Combat engineers to invade Castlegar/Trail
One hundred and fifty soldiers from BC and Washington are about to invade the tri-city area … not with hostile intent, but rather for an ambitious training exercise to run for the two weeks between Aug. 10 and 24.
Castlegar’s own Sgt. Bart Fyffe, 32 and an Afghanistan veteran, has taken the lead in designing the training to take place, which will include demolitions work (yup, blowing stuff up) at the Stoney Creek Range, and floating bridge exercises on the Columbia River starting up near Syringa.
Fyffe said reserve combat engineer squadrons Trail 44, Chilliwack 54, North Vancouver 6 and 204 Engineer Company (MAC) of the Washinton National Guard will be working together through four exercise phases to hone skills and share operational procedures in Exercise Kootenay Castor 12 (castor is Latin for beaver, which is the symbol for Canadian combat engineers).
”The first six days will be the Field Engineers Skills camp, non-tactical training designed to allow junior members to practice individual level skills on both construction/design of the medium floating raft (MR for short) as well as explosive demolition basic-advanced theory and application,” he said.
“Tasks include live ferry ops on Lower Arrow Lake as well as potentially rafting a military grade vehicle from (above) Hugh Keenleyside Dam (and through the lock) to Trail’s Gyro Park on the Columbia River. Explosives training will entail basic to advanced theory and application against a variety of common military targetry such as various styles of concrete obstacles (lock blocks, tetrahedrons, etc.), various types and shapes of steel/timber, and other complex obstacles that will be constructed for this purpose.
He said the goal of all this is ensuring mobility, regardless whether the situation is combat or domestic assistance – a means to insure no obstacle will stand between the corps and its goal. The floating bridge concept is particularly fascinating, in that, should his corps be called in to help with a domestic crisis such as the mudslide two months ago at Syringa, these are the very skills they’d employ in mobilizing people, equipment and vehicles to an otherwise-cut-off community.
Event number two is a one-day event designed to allow 10 soldiers (engineers called ‘sappers’), “a chance to compete against each other in a variety of physically and mentally challenging tasks in a … timed event. (It) will feature stands such as watermanship (paddling assault boats on the river), first aid scenarios, land navigation in mountainous terrain, as well as a basic rifle shooting competition at Casino Range”.
Event three gives the soldiers a change to practice skills learned in earlier exercises while putting the commanding officers to the test.
“Focus will be shifted from the individual soldiers by tasking the officers and senior NCOs (non-commissioned officers) who lead them with utilizing the freshly-honed skills sets to complete various tasks in a tactical atmosphere including, but not limited to, night ferry ops, tactical explosive obstacle breaching, as well as dismounted patrolling in the Fort Sheppard area and watermanship with assault boats on the Columbia River.”
The final of four events will be the traditional pig roast, Fyffe said.
“It is custom, within the combat engineer family, that any time a large concentration of them get together, they roast a pig and feast during a social afternoon/evening filled with various types of games and activities designed to boost morale and foster strong camaraderie,” Fyffe said.
He concluded by pointing out how well-suited the region is to host this sort of undertaking.
“The West Kootenay, and our area in specific, offers a very large canvas on which to design the training, as the terrain and terrain features found here, as well as support from the local community, all add to the overall picture … which enables us to introduce, develop, and maintain our skill sets in the very technical trade of combat engineering.”