to watch the repatriation ceremony with his daughter Dakota, 5, son Travis, 3, and his parents.
"She (was) still doing her job in Afghanistan for all of us."
Allen said the family made the trip on the advice of his daughter.
"Dakota said, 'This is someone's mommy, someone's wife, someone's daughter,"' he said.
Ray Hellam and his wife Debbie, made the trip from Port Hope, Ont., about an hour west of Trenton.
They said they normally pay their respects to fallen soldiers along a highway overpass near their home, but felt compelled to watch this repatriation ceremony in Trenton, because Mendes has roots in the area.
Mendes hailed from a small town near Colborne, Ont. In Kandahar she worked in the headquarters of the Canadian task force at the airfield, which serves as the principal base for most of the 2,700 Canadian soldiers serving in Afghanistan.
The fact that Mendes did not die in combat did not take away the pain of losing another soldier, the Hellams said.
"She was over there and we appreciate her position," Ray Hellam said. "We try and treat them with the same respect, if it's combat or not combat. She's still over there, away from her family."
"It doesn't matter how many times you go (to pay respects to a fallen soldier), a feeling passes under you," Debbie Hellam added.
"You never get it over it."
About 100 family members and military officials lined the tarmac to watch as the flag-draped casket was unloaded from the aircraft and placed in a waiting hearse.
Among the dignitaries who were on hand to witness the ceremony were Defence Minister Peter MacKay and the Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Walt Natynczyk.
Moments later, the brigade of vehicles left the air force base and received salutes from military supporters and members of the Canadian Army Veterans motorcycle club, who lined the streets.
The procession then proceeded up to Highway 401, the "Highway of Heroes," and toward Toronto, where Mendes' body will be subject to a post-mortem examination.