February 24, 2009

Canadian military conducts exercise at Fort Pickett

By Sgt. 1st Class Anne B. Burnley
Virginia National Guard Maneuver Training Center Public Affairs

Southbound Trooper 2009

Canadian Army Soldiers from The 1st Battalion, Nova Scotia Highlanders (North) along with U.S. Army Soldiers from 55th Signal Co. (Combat Camera) simulate realistic combat scenarios during Exercise Southbound Trooper IX at Fort Pickett, Va. Feb 18, 2009. (U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Raymond L. Patterson)

FORT PICKETT, Va. — Soldiers from the Canadian Army Reserve conducted their ninth major field training exercise at the Virginia Army National Guard Maneuver Training Center at Fort Pickett Feb. 13-22. Exercise Southbound Trooper IX, commanded by Lt. Col. Rob Knapp, commanding officer of the Princess Louise Fusiliers, involved 450 Soldiers from the 36 Canadian Brigade Group from across Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.

The purpose of Exercise Southbound Trooper IX is to prepare Canadian Army Reserve Soldiers for possible mobilization and deployment to Afghanistan, said Capt. Colette Brake, 36 CBG public affairs officer. The 36 CBG consists of light infantry Soldiers, engineers, military intelligence, signal, military police and civil affairs personnel. Approximately 45 of the 36 CBG are veterans of operations to the Afghanistan Kandahar Province, where approximately 2,500 Canadian personnel are currently stationed, she said.

The scenario-based exercise replicates an environment similar to conditions in the Kandahar Province, Brake said. Missions involve a peacekeeping operation in Afghanistan with approximately 300 Soldiers conducting cordon and search operations near a simulated village. The mission to find and cease the operation of a bomb maker who has been targeting friendly forces near the village requires Soldiers to hone their military training, she said. 

Southbound Trooper 2009
A U.S. Navy MH-60 Seahawk crew from Helicopter Sea Center 26, Norfolk, Va., lowers a rescue harness to U.S. Navy Airman Jason Lachica during Exercise Southbound Trooper IX at Fort Pickett, Va. Feb. 18, 2009. (U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Richard W. Jones Jr.) 

All movements are conducted tactically to replicate actual operations in theater. Canadian Soldiers have the chance to confirm individual and collective training undertaken over the past year and to practice these skills within a larger group context. Soldiers conduct patrols, establish aircraft landing zones, construct bridges, perform medical evacuations and hone basic soldiering skills during the exercise.
“The tangible military reasons that we have been coming to Fort Pickett for nine years are straight forward,” said Maj. Vic Grandy, the deputy commander of Task Force 36.  “This installation offers excellent urban training facilities, a superb range complex, and access to aviation and air assets. We conduct joint international operations with our allied partners with whom we stand shoulder to shoulder in Afghanistan. Fort Pickett is the place where we initiate our training for deployment.”

Fort Pickett also offers Canadian Soldiers the unique opportunity to train in a coalition environment.  Here they can conduct operations in the United States with international forces. The Exercise Southbound Trooper multi-national task force includes units from the United States Army, the United States Navy, the Army National Guard, the United States Air Force, the United States Marine Corps, and a contingent of Royal Marines from Great Britain. Soldiers from both the New Hampshire National Guard and Virginia National Guard were also involved in the training.

“Exercise Southbound Trooper IX is the best thing I’ve ever seen,” said 1st Lt. Chase M. Spears, executive officer of the U.S. Army’s 55th Signal Company.  “The training has an actual purpose. This is real-world, not just a scenario where boxes are checked.”

Conducted annually in the United States since 2000, Exercise Southbound Trooper has grown in size. Initially conducted at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa., the Canadian exercise moved to Fort Pickett in 2001 for the unique aviation training opportunities afforded by the Blackstone Army Air Field.

Southbound Trooper 2009
Canadian Soldiers from 84th Independent Field Battery, 1st Field Artillery Regiment, 36 Canadian Brigade Group fire a C3 105mm howitzer during Exercise Southbound Trooper IX at Fort Pickett, Va. Feb. 16, 2009. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Devin Kornaus) 

“We began Exercise Southbound Trooper with 100 Soldiers and now bring 700. In 30 years of military experience, from the Far East to Afghanistan and the North, I have never encountered a more supportive, flexible, and above all, mission-oriented staff,” Grandy said. “When you arrive at the airport in Richmond, there is a sign that says, ‘Welcome to Richmond, welcome home.’ For us, that sign extends to Fort Pickett and is the feeling that The Princess Louise Fusiliers raved about after our first deployment here”.

Exercise Southbound Trooper is another in a series of training exercises where units have trained at Fort Pickett to prepare for future overseas deployments. In addition to Virginia National Guard units that trained for duty in Iraq and Afghanistan at Fort Pickett in November and December, Marines from the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit trained at Fort Pickett in January to prepare for an upcoming deployment.

"We are extremely honored to have the Canadians conduct this exercise at Fort Pickett," said Col. Tom Wilkinson, the commander of Fort Pickett.  "Each year the exercise gets better and better and has a special purpose this year in preparing the Canadian force for their upcoming deployment to Afghanistan. Fort Pickett is turning the corner as a premiere pre-deployment training center, and we look forward to leading the charge to that end."

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