The news came out of the blue for the wife of Sgt. Craig Paul Gillam, and left her crippled with disbelief and grief. It simply made no sense. Early Tuesday morning, Maureen Gillam received a call from her husband Paul. He called her from Afghanistan, where his unit, the Royal Canadian Dragoons, was on a mission, patrolling near Kandahar. They had much to discuss since Gillam, 40, was scheduled to come home on leave Nov. 3. His tour in Afghanistan was to end in March. Everyone was excited about his impending return, especially his teenage son and daughter. But that joyful homecoming was not to be. Only a few hours after speaking to her husband, Maureen heard the news every military spouse dreads Gillam had been killed, along with Cpl. Robert Thomas James Mitchell, during an attack by a handful of insurgents armed with rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles. Five other Canadian soldiers were wounded. The two men were the first members of the Royal Canadian Dragoons killed while serving in Afghanistan.

Gillam, born in South Branch, Nfld., began his 20-year-military career at CFB Petawawa, Ont., and then spent 17 years at CFB Gagetown, N.B. He and his family returned to Petawawa last year. This was Gillam's first deployment to Afghanistan. He was "very realistic, very approachable, very professional and a tremendous leader," Maj. James Follwell, Regimental Second in Command of the Royal Canadian Dragoons, told a CFB Petawawa news conference. Gillam loved martial arts and was an unarmed combat instructor. He was also active in the community, playing hockey as well as coaching minor hockey, military officials said. "He was a wonderful husband, a loving father," Cindy Septon, his sister, told the Toronto Star. Maureen and Paul had been high school sweethearts.

Septon flew in from Fredericton on Tuesday night to be with her sister-in-law and niece and nephew. Gillam's parents, Graham and Agnes, were scheduled to fly in from Newfoundland yesterday. "His family was what mattered most in his life," Septon said in a telephone interview. "His biggest and proudest accomplishments are his two children. "He was a dedicated son, a prankster. ... He had a generous spirit. He was always willing to give a hand when anyone needed it even if it was the shirt off his back." Mitchell's parents, Carol and Bob, chartered a plane from their home in Owen Sound to join Mitchell's wife, Leanne, and the couple's three children aged 5, 3 and 2 in Petawawa. Leanne is studying to become a police officer. The family had moved into a new home not far from the base only days before Mitchell went overseas.

Mitchell, who had been in Afghanistan since early August, was a graduate of Niagara College. The 32-year-old spent part of his youth in Owen Sound, where he attended high school. He joined the military in 2001 and his first posting was with the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry in Edmonton. This was also his first deployment to Afghanistan and his first foreign assignment. According to military officials, Mitchell was extremely athletic, competing in two high-endurance contests in the military the iron man competition, which is run out of CFB Petawawa, and the mountain man competition held at CFB Edmonton. Mitchell was "extremely keen and well respected and he liked what he did in the military," said Follwell. "(Mitchell) was dedicated to his family and dedicated to his military career," said his father-in-law, Gary Hass of Fort Erie. Mitchell, Gillam and other Canadians were providing security for road construction about 20 kilometres west of Kandahar when they were attacked.