Canadian soldier writes of Operation REASSURANCE experience from Europe

Article / November 18, 2016

By: Master Bombardier Nicolas Thomson, Operation REASSURANCE Land Task Force

My name is Master Bombardier Nicolas Thomson and I am a Canadian Armed Forces soldier. My home unit is 1st Regiment Royal Canadian Horse Artillery, based in Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Shilo; and I am currently deployed on Operation REASSURANCE as part of the Forward Observation Officer Detachment.  Our job is to coordinate artillery fire support for manoeuvre elements in the field.

Operation REASSURANCE refers to the military activities under taken by the CAF to support NATO assurance and deterrence measures through the provision of military capabilities for training, exercises, demonstrations and assigned NATO tasks.

My journey began at the Brandon, Manitoba Airport with one of my colleagues, Bombardier Robert Boretz, on August 25, 2016. This is where I gave my wife a final hug and kiss goodbye and boarded a flight to CFB Edmonton. It was the first day of a long journey to get to Poland.

When I arrived in Edmonton I preloaded my mission-essential equipment into a sea container and used the rest of the day to take care of any final administrative requirements.  The next morning, August 27, we had reveille at 3:30 a.m. and roll call at 4:30 a.m. We then boarded yet another plane to begin our long flight to Poland, with a brief layover in Scotland so the plane could refuel.

Since arriving in Poland we conducted our handover with the Rotation 5 soldiers and began preparing equipment for the upcoming exercises alongside various NATO countries.  So far my detachment has participated in three exercises, two bilateral training exercises with Poland and Exercise (EX) ALLIED SPIRIT V (which took place at the United States Army Garrison in Hohenfels, Germany). 

During the bilateral training exercises, we worked alongside Polish soldiers to learn how to descend using fast rope techniques from a rappel tower. We then applied the lessons we learned into a more complex scenario by fast roping from the Polish W3W Falcon and Mi-17 helicopters.  I found it to be an amazing experience to learn how the Polish military conducts air mobile operations. I have no doubt that this training will allow us to have improved interoperability on future exercises. 

During EX ALLIED SPIRIT V we worked alongside an American battalion attached to the Lithuanian Wolf Brigade. We conducted a 10 day force-on-force battlefield exercise manning observation posts in order to support the movement of our Canadian Company Group.  This Exercise enhanced our interoperability capabilities with our NATO allies through realistic battlefield settings. We saw how professionally our allies conduct themselves and we learned how their procedures, although slightly different from ours, are complimentary to the overall success of the mission.

Upon the conclusion of EX ALLIED SPIRIT V, my detachment and I had the opportunity to visit a German Artillery unit, the 131st Artillery Battalion in Weiden, Germany.  They were very excited to have us at their unit and they showed us all of their equipment, which was very impressive and interesting to us Canadians.  It is my detachment’s hope that we can reciprocate the 131st Artillery Battalion’s hospitality and one day host them for a training exercise back at our home unit in Manitoba.

When we’re not in the field, we fill what spare time we have by conducting physical training, intramural sports, and preparing our equipment with our Company Group. We have sampled some local food served in the mess hall and in the local area, while still get to enjoy Canadian meals prepared by our outstanding cooks. We are very eager to learn from our NATO allies and to show them how we, too, conduct ourselves professionally on exercise and in operations. 

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