From the Lone Star State to the Big Land of Labrador, over a dozen American army reservists will be calling 5 Wing Goose Bay home for the next six weeks.
From July 6-10, 13 personnel from the 980th Engineer Battalion based out of Austin, Texas, arrived in Happy Valley-Goose Bay to take part in “Exercise Northern Frontier.”
This exercise will see the American troops building and repairing roads on base; repairing runways at the airport; building a road and bridge at the Air Weapons Range; and helping with medical and police support at 5 Wing Goose Bay.
“We are going to take everything we learn during our time here, and apply it to our work back home,” said Capt. Mike Davis.
“We will use our new skills to train those soldiers who never had the opportunity to come here and carry those skills forward.”
Capt. Davis’s battalion is comprised of all engineers and were most recently deployed to Afghanistan, returning home to Texas in November 2012.
He notes the work they will be doing — particularly with building a bridge at the Air Weapons Range — will be useful for missions to places such as Afghanistan.
“We will be building an Acrow bridge at the Air Weapons Range,” explained Capt. Davis, noting it’s a pre-fabricated structure that can be shipped in pieces to remote locations.
“We don’t train with Acrow bridges in the States, so this is just one more opportunity to expand on a training model we wouldn’t normally see.”
The Acrow bridge components should be arriving by land from New Jersey around July 21, noted Capt. Davis.
Capt. Raoul Tremblay is with the Canadian Forces at 5 Wing Goose Bay. He is one of six or so Canadian Forces personnel who will be playing a supportive role to the American troops during their stay at 5 Wing.
He said the planning for “Exercise Northern Frontier” took about a year, and although the training could be done in other locations, 5 Wing Goose Bay has an advantage.
“The biggest asset (to do the training here), is the logistical challenge to get here, and to have the opportunity to build a bridge at a remote location,” he said.
“The logistics that will be involved in getting the equipment and material to the Air Weapons Range will play out like a real world scenario.”
It certainly was no easy task to get the equipment to Goose Bay, as the barge Marilyn Monroe, out of Louisiana, and tugboat Rio Bravo out of Jacksonville, Fla., worked in tandem to deliver tractors, dump trucks, bobcats and other heavy equipment to 5 Wing.
“They (the barge and tugboat pilots) took this mission because they had never navigated icebergs before,” noted Capt. Davis.
“They picked up an experienced ice pilot to help them navigate (through the North Atlantic), so it certainly was a unique experience for those guys, for sure.”
He added one other factor also made it memorable.
“They were chased by Hurricane Arthur, which caused nine-foot swells, which they had to avoid by ducking into inlets along the way.”
In addition to the 13 American personnel already on the ground at 5 Wing, there will be many more hands to help with all the work to be done, as over 200 men and women — from Texas, Colorado, Minnesota and Ohio — will be arriving in two shifts of approximately 100 between now and the first week of August.
“On Aug. 3, there will be an overlap of soldiers, with 270 personnel on the ground,” said Capt. Davis, noting one shift will be flying home, while the other will be just arrived to take their turn in the training exercise.
“They will have approximately 21-29 days of training each.”
Capt. Davis said the support the 980th Battalion has received from their Canadian comrades has been nothing short of outstanding.
“They’re doing a bang-up job, much better than anywhere else I’ve ever been,” he said.
“From the planning to get here, their hospitality, their patience in answering every question we have, from the general questions to specific questions on engineering projects, these guys have an answer for us — it’s amazing.”
While everything is new to the Americans — from the culture to the food (“I didn’t know what ‘poutine’ was — it’s awesome!” exclaimed Capt. Davis) — he and his comrades are ready to tackle their work.
“We spent so long planning, now we just want to get in the dirt,” he smiled.
“We’re really looking forward to the next six weeks.”