Ex Nihilo Sapper

Sappers of 4 ESR build a 24-metre MGB // Sapeurs du 4 RAG construisent un PM de 24 mètres
MCpl Don Read works to construct an abatis of wire and trees // Le Cplc Don Read construit un obstacle
Publication Date 
15 Jan 2014

Reprinted from 'The Maple Leaf January 2014, Volume 17, Number 1'

While soldiers of 4 Engineer Support Regiment (4 ESR) Gagetown, N.B. boarded a plane to support international relief efforts in the Philippines, more than 400 soldiers from their regiment and supporting units were training to ensure they too are always ready.

Throughout November, 4 ESR soldiers were joined by members of 1 Engineer Support Unit and students from Canadian Forces School of Military Engineering to conduct Exercise NIHILO SAPPER. The exercise was designed to ensure the engineering regiment can rapidly provide engineering support to humanitarian relief efforts and combat missions at home and abroad. Nihilo is Latin for the creation of something out of nothing, and sapper is the military term for Army engineer.

Conducted at 5 Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown, the exercise included tasks such as the construction of a 300-person camp, building medium girder bridges, searching villages, constructing elevated observation posts and fortifications, and blocking roadways with obstacles, to name just a few. The engineers also practised their expedient route opening capability (EROC) and tested their ability to find and neutralize improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

“That just shows you how important your job is,” said Brigadier-General Nicolas Eldaoud, commander 5th Canadian Division. “You need to always be ready because you never know when we’re going to need you guys.” Lieutenant-Colonel Chris Ayotte, commanding officer, 4 ESR, called Ex NIHILO SAPPER a high-readiness exercise designed to prepare his engineers to be “the first ones in” whenever Canadian troops deploy. Before follow-on troops arrive, engineers must first assess the conditions, and if needed, build fortifications or restore infrastructure such as roads, bridges, electrical power, communications and fresh water systems.

During Ex NIHILO SAPPER, 4 ESR engineers set-up a Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Unit to test their capability to quickly establish an advanced water treatment system capable of purifying any water source found in the world. It’s the same system used by the 4 ESR engineers who deployed to the Philippines in the wake of typhoon Haiyan.

“What this exercise allows us to do is prepare ourselves for our Roto Zero responsibilities,” said LCol Ayotte. “It’s always a challenging exercise being in Gagetown in November,” he said. “As always, the engineers have risen to the occasion and I’m very confident that by the end of the exercise we’ll achieve all our goals.” MCpl Don Read works to construct an abatis of wire and trees during a route denial task