Canadian service members reveal a cake bearing the Canadian flag during a Canada Day stampede breakfast at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan July 1, 2011, in this photo provided by ISAF Regional Command (South).
Credits: REUTERS/U.S. Army Sgt. Matthew Diaz/Handout
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - 418.
That's how many Timbits Private Phil Rawson thought were held in a plastic raffle box on a Canadian-themed midway in Kandahar.
As Canadian troops like Edmonton native Rawson prepare to return home to Canada - our nations combat role here, all but finished - this Canada Day likely felt that much closer to the real thing.
"A lot of the guys know they're going home, so this is a start to that," said Rawson, who helps tend to the military helicopters here.
"There seems to be a few more smiles on people's faces around camp."
But Rawson quickly added: "We still have to take things day by day."
Canada Day in Kandahar is, in some ways, not that different than back home - from backyard games to loud music and even a few beers. Each soldier gets two.
Canadian dignitaries and personalities flew in - a mix of characters, from Maple Leafs GM, Brian Burke, to musician Wendy Daniels to the actor who played ‘Bubbles' on the east-coast TV series, Trailer Park Boys.
There were even members of Team Canada, who will take on Canadian soldiers here on an open-street ball hockey game that may even give the true warriors a climate advantage.
But under a sun that was melting the pavement under foot - and the sound of jets and choppers still heading off on combat missions - the celebrations could only do so much to mask where they were taking place.
The day was not just a time for soldiers like Rawson to take a break to honour their country, but for the shadow-force of private contractors, as well.
Canada's military deployment has brought scores of civilians here - many who have left their families for multiple rotations.
One of them, Janet Harrington, a 27-year-old contractor from Truro, N.S., walked around ‘Canada House' here, knowing that in two days, she would get on a plane and head back to her own house in Canada.
Like soldiers, Harrington - here since January, on her second tour - says the private contractors found a sense of purpose while serving here.
Harrington worked at the Tim Hortons shop on the base, which meant volunteering at the trauma bay that helped wounded soldiers.
The volunteer fire fighter back in Canada helped with IVs or was a runner when medics needed it - watching as soldiers came in with amputations or gunshot wounds.
"As much as I'm here for the Canadian Forces ... it gave me an opportunity to see the other side of the war," she explained.
"It's changed the way I think about Afghanistan."
Thanks to the timing, this Canada Day in Kandahar may seem closer to Canada than ever before.
But until the Canadians all get home safe, it won't be close enough.