CFB SHILO — CFB Shilo closed the book on Canada’s 12-year mission in Afghanistan on Friday, a mission that claimed the lives of 20 people who served on the base.
Hundreds of soldiers, their families and other community members filled the bleachers at the base’s parade square to mark the first National Day of Honour — a day to remember Canada’s sacrifices and accomplishments in Afghanistan.
In total, 158 Canadian Forces members, one diplomat, a contractor for the Department of National Defence and one embedded journalist were killed.
"We didn’t want the army thanking itself for what a wonderful job it did," base commander Lt.-Col. Stephen Joudrey said during his speech, his voice echoing in the parade square as the crowd sat silent and soldiers in combat gear stood at attention.
"It’s important to know who this day is meant to honour," he said, acknowledging the civilian contractors and public servants, as well as the families left at home.
"We in uniform know that many things needed to be picked up in our absence. Kids still had schoolwork, they had activities, the bills needed to be paid, dogs needed to be walked, crises needed to be solved ... I think it’s important that on this day of honour, none of us overlook the commitment of those families."
Through six operations — including anti-terrorism campaigns, UN assistance missions, peace support, development strategy missions and training — CFB Shilo had soldiers in Afghanistan since the beginning of the mission in 2001. Nearly every unit on the base contributed to Canada’s involvement.
Dignitaries spoke as three of the base’s units stood at attention in the centre of the parade square.
"Let’s always remember that (the Taliban) were terrorists," said James Bezan, Selkirk-Interlake Conservative MP and parliamentary secretary to the minister of national defence. "They weren’t just the enemy of Canada, to the members of our Forces, to our allies — they were enemies to the people of Afghanistan.
"There was no tolerance, they didn’t embrace pluralism, they didn’t understand and practise equality, they denied the basic liberties and human rights that we take for granted ... we sacrificed blood and treasure."
Brandon-Souris Conservative MP Larry Maguire was also on hand to speak to the crowed on behalf of the government and ended his speech by naming the men and women deployed from Shilo who lost their lives.
More than 40,000 Canadian Forces members served in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2014 — the largest deployment since the Second World War.
At the end of the ceremony, the minute gun sent out a loud, sharp boom, followed by two minutes of silence and punctuated by another shot before soldiers on parade stomped their way in file off the square.
"I think this is a great commemoration, but it also allows us to close the books and focus on what’s ahead," Joudrey said in an interview afterwards.
Now, Joudrey said the base is focused on summer training in preparation for whatever comes next.
As soldiers from Edmonton complete four days of training in Poland as part of NATO’s response to Russian-Ukraine confrontation, a spokesperson for the Department of National Defence said "at the present time, there are no plans to deploy CAF members from CFB Shilo to help support NATO’s reassurance measures in Eastern Europe."