March 9, 2005

Fort Pickett hosts Canadian training exercise

By Sgt. John Slosser
Virginia National Guard Public Affairs

 

Soldiers with the 1st Bn. Nova Scotian Highlanders and the Princess Louise Fusiliers get checked out on rappelling from a Blackhawk helicopter at the approximate height of a 10 story building. Trainers from the Virginia National Guard's 1st Battalion, 183rd Regional Training Institute led the troops through their drills. (Photo by Sgt Jerry Kean, LFAA PAO Imaging Tech) Click HERE to see more photos from the event.

Click HERE to visit the South Bound Troop V web site.

It was a new and different country. The climate was warmer than the homeland the troops had left so far behind.  Like any experienced Soldiers, they surveyed the foreign terrain and immediately began setting up defensive positions and establishing communications. Opposing forces would be along shortly. Their mission in the rolling hills of Virginia was set. Operation South Bound Trooper V was ready to begin.

More than 300 Canadians from the 36th Canadian Brigade Group deployed from Gagetown, Nova Scotia, to train at the National Guard Maneuver Training Center at Fort Pickett, Virginia. American Soldiers and Sailors received plenty of northern exposure as they contributed to the maple leaf scenario and met many of their own training objectives along the way.

“The reason we came down is the facilities,” said Lt. Col. Marcel Boudreau, Commander for Canada’s Princess Louis Fusiliers. 

“Fort Pickett offers facilities that we can’t get back home. The MOUT (Military Operations in an Urbanized Terrain) city is what really brought us down here to begin with. It allows us tremendous training opportunities”

The Canadian forces conducted more than a week of intense urban scenarios throughout the streets and buildings of “Moutville”. The mock city came complete with mock residents, both civil and hostel, as U.S. Quartermaster Soldiers from Fort Lee filled in as roll playing local nationals. Trouble in Moutville ranged from civil affairs missions, to all out simulations of urban warfare with street to street shootouts.

Another major training attraction for the northern allies was the amount of U.S. military aircraft involved with South Bound Trooper V.  Helicopters, like the Navy’s MH-53 Sea Stallion from HM-14 Squadron, Norfolk and the Army National Guard’s UH-60 Blackhawks from the 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment, gave the Canadians the ability to rehearse extractions, insertions, and static load training.

“This was a great chance for us to train, it gave us a opportunity to conduct company level tactical missions under day and (night vision goggle) conditions,” said Capt. Kevin Warfield, a U.S. Blackhawk Pilot for the 224th Aviation Regiment.

“It was great to work with (The 36 Canadian Brigade Group) again,” continued Warfield, referring to the Virginia National Guard’s involvement supporting Canadian reserve Forces during their annual training last August.

The Canadians even received a thorough class in rappelling as Army National Guard Rappel Masters showed them the ropes, literally!

“Getting a chance to do quick progression rappels out of a brand new rappel tower and then Blackhawks was a great highlight for the troops,” said Boudreau.

“We had outstanding instructors…The rappel masters are truly professional with a great sense of humor. It’s fun to work with someone who really enjoys their work, is well suited to their job, and have such a great wealth of knowledge.”

While training facilities were one major attraction for the South Bound Troopers, another advantage was simply the season.

“This time of year we still have a lot of snow back home. There’s ample training area here in Virginia and it’s mutually beneficial for all of us,” commented Boudreau, noting that South Bound Trooper gave other U.S. units a platform for training and conveniently fell between other major rotations at Fort Pickett. 

Some would later jokingly quip that the Canadians brought cold weather with them, as training conditions met real world obstacles like rain, sleet and snow.

Another, less tangible obstacle between the American and Foreign forces was the quirks and complications of subtle differences in communication.

“We all use the same language but speak different terms,” said Warfield.

The task for organizing and executing all of the varied air operations required plenty of Joint and Combined communication and cooperation.

 “My job entailed that I translate between Army, Navy and Canadian speak,” said Lt.j.g. Heath Bjordahl, exercise Air Tasking Officer with the U.S. Navy. “Our classic mission is carrier airborne early warning, but for this we provided airborne battlefield command and control. We practiced expeditionary operations out of (Blackstone Army Airfield) and acted as a direct air support center,” said Bjordahl.

“It’s great “helo” training for Canadians, their not used to working with the helicopters. They come to me with a mission plan and then I go to the squadrons to see how it will work.”

The Princess Louis Fusiliers also found a few new words to add to their own vocabulary.

“Some of us are still having a hard time trying to pronounce “HOOAH!!” laughed Boudreau. “Others are still trying to figure out what “Trackin” means.”

The joint and combined exercise had its fair share of comedy as well. Funny incidents ranged from helicopters touching down and scaring cows out from a farmer’s field, to the sight of a couple Canadian troops unintentionally going “possum” while dangling on ropes from a rappel tower.

Many American and Canadian Soldiers agree that the individual troops of the two countries really are not that different.

“We all still get cold and wet, and we all enjoy a good laugh,” said Boudreau. 

When asked if the 36th Canadian Brigade Group would send units stateside again in 2006, the commander replied, “(South Bound Trooper) is a big undertaking, but is well worth it!  We are coming back to Fort Pickett by hook or by crook!”

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