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Article / April 22, 2015

2Lt Cameron Park, UPAR, The Canadian Scottish Regiment (Princess Mary’s)

The weekend of January 31st – February 2nd, 2015 at Mount Washington on Vancouver Island was a hive of activity as army reserve units of 39 Canadian Brigade Group (CBG) gathered for Exercise Coastal Sasquatch, with soldiers from:

  • 5th (BC) Field Regiment,
  • The Canadian Scottish Regiment (Princess Mary’s),
  • 11 Field Ambulance, and
  • 39 Signal Regiment.

Maintaining the ability of the army in British Columbia to deploy in all environments in all conditions, groups of soldiers moved through the wooded terrain to different training stands to receive refresher training on winter indoctrination and outdoor survival skills. With multiple units on the ground, soldiers were able to draw on specialized training and experienced instructors at each stand.

Corporals Samantha Robb, Derek Sheppard, and Samantha McCutcheon, all medics from Victoria’s 11 Field Ambulance, conducted training on recognizing and treating a wide range of cold weather injuries such as hypothermia and snow blindness. Soldiers received constant reminders of the importance of teamwork, both in monitoring each other for the early signs of injury and in working together in the proper treatment and care of a casualty. The importance of recognizing the early signs was constantly emphasized, to ensure that a soldier can remain combat effective in the field.

Infantry soldiers from The Canadian Scottish Regiment (Princess Mary’s) taught and demonstrated the skills needed to survive in the wilderness. Sergeant Ole Frederickson taught soldiers an easy mnemonic for the different ways traps catch animals: “Strangle, dangle, tangle, or mangle.” Armed with his knowledge, as well as wire and string, soldiers practiced building and placing the types of snares and traps that could catch animals such as squirrels and birds in a survival situation. Also taught, was the kinds of plants common in the local area that could provide nutrition safely.

In addition to learning how to secure food, soldiers learned to master the challenge of creating a fire using a knife, a small block of magnesium, and what tinder and wood they could locate in their surroundings. With the soldiers working in small teams, the sounds of fuel being gathered and wood shavings being carved gave way to the sight and smell of small wisps of smoke rising from beneath the soldiers’ busy hands.

To complement their knowledge of fire making and food gathering, soldiers learned how to make a variety of survival shelters, ranging from a simple lean to with a heat reflecting wall to a teepee made from a parachute canopy.

At the navigation stand, instructors from the 5th (BC) Field Regiment reviewed map and compass skills: Orienting the map to the surrounding terrain, shooting bearings and setting magnetic declination, and locating your position on a map using a resection. Even this method of using back bearings from visible landmarks to triangulate your position on a map is a vital skill in the age of very precise electronic navigation devices.   “ The reality is, the GPS is not a bad double check,”  said Warrant Officer Henry Slack, one of the regular force Operations and Training support staff for the 5th (BC) Field Regiment.  “But, the common sense check is ‘The mountain's on my left, and it's supposed to be on my left, and the river's in front of me.' That logic is what's correct.”   

Although individual skills were a key element of the exercise, the planning and execution of the training weekend provided valuable practice at the command level as well. Initially planned by the 5th (BC) Field Regiment as their own exercise, command decided to reach out to other units.   “We pitched it out to the Can Scots that they were welcome to join us; the Ambulance jumped on and so did the Signals,”  said Captain Trevor Claus, Operations Officer for the 5th (BC) Field Regiment.

Combined training with other units benefits the readiness of all units involved, explained Captain Gordon Hodson, of 39 Signal Regiment,   “because we actually get a chance to do our job, which is signals provisions to some of the combat arms trades that we have within this brigade. We get a chance to hone our skills at command post operations, command net radio, deployment of RRB’s (Radio Rebroadcast station), and the training of some of the younger officers and soldiers in those aspects.” 

Lieutenant Cody Stevens, commanding 4 Platoon of Bravo Company, The Canadian Scottish Regiment (Princess Mary’s), agrees.  “I would definitely say that the benefits are that as a combined arms military, whenever we actually operate either domestically or operationally overseas we do so in combined arms teams, and getting used to doing training in that fashion makes it an easier transition into those operational scenarios.” 

The value of readiness was best reinforced by the experience of Corporal Derek Sheppard, of 11 Field Ambulance, who could speak to how quickly training can switch to an operational scenario. In 2011, Cpl Sheppard was in Resolute, Nunavut as part of Operation Nanook, an annual training exercise.   “We went up there in August, and it was supposed to be a training exercise for a major air disaster. The exercise element was just coming in that day. Unfortunately, there was an airplane crash. A 737 civilian aircraft with 15 passengers crashed into the side of the mountain right by the runway.” 

Word spread quickly as the units on exercise switched into a “No Duff” situation where real casualties were involved.  “A lot of stories came through - it was foggy, so we couldn't see the other side of the runway where the plane had crashed so we didn't know what was going on. Then, the word got out that yes, the plane had crashed, and basically everyone who was around the camp, from medical people to non-medical people to even some United States Coast Guard who were up there for Op Nanook... Everybody came. We conducted a sweep of the area, found the three people that were alive, evacuated them to the UMS. Fortunately, the major air disaster crew had already come, which was fortunate, because we would have been overwhelmed without that. So, they were around, and then we got the three people that were alive. We managed to stabilize them, and send them on their way to Iqualuit, I believe. Unfortunately, twelve people did pass away, but we able to secure the scene and really help out with the scene investigation.” 

Beyond the incredible coincidence that the plane crashed near soldiers training to deal with air disasters, Cpl Sheppard remembers another stroke of good luck on that day.  “I was awestruck with the way that it worked out with the cloud cover. The fog was very thick, and below the mountain, you couldn't see the plane as it crashed. As we sent guys out there, the fog lifted, and we were able to use helicopter assets to get out there, and we were also able to fly the medical evacuees out on a C-17. It was a big thing - Is the fog going to stay? We have to hurry up before the fog comes out. Right after the C-17 left, the fog set back in.” 

Practicing the transition from training to operations, the training weekend culminated in a search and rescue scenario, in which detachments of soldiers were sent to several areas to conduct a night time search for a ‘missing’ hiker. Soldiers were able to apply many of their skills as they navigated through snow covered terrain to locate the victim, and use their knowledge of first aid to evaluate and evacuate the hiker.

With the weekend of training complete, the reservist head home, most to their civilian jobs the next day.  Captain Claus underscores the success of the weekend’s training: “We work as a team always, and we bring different pieces of the pie to the table. I think that it's important that we should continue to do this” 

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