Top Canadian soldier in Afghanistan returns home
Published Friday, July 22, 2011 7:05PM EDT
OTTAWA - Canada's top soldier in Afghanistan has returned home, now that the nine-year combat mission in that county has come to an end.
Brig.-Gen. Dean Milner landed in Ottawa on Friday, met by Defence Minister Peter MacKay as well as the chief of the defence staff, Gen. Walt Natynczyk, and other top brass.
"It just feels great to be here. It's been 10 or 11 months, and now back with family," Milner said at the airport.
Milner, commander of Joint Task Force Kandahar, has overseen the winding down of the Canadian operation there.
He was travelling with 117 other soldiers, whose emotional families were on hand to meet them.
Teary-eyed family members cheered as the gray Airbus touched down and rushed to tightly embrace the returning soldiers.
"It's a bit of timeless scene, I think," remarked Defence Minister Peter MacKay, who was on hand to welcome the troops.
"Soldiers returning from active service and the overwhelming sense of joy and relief as they come off the plane and see their loved ones. And you can't help but feel very proud as a Canadian to recognize that these are exceptional citizens that do so much for our country.
"They do so at great sacrifice to themselves, to their families, and we're eternally grateful."
Canadian commanders formally handed the Kandahar battlefield over to U.S. forces earlier this month, but hundreds of troops are still in Afghanistan to help with training and support of the Afghan police and army.
"We felt really good. Our goal was to set up the Americans, and we feel very good about what we managed to accomplish," said Milner.
He mentioned the schools and buildings protected and built by Canadian troops, as well as progress in beating back the Afghan insurgents.
He said the soldiers returning home will take some time to decompress and re-unite with their families before thinking about next steps.