For the Canadian troops leaving Afghanistan for the last time, the smiles and laughter as they filed across the tarmac to their transport plane said it all — they were finally going home.The 117 troops who left Kandahar airfield, the giant military base in the heart of the southern war zone, early Wednesday were among nearly 3,000 Canadian combat troops whose mission ends this week after nine years and 157 deaths.Still in uniform, carrying camouflage kit bags and flashing thumbs-up signs to photographers, most were purely and simply looking forward to going back to their families.But others were conscious that the adjustment from frontline to civilian life might not be totally straightforward, despite a five-day “decompression” period in Cyprus on the way home to help them acclimatise.Speaking on the runway moments before boarding the C17 transport aircraft, Captain Giles McClintock was desperate to get back to Canada to catch up on lost time with his infant son.”I got to meet him for a week before I was deployed and during three weeks’ break,” he said. “I haven’t even known him as a baby — I’m coming back to him as a little boy.”McClintock, who spent eight months in Afghanistan working with an engineering unit building roads and schools, said it felt “great” to be going home.But some more senior officers cautioned that some soldiers might have a harder time adjusting to the aftermath of war.Lieutenant-Colonel Martin Arcand spent 15 months in a senior operational role for Canadian forces and starts work as a military adviser to Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations in New York later this month.
“Here, you’re always on, you’re called throughout the night. Back home it’s going to be more like nine to six. You don’t bring much work home. It will need some adjustment for sure,” he said.In Cyprus, the troops will attend talks on the psychological impact of war, while counselling will be available for those who want it. It will also be their first chance in months to drink alcohol.Arcand said the Cyprus stop-off aimed to help them prepare for going home.”You’ve been away for a year, you’re going back home, your family have been doing stuff together for a year so you need to be able to adapt to a normal life,” he said.McClintock, though, was ambivalent about the prospect of the extended layover.”Obviously it will be nice to be with the guys in a relaxed setting,” he said. “However, all of us just want to go home.”
A few soldiers whose husbands, wives or partners were also in the military in Afghanistan do not feel in such a rush to head back to their families.Warrant Officer Yves Martin served as a physician specialising in trauma at frontline bases around Kandahar province, one of Afghanistan’s most dangerous.He said that members of his team provided strong support for each other, particularly after dealing with some of the most harrowing cases of dead and injured soldiers.”After every case, we would get together and do a debrief,” he said. “You can’t save all the lives. You need to make sure everybody knows they did their best. So far I’ve been lucky, knock on wood, that I haven’t had anything too traumatising.”Martin also had his wife to turn to, although military rules prevent intimacy between serving couples.”We saw each other but we couldn’t be too close. We played a lot of cards,” he said. – Yahoonews