Sailors with HMCS Charlottetown disembarked Friday to newborns crying, Canadian flags waving and a Libyan-Canadian ululating in joy following their five-month deployment with NATO forces off Libya.
Capt. Gerritt Siebring, who pilots a Sea King helicopter stationed aboard the navy vessel, strode through the chaos and hugged his neighbour, Fathi Ghanai, a 48-year-old Libyan immigrant who lives two doors down from his home.
"We came to show our appreciation to the troops," said Mr. Ghanai. "We want to celebrate with them. ... The Libyan community in Canada will not forget this, and the Libyans in Libya will not forget."
Wearing a scarf in the colours of the Libyan flag, Mr. Ghanai leapt up and down while Courtney Siebring, Mr. Gerritt's wife, stood alongside him.
"Today's a big day," she said. "Today's a very big time for them. ... It's a very beautiful relationship. We love our neighbours very much."
During the mission, Gr. Ghanai sent a binder full of letters to the crew, praising and thanking them.
"It struck a chord to the ship's company," Lt.-Cmdr. Matthew Coates told Mr. Ghanai. "Our little contribution hopefully goes a long way."
Minutes earlier, Lt.-Cmdr. Coates had his own emotional homecoming. His wife, Meghan, handed him his six-week-old newborn son. He gave her a new teddy bear.
"It's pure bliss," he said. "It's overwhelming relief."
The frigate and its 240-member crew were dispatched on a few days notice to aid the UN-sanctioned mission to protect civilians from Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
The warship came under fire twice while off Libya — first by fast-attack boats and then from rockets fired from shore — but it wasn't hit.
"Fortunately, it wasn't as close as it could've been and there was no harm done," Defence Minister Peter MacKay said during the homecoming ceremonies.
"But it speaks to the dangers and the peril that troops face when they go into a volatile situation like this."
Gen. Walter Natynczyk, the Canadian Forces' chief of staff, said he was pleased with the ship's response to what were the first shots fired at a Canadian vessel since the Korean War.
"This ship closed in and working with other ships and aircraft identified where Gadhafi's artillery pieces were shooting into urban civilian areas," Mr.Natynczyk said in an interview.
"Unfortunately we had to use force to stop artillery pieces from firing into urban areas and killing people."
HMCS Vancouver has replaced HMCS Charlottetown, and its mission will continue to be one of providing humanitarian aid to the population of Misrata, Mr.Natynczyk said.
He said HMCS Vancouver may also have to aid ships carrying migrants attempting to leave Libya.