Bravery Under Fire

By Ron Fanfair, Toronto Police Service Published: 7:38 a.m. April 10, 2014
Updated: 1:41 p.m. June 12, 2014

The Chief recognized a Toronto police officer and U.S. military officer for facing down an insurgent attack while serving in Afghanistan.

Two men in TPS uniform on either side of a man in U.S. military uniform holding a framed certificate
Chief Bill Blair, Major Lonni Johnston and Sergeant Jeff Alderdice in the Chief's Office

Rarely has Bill Blair presented honourary Toronto Police badges during his nine-year tenure. It’s even more uncommon for a non-Canadian to be given the special honour.

On April 4, United States Army Special Forces Major Lonni Johnston became just the second, after United States Marshals Service director Staci Hylton, afforded the unique tribute.

Sergeant Jeff Alderdice, assigned to 22 Division, recommended Johnston for the honour.

Alderdice worked closely with Johnston while he was deployed in Afghanistan, three years ago, as part of the RCMP International Police Peace Operations program that ended last month.

On February 12, 2011, Taliban fighters attacked the police provincial headquarters in Kandahar where Johnston was stationed. The insurgents opened fire from a wedding hall across the street, then manoeuvred suicide bombers to attack the station using vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices.

“Sporadic gunfire could be heard in the downtown core of Kandahar City and an emergency message was relayed that the Afghan National Police provincial headquarters was under attack by an unknown-sized enemy force,” Alderdice recalled. “As we arrived on the scene, we came under fire from about 30 to 40 insurgents whose mission was to kill the police chief because he had made significant inroads with the local population.”

Johnston required help, desperately, when the attack started.

“I needed someone to support me as I was on foot by myself after our vehicles were repositioned at points to give the best field of fire,” he said. “I had no one to support me on the ground.”

I needed someone to support me as I was on foot by myself after our vehicles were repositioned at points to give the best field of fire... I had no one to support me on the ground.

Help came in the form of Alderdice, who left the armoured vehicle he was in to provide support to Johnston who was 30 feet away.

“When I issued a call for support, this person came flying out of a truck without hesitation,” said Johnston. “There are lots of restrictions as to what the police officers could do. Jeff, however, broke protocol, knowing that my safety was paramount. I probably may not be here with you today had it not been for his heroism.”

Despite being temporarily knocked unconscious by an improvised explosive device that detonated near him, Johnston regained control and – with Alderdice’s support – fended off the attack by returning fire. U.S military forces then arrived to back up the officers.

Both men assisted in helping those wounded during the attack.

Chief Blair is recommending that Alderdice receive the Medal of Honour — the Service’s highest honour – at the next Toronto Police Services Board meeting on April 10. The honour has been bestowed upon 38 officers, since the formation of the Toronto Police Service in 1957, for distinguished acts of bravery – posthumously in 13 cases.

The only active member to be granted the Medal of Honour is Detective Sergeant Mike Leone, along with his partner Constable Todd Baylis, who died in the line of duty June 17, 1994.

Alderdice, honoured last December for his valour with a Federal Medal of Bravery presented by Governor General David Johnston at Rideau Hall, and Johnston have become close friends.

“Jeff is now one of my inner circle of friends,” he pointed out. “I have introduced him to most of my high-school buddies and he fit in right away. When he and the other Canadian police officers joined us in Afghanistan, we were a bit reluctant to welcome them with open arms. We thought the Canadians were going to be a burden on us. But it never was. It didn’t take us long to figure out they were an asset to us and we very quickly became brothers.”

Chief Blair, in the presence of Deputy Chiefs Peter Sloly and Mark Saunders, praised Johnston for his bravery and direction in challenging circumstances.

“There are limits on what we as a police service can do,” said Blair. “But we wanted to do something to recognize your courage, service, sacrifice and the relationship you now have with Jeff. Leadership counts, and it makes a difference. Your leadership in those circumstances is something we admire dearly.”

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