COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN
Soldier Alan Li hugs his father Joseph and mother Ada.
CFB SHILO — For 60 families, life is back to normal as the first wave of CFB Shilo soldiers returned Friday from Canada’s wrap-up mission in Afghanistan.
Sascha Brooks kisses her boyfriend, Master Cpl. Cathan Perry, at CFB Shilo’s Multipurpose Training Facility on Friday afternoon. (COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN)
Master Cpl. Tanya Bradley hugs her five children at CFB Shilo following her return from a four-month tour in Afghanistan. (COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN)
Camerin Taylor waits for his father to return at CFB Shilo’s Multipurpose Training Facility on Friday afternoon. Approximately 60 soldiers returned after a four-month stint in Afghanistan, with almost 300 returning in the coming months. (COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN)
Linda Beauchemin and Cheryl Bradley with the Military Family Resource Centre at CFB Shilo put up a yellow ribbon at the entrance to the base’s Multipurpose Training Facility on Friday afternoon. (COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN)
Camerin Taylor looks on as a military bus carrying his father arrives at CFB Shilo’s Multipurpose Training Facility on Friday afternoon. Approximately 60 soldiers returned after four months in Afghanistan, with almost 300 returning in the coming months. (COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN)
About 350 soldiers from the base’s various military units have been overseas for the past four months serving with Operation Attention to train and mentor the Afghan National Army before Canada pulls out of the country in March.
As two busloads rolled onto the base, soldiers were greeted with applause, long hugs and handmade signs from family members — just in time for Thanksgiving weekend.
Among the anxious crowd was Joseph Li and his wife Ada, who travelled from Toronto to Manitoba just to see their son’s return from his first overseas tour since joining the Canadian Forces.
"I’m glad I got to see Mom and Dad," said their son Alan, 25, shortly after he walked off the bus to meet them.
As part of the mentoring team, the operations officer said he was glad to be a part of the country’s Afghan tour even though it was at the tail end of Canada’s involvement.
"I was definitely nervous, definitely excited. I was glad I was able to get in on the action," said the Hong Kong-born Canadian. "Adjusting to the climate, the weather in Kabul was challenging at first, but it was definitely a rewarding experience having the opportunity to experience the Afghan people and culture."
After graduating from the Royal Military College in Kingston two years ago, he said he’s fulfilling a lifelong goal of serving in the military.
"I was in the army cadets while in high school and it just felt like the right thing to do. Of course, Mom and Dad were nervous about it, but it was just something I was meant to do since I was a young kid."
Although threats are said to still be apparent in Afghanistan after Canada’s 12-year involvement, the wrap-up mission is less dangerous than previous tours and some Shilo families said it was easier to stay in contact with loved ones over the past several months.
"This time was so much easier because he could Skype with the kids every other day, so it was easy," said Mandy Taylor, whose husband Ian returned Friday.
This was her husband’s second tour in Afghanistan. While away four years ago, he missed the birth of his son, the youngest of his two children.
"The first time, it was hard," Mandy said. "But I did it."
With the family reunited, their routine will quickly return to normal, she said.
"We’re just going to stay at home, we’ve got hockey practice," she said. "We’ll be back in the routine like we were four months ago."
Another 60 soldiers will arrive in Shilo in the coming days. In December, the second wave of soldiers will return and the final group will touch down in Canada by March.
Meanwhile, as the Afghan mission comes to a close and the Department of National Defence sustains big spending cuts, CFB Shilo spokesperson Lori Truscott said the base will remain largely unchanged in 2014.
Most of those cuts, Truscott said, lie in the higher ranks in such bases as CFB Montreal.
"We’ve had a few job losses and there has been changes in how we do things, but it doesn’t affect what we do overall," she said.
"People will be continuing with their training and continuing to prepare for whatever lies ahead, no one has a crystal ball to say what lies ahead."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 12, 2013