PM declares May 9 as day of honour as Canadian soldiers return home
Sonja Puzic, CTVNews.ca
Published Tuesday, March 18, 2014 9:26AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, March 19, 2014 11:23AM EDT
With outstretched arms and big smiles, the last 94 Canadian soldiers who served in Afghanistan returned home to their loved ones Tuesday.
Inside an Ottawa hangar, dozens of emotional reunions unfolded as soldiers hugged and kissed their spouses, children and family members.
“It’s fantastic … it’s great to be back,” Maj. Gen. Dean Milner told CTV’s Mercedes Stephenson. “The troops are looking forward to seeing their families.”
Amid the tears and laughter, Prime Minister Stephen Harper declared a National Day of Honour on May 9, when the Canadian Forces’ service and sacrifice in Afghanistan will be commemorated.
“Welcome home and job well done,” Harper told the troops at a welcoming ceremony after they stepped off a C-17 transport plane, escorted by fighter jets.
“You have brought to a close the longest active military engagement in military history,” Harper said.
Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Tom Lawson said Afghanistan was “a tough teacher, and it taught us a lot.”
He said the mission has prepared the Canadian Forces for “future challenges” and vowed to “continue taking good care” of those who were injured in Afghanistan.
Since the Canadian military mission in Afghanistan began 12 years ago, 158 soldiers have lost their lives. One diplomat, one journalist and two civilian contractors were also killed.
The last group of returning soldiers was part of a training mission to beef up security forces in the war-ravaged country.
Although “more work needs to be done,” Milner said Tuesday that a “very confident and capable Afghan force” is now in charge.
“I feel quite confident that they’re now moving in the right direction, progress-wise,” he said.
From 2001 to 2013, Canada spent $1.65 billion on reconstruction and development in Afghanistan. The government has said that it will continue to stay “engaged” in the country’s progress.
NATO’s combat forces are also scheduled to leave Afghanistan at the end of the year, but member nations have promised $4.1 billion a year in funding for the country’s security forces.