Army 101: Op Collaborative Spirit
CASEY BRUNELLE
© 2010 FrontLine Defence (Vol 7, No 5)

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The Canadian Forces have been through hell and back again. From the major disarmament in the 1990s to a resurgence of activity in the early 2000s, these men and women have proven that they not only meet the call of duty, but also exceed it on a daily basis. Yet, back in our Canadian homes (safe, thanks to our unflinching Veterans), it can be difficult to acquire a true sense of appreciation for the continued courage and professionalism that our soldiers, sailors and airmen exhibit as they perform their missions around the globe.
 
The Army has taken steps to address that lack of understanding by showing us their world. Along with a bus load of people from government, industry and foreign embassies, FrontLine Defence was invited to attend the second day of Operation Collaborative Spirit – a two-day effort to bring the true face of the Canadian Forces into the public eye.
 
Arriving in the chilly dark at the Cartier Square Drill Hall just as the rain began at 0600 hours, we boarded the Canadian Forces Recruiting bus and tried to catch some additional zzs  before arriving at CFB Petawawa. There, we were met by the welcoming smiles of the military staff that would be leading the day’s events.
 
The degree of professionalism and training that Canadian Forces personnel possess was readily apparent in their patience, encouragement and attention to safety throughout the day.
 
Though unable to attend directly, Canada’s busy Chief of the Land Staff, Lieutenant-General Peter Devlin, nonetheless welcomed us with a videotaped briefing on the aims and value of such an event. We were about to step into the boots of the Canadian soldier – to learn first hand of a few of the challenging requirements they face on missions abroad.
 
Feeling a bit like recruits, we changed into military “Canadian Disruptive Pattern” (CADPAT) garb. We quickly got acquainted with the amount of equipment that infantrymen are burdened with. From the warm fleece jackets to the combat shirts, flak vests, packs and ballistic goggles, it was evident that our day would become quite immersive. Luckily, our many pockets, typically laden with personal first aid kits and other important items, were empty.
 
From there, we boarded a military truck and made our way to the first of the day’s many experiences. The continuous drizzle certainly dampened our kit, but not our spirits. And I have to admit that I was especially looking forward to checking out the weaponry used by our troops.
 
We were met by a contingent of airborne trained infantry from the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment (RCR). I may not have heard all of the safety instructions regarding our parachute harnesses as I found myself focused on the imposing 40-foot tower in front of us. Sure enough, after our gear was checked and tightened (and tightened some more), we climbed the up the platforms to perform a leap of faith. The majority of us conquered our fears; it was a rush of adrenaline. The always-positive military staff then pressed us onwards to the next phase.
 
A short, bouncing drive brought us to the mechanized units of the RCR and the armoured recce contingent of the Royal Canadian Dragoons (RCDs). Led to the imposing LAVs (Light Armoured Vehicles) and their slightly smaller Coyote reconnaissance cousins belonging to the RCDs, we were divided into groups of three and each given an opportunity to feel the roar of these beasts as we navigated the training course. It took a nervous moment or two before I could find the elusive handbrake and I was off! As the rain and muck intensified, I quickly realized just how smooth and comfortable the ride was... not!
 
Next was the live firing range that had a wide variety of arms from the LAV III’s Bushmaster chaingun to the standard C7A2 service rifle waiting for us. Actually given the chance to fire the intimidating 105mm howitzer and feel the precision shooting of the C14 Timberwolf sniper rifle, the next hour went by all too fast... even after receiving a few scrapes on my hands from the veteran Browning 50calibre heavy machine gun. I should have worn those issued gloves! After an IMP (individual meal pack) lunch, we moved on to the Improvised Explosive Device (IED) field. Once we had seen the destructive power of a mere 100-pound mine almost a kilometre away, it was time to learn about the challenges of detecting and disarming IEDs that have killed too many of our soldiers overseas. The Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team have a number of options to deal with these threats, including water charges, ordnance robots and new engineering vehicles. I was fortunate to have the opportunity wear a full Med-Eng bomb disposal suit, but I can only imagine the stress and challenges our EOD soldiers face.
 
We also witnessed an impressive live fire display featuring the 81mm mortars and Carl Gustav anti-tank guns and coordinated troop and platoon attacks supported by Griffon helicopters.
 
Most importantly, there was time for several one-on-one chats with members of the elite Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR). I heard first-hand of their experiences and came away realizing just how confident and mature these young soldiers are. I have high praise for the CF’s support to the media and by extension, the public with their quest for knowledge of our Canadian Forces.

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Casey Brunelle has recently applied to join the Governor General’s Footguards.
© FrontLine Defence 2010

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