Weaving through a large crowd at the Brandon airport with his eyes firmly fixed on the prize, Adam McLeod gave his wife Laurie a huge kiss while simultaneously wrapping his arms around her and the couple’s 19-month-old son.
McLeod, a soldier with the 2nd Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry at CFB Shilo, was one of the last soldiers to return from Afghanistan as the mission comes to an end.
"This is my fourth time coming home, but it’s the first time coming home to my son and the first time being married, so knowing that, and that it’s the last time, it’s a really good feeling," he said.
In the last year, the couple has been together for a total of less than three weeks.
Their son, Nolan, sports long, dark, shaggy locks. While the hairstyle may be in style for the toddler, it bears more significance to his mother and father.
"He’s missed so many firsts while he’s been away serving in Afghanistan," Laurie said. "Tomorrow we’re going to go to the base barber for his first haircut and his dad is going to be there to see it."
Laurie said she was going through a range of emotions as she finally welcomed her husband home. "I am very excited, I’m anxious and proud, happy, over the moon, and relief because I will have help."
Lee Hammond, Deputy Commander of Canada’s contribution to the final Operation Attention, was also aboard the flight. While he was continuing on to Edmonton, he got off the plane to speak about the mission.
"We’re leaving at the right time. We got the mission where it needs to be and our contributions were quite significant given the fair small number of soldiers we committed to this task," Hammond said.
The conflict, which started in 2002 shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, cost the lives of 158 Canadian soldiers, two civilian contractors, a diplomat and a journalist.
Its success will now be largely measured by the effectiveness of the Afghan National Security Force, army, police and air force to maintain order in the country.
Hammond said upcoming democratic elections will be an important milestone in Afghanistan’s history. While the milestones are important, Hammond said they aren’t without challenges.
"We’ve given Afghanistan the tools to succeed in the future," Hammond said. "In some elements of the Afghanistan government there are challenges with corruption."
Kandahar was one of the main battlegrounds for Canadian forces during the conflict. Hammond pointed to a recent trip to the city by Maj.-Gen. Dean Milner and Canadian Ambassador Deborah Lyons as proof of how far the city has come.
Discussions used to strictly revolve around security in the Kandahar region, but now the talking points are moving away from violence and more toward the economy, education and modern infrastructure.
"It is extremely encouraging from a Canadian point of view because we invested so much time, resources and lives in Kandahar," Hammond said.
Other areas, such as the eastern border with Pakistan, remain quite hostile, but Hammond said it is now up to the Afghan forces and people to dictate their own future.
"We’ve given that country a chance and (we’ve) eliminated the real reason we went there and that is it was a home base for terrorism," Hammond said. "It’s no longer that."
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