Strong, wiry and energetic, Lieut. William Turner could inspire others — whether competing in a cycling race, running long distance or patrolling the rough desert of Afghanistan.
A letter carrier for Canada Post in his civilian life, Toronto-born Turner was in his mid-40s when he volunteered as a Civil-Military Co-operation officer in Afghanistan.
“He was super-fit, super enthusiastic about life in general; he was amped all the time,” said Chris Check, owner of the Edmonton cycling shop where he came to know Turner as a friend and competitive racer. He was attached to the Land Force Western Area Headquarters and was based in Edmonton.
Before Turner left for Afghanistan in March, Check asked him what he would be doing with the Canadian forces. Turner told him he’d be working with village elders — it was the job formerly held by Capt. Trevor Greene, another reservist, who was gravely injured when a young villager swung an axe into his head during a community meeting. Greene had removed his helmet and put down his rifle to show respect and that the Canadians’ intentions were peaceful.
“He had an immense amount of pride,” said Check. “He was excited to make an absolutely direct difference in their lives. He wanted to be there as an ambassador.”
He recalled that Turner had taken time to write a letter to Check and his colleagues at Pedalhead Road Works. He sometimes raced on the Pedalhead team. “He said that it was hot and dusty, that the food was great and that he’d be seeing us soon.”
Turner had a self-deprecating sense of humour, joking about his age compared with the younger regular force soldiers he worked with.
“I’m one of the old guys,” he told The Canadian Press about a month ago.
“I’m easily the weakest link in this group,” he added. “I’m very well protected, very well looked after.”
However, with his steady regime of athletic training — he was also a competitive long distance runner for many years — Turner was often more of an inspiration than a liability to the younger soldiers. A hard march up a hill seemed effortless to him, while younger soldiers strained as they made their way behind.
“That guy is hardcore,” one young corporal reportedly said admiringly, after a patrol with Turner, who was thin, tanned and had a rugged jawline.
Check recalled the younger soldiers that Turner brought into his store spoke warmly of him. “They had great things to say about him.”
Just as he encouraged younger soldiers at home to take up the sports that he enjoyed — he’d often bring them to the cycling store — he also offered advice on how to prepare for the demanding foot patrols in Afghanistan. Footwear is as important to soldiers as it is to runners and Turner had lots to say about making the right choices.
Check said Turner’s sister also lived in Edmonton and volunteered when Turner competed in cycling races. Turner was not married.
He seemed to embrace the rigours of military service in Afghanistan. “This? This is nothing,” he told CP, pointing to the mountains, a few kilometres from the road where he was killed. “This is like a walk in the park.”
As a field officer working on army reconstruction projects, and one who had taken over Greene’s duties, Turner was clearly aware of the dangers in Afghanistan. “Hopefully, little by little, we’ll start meeting the needs of these people. But right now, security takes precedence.”
Yesterday, Brig-Gen. David Fraser, the Canadian commander of the multinational brigade in Kandahar, said that Turner made a strong first impression.
“I can’t say enough about that guy. He was doing a superb job in making a difference in the lives of people in the Gombad region and the Shah Wali Kot region. I didn’t know him before yesterday but I walked away with a tremendous respect for the man, for what he was doing.”
In Edmonton, Check ended the conversation abruptly. “This guy…excuse me, it’s tough, you know someone like that — and then he’s gone.”