Friends called him Manny. Family called him Smiles.
But last February, when the military called Myles Mansell to serve in Afghanistan, he exalted in the best title of all: Bombardier.
The man of many nicknames dreamt of becoming a soldier for much of his life, working his way up through the cadet ranks to become a reservist with British Columbia’s 5th Field Artillery Regiment after graduating from high school in 1998.
“He was very happy in it,” his aunt Kate Mansell recalled from her Victoria home yesterday. The young soldier, she added, always returned from his adventures, mostly training exercises, with a story to tell.
“He was always excited when he was talking about it.”
Mansell, a 25-year-old Victoria native, was among four Canadian soldiers killed yesterday when their armoured vehicle struck a roadside bomb in southern Afghanistan. The improvised explosive device also claimed the lives of Cpl. Matthew Dinning of Richmond Hill, Lieut. William Turner of Toronto and Cpl. Randy Payne of Wainwright, Alta.
Another aunt, Dolly Mansell, could only describe her nephew as “Just the nicest …” before sobbing, “I really can’t talk to you right now.”
Mansell had worked as a carpenter in the past, and was engaged to be married when he got back from his nine-month tour of Afghanistan in November.
His brother Michael Mansell released a brief statement yesterday saying, “As his brother, I am very proud of what he and fellow Canadian soldiers are doing. Myles was doing exactly what he believed in: trying to make a better world for everyone.”
Kate Mansell held back sobs as she recalled her nephew’s dreams of becoming a soldier.
“I called him Smiles because he always had a smile on his face,” she said.
Mansell worked at his father’s environmental services company for a time, but would seize every opportunity as a reservist to go on military exercises.
“For as long as I can remember, it was something that he always wanted to do,” Kate Mansell said.
In 2003, he was among several soldiers who volunteered to battle sprawling forest fires that devoured B.C.’s interior.
When the opportunity to serve in Afghanistan came, Mansell didn’t hesitate.
“He was doing what he wanted to do,” Kate Mansell said.
But Mansell still found a way to tell those stories, sharing them with family and friends through an unofficial website for his division, http://www.fivetribe.ca.
As webmaster for the site, Mansell’s voice rings throughout the discussion forums, sharing his memories from the first day he arrived, to — ominously — his training in improvised explosive devices and his hopes to go out on patrol soon.
But yesterday his voice was replaced by scores of tributes from the men and women who knew him.
“He was the life of the unit and a true friend indeed,” wrote one soldier from CFB Kingston. “Myles … from myself and my family, you were more than just a friend, you were part of the family.”
Another soldier wrote, “You’ve passed away too soon my friend, we were supposed to have some cold ones together at our mess while sharing war stories about this place and arguing about pointless stuff, and bitch about our tour. I will miss you.”
At the armoury in Victoria, where Mansell spent much of his time before going to Afghanistan, the mood was sombre.
Petty Officer Kevin Middleton spent much of the day fielding phone calls from members of units across the country and awaiting funeral details from the fallen soldier’s family.
“Everyone’s gone home and I volunteered to stay back waiting for any word from the family and that kind of thing,” Middleton said.
“Obviously, it’s very devastating here. This is the first death in this regiment in probably a very long time. Needless to say it’s a shock to everybody here.”
Although Middleton never knew him personally — he was posted to the unit just two months before Mansell shipped out — he said, “It’s a really tight regiment. It’s like a big family here and people watch out for each other.”
Capt. Dan Thomas, a public affairs officer for the 39 Canadian Brigade Group in Vancouver, said the flag over Mansell’s armoury was flying at half-mast yesterday.