HMCS Charlottetown returns from Libyan mission
The patrol frigate, with 240 crew members aboard, began a deployment to Libya on March 2 and left Canada as Libya continued to face a violent internal crackdown by dictator Moammar Gadhafi's regime.
MacKay spoke to the families as they awaited the arrival of their loved ones and recognized the sacrifices they make and difficulties they experience while they are on their own.
"I wanted to be here with all of you this morning to congratulate our returning soldiers, saliors airmen and women," he said.
"You are the ones that keep the home fires burning. You care for children and I suspect that we have a few expecting mothers and perhaps some babies that were born while our sailors were away who will see their parent for the first time," he said.
"I know you try to keep everything normal while your loved ones are away at sea and that's not always easy. So much of what you do contributes to the success of missions such as this. You stand shoulder to shoulder with our forces. You share in the medals and the merit and the ribbons and the rank. "
MacKay said the ship's return was a reminder of the sacrifice Canadian soldiers make.
"This was a difficult mission," he said. "It happened very quickly. This ship spooled up literally within days and was on its way to the Mediterranean.
"The mission evolved and gave way to a combat mission. This vessel was fired on ... that hasn't happened since the Korean conflict."
Associate Defence Minister Julian Fantino was also in Halifax to greet the sailors and said that seeing them return home safely from a dangerous mission and reunited with their families makes him proud to be part of Canada's military family. He expressed his gratitude to them "for defending Canadian interests and protecting innocent people from their own rulers."
"Your devotion to this UN-mandated mission is fulfilling Canada’s role in delivering democracy, freedom and human rights to the Libyan people," Fantino said, according to his prepared remarks.
The ship was fired on twice while taking part in the NATO-led operation. No one was hurt and there was no damage.
In the first incident, Charlottetown, along with the British destroyer HMS Liverpool and a French warship, chased several small boats that had been approaching Misrata harbour. The frigate came under artillery and machine gunfire in the process.
In late May, 12 BM-21 rockets were fired in the direction of the ship.
MacKay said Canada has made a significant contribution in Libya.
"Generations of Libyans will know that Canada was here, and we can all be proud of that," he said.
HMCS Vancouver is replacing Charlottetown in Operation Mobile. The frigate left its base in Esquimalt, B.C., in July and is expected to be gone for six months.