July 5 isn’t likely to leave a lasting mark on history. However, the end of Canada’s mission in Afghanistan is a historic moment for our nation. The book is closed on our decade-long involvement and it will take at least as much time before we’ll truly understand what our soldiers were able to achieve.
Locally, more than 300 members of the Canadian Forces stationed at CFB Esquimalt took part in operations in Afghanistan. These men and women served as doctors, nurses, medical assistants, construction engineers, divers, military police as well as roadside bomb disposal and combat support in one of the most dangerous places on the planet.
The question now is what’s next for Canada’s military? After spending so much time and resources in Afghanistan the culture of our forces has been indelibly shaped by this experience.
Of course, some of the attention is now focused on Libya and its ongoing civil war.
From CFB Esquimalt, 250 personnel are preparing to sail for the north African nation.
HMCS Vancouver, a frigate considered one of the workhorses of Canada’s Navy, is expected to leave from here early next week.
It will join Canadian troops already fighting with NATO forces. But this does not appear to be the kind of endless conflict that was Afghanistan.
And then there are plans for a ramped up military presence in the Arctic. This will also take tremendous resources but will be an entirely different kind of mission.
The question remains about what our military’s role should be outside our borders.
The war in Afghanistan cost Canadians more than $11 billion, a number that could double as we deal with the legacy of returning veterans.
Despite our departure the work continues, including by a contingent of Canadians tasked with training Afghans to take charge of their own security. Elsewhere in the world we can only guess where the next trouble spot will be.
We might not make a big deal come next July 5, but Canadians can take pride in the work done by our military personnel over the last decade and feel confident that whatever comes next, they’ll continue to make a difference on the world stage.