LaFlamme in Kandahar: New mood on base
Published Thursday, June 30, 2011 9:20PM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 5:13AM EDT
The withdrawal of Canadian troops from Afghanistan is underway now that the last combat mission has officially wrapped up in Kandahar Province.
Troops in the Forward Operating Bases have been called back to the relative safety of the main airfield base in preparation for departure. The influx means Canada Day celebrations tomorrow will see the largest contingent of Canadians on the base since the mission began -- they're in for quite a show.
A number of Canadian celebrities are in camp for a Grand Finale -- the last Canada Day celebration on the base. Mike Smith (Bubbles) from "Trailer Park Boys" is a superstar here -- the Canadian TV show is the most sought-after DVD on the base -- among American soldiers also.
Rick Mercer is getting mobbed by troops as well, anxious for a photograph and a laugh. Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Brian Burke picked up the tab for about a hundred soldiers early this morning and was surrounded by hockey fans at the Tim Horton's on the base.
There is no doubt, these celeb visits have a huge impact on the troops -- they're anxious to go home but wouldn't want to miss the show!
There is a great deal of anticipation on the base right now -- a feeling I've never experienced in any past trip to Kandahar. Soldiers talk of little else but their departure dates, most within the next 3 weeks. Still, when you probe just a little, they almost universally feel they are leaving unfinished business behind. This war is not over.
Last night, I got into a packed C-17 transport plane that was taking 173 Van Doos back home. Instead of plane full of boisterous men and women celebrating their return to Canada, the soldiers were contemplative and quiet. Some admit to conflicted emotions – they'll miss that rare bond built on the battlefield but others are just plain giddy at the prospect of getting home.
I asked one soldier what the first thing he planned to do when he returned to Canada:
"Get drunk and make babies." That got the plane load laughing.
UPDATE: Today we visited 'The Monument', an area on the base dedicated to the Canadians who have lost their lives here. On tonight's newscast, I'll have stories from soldiers who, before leaving this country, paid their last respects to the friends they've lost here.