Funeral Held for Medic Killed in Afghanistan

Thousands turned out Friday to say farewell to a paramedic and reservist killed in Afghanistan with a service that mirrored his life -- quiet and dignified.

His wife, Nicole Starker, and sister Carolyn Straub had joked with reporters earlier in the week that Cpl. Michael Starker would be embarrassed by all of the attention his death had generated.

"I think he would be laughing his ass off right now saying, `I don't know why you guys are making such a big deal of this,' '' chuckled Straub.

"He'd be uncomfortable,'' Nicole Starker agreed. "But on the other hand, had this been one of his buddies instead of him he would have said they absolutely deserve it, every bit of attention they're getting.''

Hundreds of uniformed friends and colleagues from EMS, the Canadian Forces and police departments across Alberta turned out at the Calgary Roundup Centre to make sure Starker received the attention he deserved.

There were no eulogies in the 90-minute Catholic service, as the family decided to read the eulogies at a private service Thursday evening.

Pictures of Starker, both as a member of the Canadian Forces and as a paramedic, were placed in the hallway leading into the salon, which had a seating capacity of 3,000.

The entire event was simple -- there was no table of favourite photos or trophies. A screen at the front by the altar flipped through front page stories on his death from local newspapers.

Starker, 36, was a reservist medic with Edmonton's 15th Field Ambulance unit and a former member of the Canadian Airborne Regiment.

He was killed May 6 during an ambush west of Kandahar City in Afghanistan, becoming the 83rd soldier and 84th Canadian killed there since 2002.

Members of the 15th Field Ambulance acted as pallbearers, their heads held high and eyes straight ahead, carrying his coffin draped with the Canadian flag into the service. An insignia bearer carried Starker's headgear.

"Michael was a good guy,'' said Father Robert Rocheleau, Nicole Starker's cousin, who delivered the homily. "He was a person of love. He would want us to recognize that the things that he did was because of his desire, because of the gifts that God had shared with him.

"We can only imagine how many people's lives Michael has touched. Reaching out for them, caring for him. Each day he shared the gift of life.''

Rocheleau said he was fortunate to attend the wedding of Michael and Nicole back in 1997. He remembered when Nicole first brought her home to meet the family in Windsor, Ont., on Boxing Day.

"He was shy, he was afraid, he was uncertain and rightly so because we weren't going to let him take our Nicole without making sure he was the right guy,'' Rocheleau said with a smile. "He spent the entire day with us experiencing a lot of teasing, a lot of jokes at his expense and the third degree and he took it all in quite well. The next time he came, Michael was glad there was a new boyfriend with another cousin on the scene.''

Rocheleau said Starker spent his life working to help others and acknowledged he was not one to look for the spotlight.

"He was always wanting to be a better person. Michael enjoyed his family, his friends, his work, his colleagues. He enjoyed the opportunity to share and make our world a better place. I don't think Michael would enjoy such celebrity.

"We must also remember all of Michael's colleagues in Afghanistan today who grieve with us. We offer them our support as they continue to do the work that has been entrusted to them.''

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