On his first day as the head of the Canadian military, Gen. Walter Natynczyk says he expects Canada will be out of Kandahar in 2011 as scheduled.

"2011 is when our mission is up," he told CTV Newsnet Wednesday.

Despite a bloody month, and a dour U.S. military report on the state of the Afghanistan mission, Natynczyk took special care to praise Afghan's national army.

He described the Afghan military leadership as "mature" and said he hoped to see "exponential improvement" for the country's army in the future.

The Afghan army and civilian police have significantly improved since this time last year, he added.

The comments came shortly after the ceremony where Natynczyk formally took over the job as Canada's chief of defence staff from the retiring Gen. Rick Hillier.

Natynczyk will have a tough job ahead of him, taking over for the extremely popular "soldier's soldier."

Whereas as Hiller was known for being an outspoken leader, a straight-talking Newfoundlander who would refer to Taliban fighters as "scumbags" -- Natynczyk is considered less of an exciting speaker but rather a strategic thinker.

Natynczyk downplayed the differences between himself and his predecessor.

He pointed towards the shared experiences that he had with Hillier and said "our skill sets are very much the same."

He joked that main difference between himself and Hillier was mostly in their hockey team affiliations.

Hillier on Natynczyk

Hillier said Natynczyk, of Winnipeg, Man., is the perfect candidate to replace him as chief of defence.

"Walt is probably the best officer with whom I ever had the opportunity to work with," he told Canada AM.

"He's got incredible values, great experience, command time, international time, domestic time. My advice to Walter has been be yourself. You've got those great characteristics that led you to getting the appointment here today."

Natynczyk, who has been promoted from his role as vice-chief of defence staff, has been referred to as a "gentleman's soldier" by Defence Minister Peter MacKay.

He has acknowledged that Hillier will be a tough act to follow, but said he expects to put his own stamp on the military.

The passing of the torch

In true form, Hillier spent much of his farewell speech Wednesday singing the praises of Canada's men and women in uniform, calling on those in attendance to honour the troops, rather than himself.

The change of command took place in Ottawa at a ceremony attended by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, MacKay and Gov.-Gen. Michaelle Jean.

Hillier honoured the troops still fighting, the wounded and the dead and their families, calling on those in attendance to applaud them for their sacrifice.

"Thank you and God bless you in the days to come. You will always have the support of a guy named Rick Hillier in any way that I can possibly show it."

He went on to say Canada's appreciation for the military has grown in recent days.

"There has been a renaissance across this great land," Hillier said.

"Canadians from coast to coast to coast have been reminded and become aware it is their sons and daughters standing in front of us on parade today, their sons and daughters who are wounded, their sons and daughters who have been lost, their sons and daughters who continue to serve."

Hillier announced in April that he would be moving on after more than three years at the head of Canada's military.

The charismatic general will become the chancellor of Memorial University in St. John's, N.L. as of July 3.

Hillier said he leaves confident he has chosen the right time to hand over the reins -- leaving behind him an institution that Canadians take pride in and see as representative "of all that is good about our country."

Prime Minister Harper also spoke at the ceremony, thanking Hillier for his service and congratulating Natynczyk on his appointment.

"On behalf of the government and the people of Canada I thank you for your outstanding leadership and I congratulate you for your success in tranforming the force and leading it through its most difficult mission in half a century and restoring its pride of place in our public life," Harper said.

"General Natynczyk I thank you for accepting the challenge to lead our military and I know you will fulfill your duties with the consummate skill, dedication and professionalism you have displayed through your entire career."

Paying respect

Hillier began his final day as Canada's top soldier by paying respect to those who have given their lives serving their country.

Early Wednesday, before the change of command ceremony in Ottawa, Hillier visited Beechwood Cemetery in Ottawa, a stop he said was the final leg in a tour of respect he has taken over the past month, visiting key burial sites of Canada's fallen soldiers.

"I wanted to complete that journey, if you will, by going by the national military cemetery this morning and just visiting and paying my respects to those young men and one young woman who are buried there and who have served their country and paid the ultimate price for it," he told CTV's Canada AM before the ceremony.

"It was something I wanted to do on my last day as chief of defence staff."

Hillier said the most difficult part of leaving the military will be losing his status as a soldier.

"I've been a soldier all my life, really," Hillier said. "I joined the army as a boy, my wife and I were married quite young, we grew up in the army, and so leaving as a soldier, my goodness, this is an earth-shaking moment for us."

During his time in the post, Hillier oversaw Canada's role in Afghanistan and was seen as having a major role in securing new money and new equipment for the military.