KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Josh Klukie wore the single chevron of a private in Canada’s infantry, but he inspired reverent tones Sunday from the captains and corporals who led him.

Klukie, 23, died Friday, Sept. 29, when he stepped on a powerful explosive booby trap — an anti-tank mine packed with other explosives and a hair-trigger. Klukie was destined for military greatness, his platoon mates testified Sunday, minutes after sending his remains on the voyage back to Canada.

“It’s easy to be good at this job but it’s extremely rare that guys are great at it,” said Cpl. Mike Blois of Exeter, Ont. “He was that rare guy who is very great at this job.” Klukie’s unit of the First Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment, was on patrol Friday in the Panjwaii area where Canadians won a fierce battle against Taliban insurgents earlier this month. The patrol by Alpha section, Four platoon, moved onto a dusty road. Several soldiers passed over the hidden trap before Klukie set it off. Insurgents tampered with the mine so even a light footstep would trigger it instead of the weight of an armoured vehicle. Klukie was thrown several metres, with pieces of his equipment flying in all directions.

Blois found his friend with the help of an American medic. Klukie was alive but clearly in shock. “He was breathing, his eyes were moving, he recognized me as soon as I got there,” Blois said. “He looked right at me but he couldn’t talk.” Blois and the medic applied tourniquets to Klukie’s bleeding limbs. “I was looking at him, trying to encourage him, but there wasn’t anything I could do,” Blois said. After a few minutes, Klukie stopped breathing and his heart stopped. Blois tried to resuscitate him. “I started getting on his heart. I think I broke every rib in his body,” Blois said. “He didn’t suffer, he didn’t feel anything, he wasn’t crying in pain. He was just there, and in shock.”

Klukie was among the fittest soldiers in his platoon and a sensitive soul, who was usually the first to recognize when someone was troubled. “He was a paramedic before he joined the army,” said Pte. Wes Whitfield of Markham, Ont. ``I guess it was just in his nature to pick up on things like that.” Klukie studied Afghanistan and took careful notes on what he learned. He was as likely to pick up a history book as the men’s magazines popular with soldiers.

“I think 1RCR (the battalion) was just a stepping stone for him,” said Whitfield, who started his military career with Klukie three years ago and became his fire team partner on missions. “A lot of us feel he had a lot of potential to go to (special forces) in the future.” One commander said Klukie was destined to do great things. “He was the one-in-a-hundred who had a very good future and wanted to do it for life,” said Capt. Piers Pappin, the head of Klukie’s Four Platoon. Pappin said Klukie had doubts about his military career going into the Afghanistan mission. Klukie wasn’t sure how he would handle deaths and injuries to his friends.

September’s Operation Medusa, where Canadians scored a conclusive victory over the Taliban, changed that. Four soldiers were killed and more than 40 injured, but Klukie decided he could handle the suffering around him. “A week ago, he came to me and started the paperwork for re-enlistment and he told me this is what he wanted to do for the rest of his life,” Pappin said. “It was good for me to hear, because he was one of those soldiers who was going places, for sure.”

Pappin said most of his platoon will likely make a pilgrimage to Thunder Bay, Ont., to visit Klukie’s family and grave when their tour of duty ends. Klukie is the 37th Canadian soldier to die in Afghanistan since 2002.