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Miscellaneous: 9 Feb 2008
As his proud soldier-father looked on, a Canadian private received a prestigious medal on behalf of all NATO soldiers at the 44th Munich Conference on Security Policy in Germany Saturday.
Canadian soldier accepts peace medal for NATO at Munich security conference
Pte. Michael O'Rourke accepted the Peace Through Dialogue Medal which has been awarded by the conference each year since 2005 to honour outstanding contributions to international peace and security.
In receiving the medal O'Rourke joins the EU's foreign policy chief Javier Solana, U.S. Senator John McCain, who's vying for the Republican presidential nomination, and former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan.
The 23-year-old private, who is from The First Battalion of The Royal Canadian Regiment at CFB Petawawa, Ont., added "I'm very proud and honoured."
"It means everything almost. It's a once in a lifetime chance to represent not only my country alone but the other countries that belong to NATO," O'Rourke told The Canadian Press in an interview from Munich Saturday.
O'Rourke said NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told him he was "very proud and honoured" to give him the medal as he handed him the medal and put a stick-pin on his uniform.
"He stands for all the NATO soldiers dedicated to peace, stability and reconstruction - not only in Afghanistan but in many other areas of the world," de Hoop Scheffer told the delegates at the weekend conference, which is attended by 250 politicians, chiefs of defence staff, defence officials and defence experts who are discussing transatlantic security and defence issues.
"Today he is representing all the men and women in uniform to whom we in NATO owe a tremendous debt of gratitude," said de Hoop Scheffer.
The silver-coloured medal is a symbol meant to represent the opportunity of creating peace through open dialogue. It shows a laurel wreath embracing the continents and two hands clasped in a handshake, symbolizing a civilian and military representative. The stick pin - a miniature version of the medal - contains a diamond stud.
Capt. Michael Mietzner said a citation will also be presented at NATO headquarters in Brussels.
It was the first time O'Rourke returned to Germany where he was born when his father was stationed there in the 1980s. His father, Kevin O'Rourke, who now is the base chief warrant officer for CFB Petawawa, escorted him to the conference.
"As a father, of course, I'm very proud... His involvement in Operation Medusa led to his awarding of the Medal of (Military) Valour which is one of the highest honours a soldier can receive. So as a soldier I'm also proud," said Kevin O'Rourke.
NATO requested that a Canadian soldier accept the medal on its behalf this year, its "Year of the NCO." The Canadian Forces chose O'Rourke, who previously received Canada's Medal of Military Valour in 2006 for braving enemy fire to assist in the treatment and evacuation of his fellow soldiers trapped in a disabled vehicle during Operation Medusa in Afghanistan.
"Twice crossing through sustained enemy fire, Pte. O'Rourke returned effective fire and successfully assisted in the evacuation of the injured or killed personnel," his citation said. "His brave and professional actions saved lives."
Father and son said they served back to back tours of duty in Afghanistan which had Michael's sister Katelyn and mother Kim on edge.
This is a big year for O'Rourke, who grew up in Petawawa. He is getting married in August to Krystal Simmons, 24, whom he said was "very proud" of the medal he received Saturday.
The presentation took place at a time when Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government has told allies it needs 1,000 more NATO soldiers, along with helicopters and unmanned surveillance aircraft dispatched to southern Afghanistan if Canada is to consider keeping its 2,500 troops in the combat mission beyond its February 2009 deadline.
The minority Conservative government introduced a confidence motion Friday that proposes extending Canada's "current responsibility for security in Kandahar" until the end of 2011.
The Liberals have said they oppose extending the combat mission, but would support troops remaining to help train Afghan forces and provide security for humanitarian projects.
A vote on the motion is to be held by the end of March. If the motion is defeated, it would spark an election.
Canadian troops have borne the brunt of heavy fighting against the Taliban in southern Afghanistan, with 78 Canadian soldiers and a diplomat dying since the mission began in 2002.
Defence Minister Peter MacKay made it clear during an informal meeting of NATO defence ministers in Lithuania on Thursday that Canada needs an answer soon on reinforcements.
Pat Hewitt, THE CANADIAN PRESS
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