Last of Canadian Troops Finally Home from Afghanistan; May 9 Declared National Day of Honour for Troops

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By Esther Tanquintic-Misa | March 19, 2014 1:40 PM EST

Home at last. The last 84 Canadian soldiers from Afghanistan have touched down at Ottawa airport on Tuesday effectively ending Canada's longest military deployment.

REUTERS/Blair Gable
The last Canadian soldiers returning from Afghanistan are greeted by dignitaries as they deplane in Ottawa March 18, 2014. Canada's 12-year mission in Afghanistan has formally ended, according to the military. REUTERS/Blair Gable

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Governor-General David Johnston and senior military brass gathered at the Ottawa airport to greet the returning members of the Canadian Armed Forces who arrived still dressed in their desert fatigues. They were the last of the over 40,000 soldiers deployed to serve part of the Afghanistan mission since 2002.

"Welcome home and job well done," Mr Harper said at a welcoming ceremony after the Canadian soldiers stepped off a C-17 transport plane, escorted by fighter jets.

"From Kabul to Kandahar, Canadians like you fought to loosen the grip of terror and repression," he said. "Canada has also made a tangible difference in Afghanistan to some of the world's most vulnerable people."

"You have brought to a close the longest active military engagement in military history," he added.

A group of loved ones, several holding "welcome home" signs while others ready to pounce with emotional hugs, patiently waited for the soldiers at the hangar. The moment the troops stepped in, cheers and applause rang inside the venue.

"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."

The 12-year campaign, which started in December 2001 up until 2011, was Canada's largest military deployment since the Second World War.

Afghanistan, according to Chief of Defence Staff Gen Tom Lawson, was "a tough teacher, and it taught us a lot."

At least 162 died in the conflict, including 158 soldiers, a Canadian diplomat, a journalist and two civilian contractors. Over 2,000 Canadian soldiers were wounded.

"They're the ones to be remembered always," Corp. Patrick Cayer said.

Leading Seaman Brett Price finally had a chance to meet and hold in person his 14 month-old daughter Brynlee, who grew without him half of her young life.

"Just seeing her in person is awesome," he told reporters.

"It was a huge relief to know that he's home and he's safe and I don't have to worry about anything else," his wife Brittany said as she saw him step off the jet.

Mr Harper said the troops' contributions will be formally recognized on May 9.

"On that day, Canada will recognize those who fought, remember those who fell and salute all who contributed," he said.

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(Photo: REUTERS/Blair Gable / )
The last Canadian soldiers returning from Afghanistan are greeted by dignitaries as they deplane in Ottawa March 18, 2014. Canada's 12-year mission in Afghanistan has formally ended, according to the military. REUTERS/Blair Gable
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