The helicopters had to be constantly kept on a 24-hour watch by maintenance crews, but the deputy commander behind Canada’s first-ever mission to support ground troops from the air in Afghanistan is calling it a success.

Maj. Rodger Lerminaux, the deputy commanding officer of Canada’s helicopter force, says maintenance crews had to constantly battle dust and sweltering heat to keep the machines flying, but the mission still saved hundreds of lives on the ground.

There was also rocket fire and the constant fighting pilots had to fly through to get troops to their destination, said Lerminaux.

“There is just a great deal of pride here,” said Lerminaux who arrived back home in Edmonton this week after a long five-month mission in the war-torn country.

“Having those helicopters there allowed us to decrease the number of people on the roads. Instead of what might be an eight-hour convoy, we’re talking about a 30-minute ferry flight.”

Troops have been waiting for aircraft support in conflict zones until now, as the aircraft could prevent a military vehicle from being attacked or being struck by an improvised explosive device, said the Canada’s national defence department.

And this mission included the use of six hulky CH-147 Chinook helicopters and eight smaller Griffin helicopters that were purchased from the United States. All of the machines were staffed with maintenance crews and airmen from the Edmonton Garrison. The Chinooks were used to haul troops while the Griffons were used as escorts.

“Taking those people off the roads is a huge benefit to the battlefield and the mission itself,” said Lerminaux. “It acts as a deterrent to the opposition.

“When you take those people off the roads, you are cutting back your risk.”