OTTAWA—Cpl. Anthony Boneca knew the dangers of his mission in Afghanistan and was well-prepared to face them. Or he was ill-informed about his role and ill-equipped to carry it out.

These are the competing stories coming from the family of the 21-year-old reservist and the family of his girlfriend, in the wake of his death Sunday near Kandahar.

"My son volunteered to go to Afghanistan," father Antonio Boneca said in a statement released by the military yesterday. "Anthony knew what he was getting into.

"In all my conversations with my son, there was never any mention of him not being well enough or fit enough to carry out his military duties."

His girlfriend's father, Larry DeCorte, said Sunday that Boneca, serving his second tour in Afghanistan, was deeply unhappy about the conditions, including one long patrol without adequate food or water.

"He hated it over there. He was misled as to what was going to be there when he got there, and what he would be doing," DeCorte told the Star.

Antonio Boneca painted his son's military service in a different light, saying the Thunder Bay native "loved" being in the army. "He was well aware of the dangers around him and was committed to the test he had taken on," the statement read.

"He said it was difficult to cope with the weather, the sand, and the situation the young children endured. He was proud to make a difference in their lives and said he wished these children could live like we do in Canada.

"Certainly, Anthony wanted to come home, but I ask, what soldier wouldn't in that situation?"

Maj. Tod Strickland, a top commander in the Kandahar field, said in an interview from Afghanistan yesterday that even if Boneca had expressed some misgivings about the mission, "what is really remarkable is that ... he went forward and did his job."

"That to me speaks volumes about the kind of man he was," said Strickland, the deputy commander of task force Orion, the infantry battle group.

Strickland was gracious in his praise of Boneca as a "fine" reservist who was able to make the cut and be accepted by a front-line rifle company that was fighting the enemy.

"That he was good enough to make the `A-team' ... speaks very highly of his qualities as a soldier," Strickland said.

He said the life of an infantry soldier is, at times, one of "deprivation and hardship.

"We all know when we sign on, even if it's a slightly romantic view, that there's going to be periods when you're hungry, when you're tired, thirsty, wet, cold — in this case very hot — and you're going to have a difficult job to perform with someone trying to kill you," he said.

"We, as leaders, try to minimize ... the sufferings of our soldiers."

Boneca's body is expected to arrive at CFB Trenton today at 7 p.m. to a solemn ceremony attended by his grieving family, along with dignitaries such as Governor General Michaëlle Jean; Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor; Gen. Rick Hillier, the chief of defence staff; and Maj.-Gen. Marc Lessard, assistant chief of land staff.

His family decided yesterday to allow all media access to the ceremony and to allow photographs to be taken.

Strickland defended the Afghan operation against complaints levelled by Boneca in phone calls and emails to family and friends that patrols ran low on food and water. In one case, a one-week patrol stretched to three weeks with just seven days of food, according to DeCorte.

Having patrols run longer than expected is common, but it's rare those missions would go too long without getting new supplies of food, water and ammunition, Strickland said.

"Going from one week's worth of rations and trying to live on it for three weeks, I think I would have heard about that," he said.

"That's not to say it didn't happen. It may well have. But that would be the exception, not the rule," he said.

Boneca also complained about being kept on patrol in the mountains for a week after breaking his ankle.

Strickland said he didn't know details of that incident, but said the military has evacuated troops from the front line for "far less, whether it be dehydration, back injuries, any number of wounds. We get the guys out as quickly as we can.

"Someone who can't march really isn't any good. He's a liability."

Strickland wondered if Boneca covered up his injury out of sense of duty to fellow soldiers.

Strickland conceded that the Kandahar mission, with its dangers of roadside bombs and ambushes, is something few troops, reservist or full-time, can fully prepare for.

"I'd be lying to you if I told you Afghanistan met my expectations," said Strickland, who has done three overseas tours.

"It's an extreme challenge and it continues to evolve. Every day you see something different or something you wouldn't have expected," said Strickland.

He was just back in Kandahar after being on the front line where in recent days Canadians have faced some of their fiercest fighting in their six-month tour.

"I can think of little I have seen in my service as challenging as the past couple of days have been," he said, describing scorching temperature nearing 50C, the ever-present dust and the dangerous insurgents.

"They are an extremely tenacious enemy," he said.