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Updated: Tue, 18 Mar 2014 15:51:50 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

Afghan mission: Stephen Harper sets May 9 as day of honour



Master Cpl. Anthony Alliot and Sarah Tooth embrace after the last Canadian troops from Afghanistan returned to Ottawa on Tuesday, March 18, 2014. Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press

Master Cpl. Anthony Alliot and Sarah Tooth embrace after the last Canadian troops from Afghanistan returned to Ottawa on Tuesday, March 18, 2014. Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is designating May 9 as a national day of honour to commemorate Canada's mission in Afghanistan as he welcomed the last group of soldiers returning home in Ottawa Tuesday morning.

"I know that you have had a long journey and you are anxious to be at home with your friends and loved ones," Harper said in his speech.

"It is important, however, that, as a country, we pause to mark this moment."

- Canadian military involvement in Afghanistan formally ends 

The troops, escorted by CF-18 fighter jets, arrived at the Ottawa airport where they were greeted with a welcome ceremony that includes Governor General David Johnston, Defence Minister Rob Nicholson and Defence Chief General Thomas Lawson.  

Perhaps most importantly, the 93 soldiers were welcomed home by their families. The scene at the airport was one of warm embraces, smiles and tears.

"Thank you to all members of the Canadian Armed Forces, to those who served in Afghanistan and those who made it possible for them to serve,” Harper said.

The ceremony marks the formal conclusion of Canada's 12-year mission in Afghanistan. 

The prime minister said the day of honour on May 9 "will recognize those who fought, remember those who fell, and salute all" who contributed to Canada's mission.

It will be commemorated with events in Ottawa and across Canada, including a parade that will begin at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa and travel to Parliament Hill. On that day, there will be a moment of silence to reflect upon Canada's sacrifices.

As part of the commemoration, Forces members injured during the mission will pass the last Canadian flag flown in Afghanistan from Canadian Forces Base Trenton to the parade in Ottawa. The flag will journey through six cities in six days. 

As well, the Afghanistan Memorial Vigil, which was constructed by troops in Kandahar and repatriated to Canada, will be on display on Parliament Hill during the parade. 

'Worst and best of humanity'

Gov. Gen. David Johnston saluted the soldiers in his opening address and acknowledged the harrowing circumstances they faced during their mission.

"You have seen the suffering of a population under the tyranny of deliberate violence, enforced poverty and perverse fanaticism," Johnston said. "Many of you have witnessed the worst and the best of humanity.” 

More than 40,000 Canadian armed forces members have been deployed to Afghanistan since October 2001. Canada lost 158 military members during the mission.

"Over the course of this mission, you have undertaken many roles: as soldiers foremost, but also as ambassadors, peacekeepers, protectors and rebuilders of civil society, and as teachers to Afghan’s own security force," Johnston said.

"Many talents, many roles: that versatility is a Canadian legacy and, I believe, one of the greatest assets we had on the ground."

Military operations wrapped up in 2011 and Canadian efforts were re-dedicated to training Afghan soldiers, along with peace-building and humanitarian development in Afghanistan.

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