Roto 3 - "Welcome Home!"
As a Canadian Forces Airbus carrying soldiers returning from Afghanistan landed, two-year-old Noah Burke pressed his face against the window at the Fredericton International Airport.
"Daddy come," he said.
The boy smiled, turning quickly to glance at his mother, Dale.
Noah's father, Cpl. Chris Burke, was among the first soldiers from Canadian Forces Base Gagetown to return home Tuesday night after a dangerous six-month mission in Afghanistan.
"I'm just overwhelmed with emotions," Dale Burke said earlier in the evening, shortly before two CF-18 fighter jets raced overhead, catching the attention of everyone in the airport as the military passenger jet landed.
"I'm excited, it's surreal," she said.
After six months of waiting, she still couldn't believe the day had arrived.
"I know it's the day. I know this is the 31st of July. But I still don't believe that this is it."
She later spotted a glimpse of her husband through the window as he was processed at customs.
As the sun set, about 20 soldiers dressed in desert fatigues disembarked from the plane shortly after 9 p.m. to go through customs.
Some boarded the plane again to continue on to Canadian Forces Base Trenton, located in Ontario. Local soldiers were transported to CFB Gagetown where they were reunited with loved ones at the base gymnasium.
About a dozen people watched from the airport's fence as the soldiers took their first steps on Canadian soil in months.
It's a scene that will repeat itself every second day until September as the military moves more than 2,000 soldiers out of Afghanistan and rotates in a new group from CFB Valcartier in Quebec.
A flight with 58 soldiers is due to arrive Thursday evening to larger fanfare.
A total of 1,150 members with The Second Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment (2RCR) battle group, were in Afghanistan.
Approximately 650 of them were from CFB Gagetown.
It's a homecoming that has been tinged with sadness though. Seven of the soldiers from CFB Gagetown were killed in Afghanistan.
Outside the airport, Muriel Aiken tied bows on the signposts lining the route back to the base.
"We've been told how much this yellow-ribbon campaign has meant, and I felt this was a good way to show support to our soldiers as they return," she said.
Almost every pole, post and fence in Oromocto has been decorated with a yellow ribbon since the mission began.
"It's a huge sense of relief," said Oromocto Mayor Fay Tidd.
"When the troops left, there was almost an eerie silence around.
People weren't laughing and talking as much ... Mothers and their children were in the stores shopping, but everything was quite subdued."
Lee Windsor, deputy director of the Gregg Centre for the Study of War and Society, said the soldiers have plenty to be proud of.
Windsor travelled to Afghanistan earlier this year for a first-hand view of the work Canadian soldiers were carrying out on the ground.
"This is the one where we finally have seen Canadian soldiers establish presence and bring security to a large portion of the main agriculture areas outside the city," Windsor said.
"Before this rotation, Canadian soldiers were confined to a very small area around Kandahar city."
While much of the media coverage out of Afghanistan has focused on the number of casualties sustained, he said, the real picture includes advancement in Afghanistan that hadn't been witnessed until this rotation.
The first two rotations were involved in heavy fighting in a surprise attack from about 1,500 Taliban soldiers.
This impeded, almost halted, the Canadian army's security and reconstruction efforts.
But this rotation has achieved stability not only in the city, but in many areas of Kandahar province, he said.
Former CFB Gagetown commander Ryan Jestin agrees. He said the progress was evident when he visited the troops a few months ago.
"I saw kids running around the streets in Kandahar city, I saw a lot of people that were working with Canadians on development," Jestin said. "I think the guys will take a great deal of pride in really giving that pillar of stability to the province."
However, by moving farther out of the city, the troops exposed themselves to more danger, Windsor said.
"They were far more at risk than other rotations have been, especially to improvised explosive devices and ambushes," said Windsor.