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NL reservists train on a bigger, badder field

Canadian soldiers set up an artillery gun dropped into position by a U.S. National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk during training Exercise Strident Tracer 2017.
Canadian soldiers set up an artillery gun dropped into position by a U.S. National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk during training Exercise Strident Tracer 2017.

As a Memorial University student, Chris Wallace from Lewisporte couldn’t ask for a better summer job.

In fact, being a reservist with the 1st Battalion Royal Newfoundland Regiment in St. John’s couldn’t be a better year-round, part-time job either.

Pte. Wallace is one of a number of reservists from this province taking part in Exercise Strident Tracer 2017 — the 5th Canadian Division’s Army Reserve primary combat training exercise. It is taking place this week at the division’s support base Gagetown training area in Oromocto, N.B.

Armoured and artillery elements co-ordinate a simulated attack on an enemy position during Strident Tracer 2017 at the 5th Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown.

“I’m a student so it’s really good money and it’s a really fun part-time job,” Wallace said Thursday, just before boarding an American Blackhawk helicopter as part of a training scenario.

“I get to do cool things like fly in Blackhawks and take part in live-fire training exercises while the rest of my classmates are working at McDonald’s and such places. So, it’s cool.”

Soldier’s demolish obstacles at 5th Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown during a training exercise.

Strident Tracer involves all 5th Canadian Division formations and units — soldiers from units located throughout the four Atlantic provinces — along with participation from the U.S. National Guard, the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Canadian Armed Forces Health Services Group.

A news release notes the aim of the training is to confirm the participants in offensive combat operations during day and night and within a realistic operating environment. It will validate each unit’s combat capabilities.

A Canadian soldier takes part in a live-fire training exercise during Strident Tracer 2017.

Capt. Forrest Thompson, adjutant of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment and an infantry platoon commander for Strident Tracer, said there are participants from all over the province. Thompson is a regular member of the armed forces originally from Grand Falls-Windsor and now stationed in Corner Brook with the 2nd Battalion Royal Newfoundland Regiment.

He said the level of training at the Gagetown exercise this week is much higher than what can be offered locally.

Canadian troops are dropped from a U.S. National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk during a training exercise.

“The solders are doing live-fire and section attacks day and night, so it progresses from soldiers doing training without live ammunition — such as an individual soldier moving down a lane or roadway — to moving down in pairs, then they do it with live ammunition, and they do it with pop up targets that pop up at different intervals,” Thompson said.

“For reservists on the island we don’t have the resources to do this level of training. So to come to an area like (Gagetown) is very big and very important for a soldier. You not only get the training area but the ranges, the ammunition and the leadership.

“It is a basic stage for a soldier to be validated. The way the training module is, is that you have certain things you have to accomplish yearly as a reservist, but if you are going to deploy, you would then be bumped up to more intense training. If anybody is going overseas they would have extra training, mission essential and mission-specific training to the area they are going to and the job they will be doing.”

Wallace said the exercise makes for long, hard days but which are very rewarding. He said he will leave the exercise with a lot more confidence both as a person and as a soldier.

“It’s a lot of excitement, a lot of endurance and very fatiguing at times,” he said. “At university I spend most of my time in the classroom or in the library doing research or reading. Here I do a lot of running around, a lot of heavy work. I stay up late, don’t get as much sleep as usually do in civilian life.

U.S. National Guard and Canadian combat engineers worked shoulder-to-shoulder on a bridge construction project at the 5th Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown during Exercise Strident Tracer 2017.

“We have demo targets that pop up from a distance as we work our way down the field and we shoot at them until they go down. There’s usually a target-control operator. The tactics we use are the same as you’d use in a real fight, but the targets are not shooting back. We just shoot and practice our tactics and movements, and that sort of thing. All these things builds confidence.”

Strident Tracer 2017 began Aug. 18 and will wind up on the weekend.

In addition to live-fire day and night exercises, there are combat maneuvers, fighting vehicle operations and combined arms battlefield tactics. The live-fire training events include close-quarter battle, live-fire from vehicle-mounted weapons, infantry section attacks, artillery engagements and engineer demolitions.

Soldiers return to their units with valuable experience, broader knowledge and sense of accomplishment, and a higher level of personal readiness.

Pte. Luke Samuel Jackman, who is from Corner Brook and a reservist with the 2nd Battalion Royal Newfoundland Regiment, says he can attest to that.

“You really get to feel how much of a force the army is when so many units are together and you see how much we can accomplish,” he said. “And it’s great because you get to meet new people and learn new skills from people in different units.

“It gives me an idea of what an exercise as large as this entails. And I’m learning a new skill set, working with live ammunition and I intend to encourage juniors in the regiment to take part in these exercises to increase their own skill set.”

The Army Reserve is a part-time, fully integrated component of the Canadian Army. It’s primary role is to augment, sustain and support the regular force. In recent years reservists have made substantial contributions to Canada's expeditionary (international) and/or domestic operations, and many reservists serve full-time within the Canadian Armed Forces on employment contracts.

Since the year 2000, more than 4,000 primary reservists have been deployed in Canadian Armed Forces operations in Afghanistan, Haiti, and other international expeditionary operations. In domestic operations, reservists have assisted with the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, flood relief efforts in Quebec and Manitoba, recovery efforts following ice storms in eastern Canada, fighting forest fires in Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia, and with hurricane relief efforts in Newfoundland and Labrador.

 

glen.whiffen@thetelegram.com

 

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