The last remaining members of the New Zealand Defence Force were farewelled in Christchurch yesterday.
There was spontaneous applause and cheers from the crowd when 120 representatives from the air force, navy and army were formally stood down marking the end of the largest internal military deployment in New Zealand's history.
The ceremony coincided with the official lifting of the final central city cordon.
Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker told gatherers that after the September 2010 earthquake Civil Defence teams thought it was "inappropriate" to call on the Defence Force for help.
"Maybe it would give the wrong impression to see light-armoured vehicles rolling through the city."
But after securing permission from Prime Minister John Key hundreds of soldiers rallied into the quake-stricken city providing everything from security to a shoulder to cry on for distraught residents.
The 31st and final cordon reduction took place at the weekend and thousands of Cantabrians reclaimed their city, taking nostalgic strolls through Cathedral Square and down Worcester Boulevard, pointing at sites where iconic buildings once stood and photographing the destruction.
Mr Key said it was a "momentous day" in Christchurch's recovery and offered his sincere thanks to the Defence Force. "What you have provided is reassurance for the people of Christchurch as they came to terms with this natural disaster," he said.
Mr Parker said members of the Defence Force were "truly great Kiwis" and yesterday was the end of a "three-year relationship".
Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee said the Defence Force's presence had been "very comforting".
"And for those of you who stopped me going in [through the cordon] because I had forgotten my proper identification, then rest assured, I have forgiven you," he joked.
Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant General Richard Rhys Jones said it had been "an absolute pleasure" to see the Defence Force so involved with the recovery. "The earthquakes have shown us that the NZDF is here for New Zealand when New Zealand needs it," he said.
"Their job has ranged from security, to gatekeepers, to tourism advisers, sometimes even consolation for distraught residents." Fairfax NZ
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