Hundreds of Edmonton-based soldiers recently funnelled down to a large field training exercise in Louisana kept their defences up against COVID-19 too, says the commander of the 1st Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group (1CMBG).
About 500 members of the 3rd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (3 PPCLI) were flown down to Fort Polk, La., for roughly three weeks of intense military exercises. Soldiers were required to isolate for 14 days prior to their Feb. 26 flight and were required to do so again when they arrived back in Canada on March 21.
The training was part of a three-year readiness cycle Canada’s soldiers participate in. But Col. Wade Rutland, the commander of 1CMBG, said in this case, in the midst of a pandemic, it was a rare opportunity.
Rutland said he could not share any information about confirmed COVID-19 cases during the training exercise but none of the soldiers had to be pulled off the field.
“Not one soldier was taken out of the exercise in its entirety for any COVID issues,” said Rutland, in an interview this week.
“The soldiers are back now, they did a COVID test, they’re right back into their battalion lines upon landing and everyone is quarantined right now in a variety of locations. It was a big planning effort involving time, money and a lot of effort.
“It worked out, I think, exactly as we wanted. Of course, I understand people may have had concerns. We could have been more proactive in pushing information, which is really tough in a COVID environment.”
Rutland stressed that the training, during a pandemic or not, is intended to keep Canada’s soldiers sharp, so they are prepared at a moment’s notice to respond on behalf of the Canadian government to combat missions or domestic needs.
“If you’re not trained, you’re just really an armed mob,” Rutland said. “That’s not what Canada expects from us. They expect a trained, disciplined force.”
Masks were used when necessary but Rutland said there was a layered approach as sometimes it didn’t make sense to have them on. For example, soldiers outside in the woods and spread out didn’t wear them. He said masks also can fog up goggles, which can make it dangerous when shooting.
Rutland said soldiers were also kept at the training area so there wasn’t any opportunity to go explore Louisiana.
“I’d love to go to Louisiana sometime on a vacation,” he said. “Quite frankly, we flew down there, (went) right into the base in the training area and then drove right back out and got right back on a plane. I can’t say we experienced Louisiana to its fullest. I’d love to but it just wasn’t that kind of a trip.”
The base’s next big training exercise is scheduled for Wainwright, roughly 200 kilometres southeast of Edmonton, for Maple Resolve in mid-April. About 2,000 soldiers are expected to participate in the exercise.