By 2Lt Jim Wood, UPAR, The British Columbia Dragoons
Photos by: Cpl John Swannack, The British Columbia Dragoons
Napoleon had more than a hundred maxims of war. His first was that mountains and rivers often serve as effective barriers, and a good many of the remainder centre on how and when to cross them. Others stress the importance of knowing what lies on the other side, especially when it comes to determining an enemy’s intentions. Two-hundred-year-old advice, but the importance of mobility and information gathering was front and centre during a recent joint exercise by British Columbian combat engineer and armoured reconnaissance reservists in the mountains south of Chilliwack.
During the weekend of 20-22 February 2015, 39 Combat Engineer Regiment, The British Columbia Regiment (Duke of Connaught’s Own), and The British Columbia Dragoons from the Okanagan Valley conducted Exercise Worthy Sapper at Cultus Lake and in the Columbia Valley – these being just the kind of “obstacle-rich environment” that the exercise called for. As part of 39 Canadian Brigade Group’s annual training cycle, the intent was to practice both engineer and armoured reconnaissance tasks in a scenario that stressed adaptability to changing circumstances and cooperation between combat and supporting arms.
The exercise began with elements of The British Columbia Regiment (Duke of Connaught’s Own) arriving in the training area late on Friday night to secure the line of departure and establish traffic control points in advance of the next day’s main effort – a crossing of Cultus Lake on a vehicle raft provided by 39 CER. Two BCD troops were transported across the lake on Saturday, as many as six vehicles at a time, with powerboats on either side steering the raft, and a third troop crossed in assault boats the following morning. “The aim of this training was to deploy reconnaissance elements in such a way as to practice the skills necessary to detect an enemy’s movements and determine his main axis of advance,” explained Capt. Wade Peters, the Officer Commanding the BCD’s Recce Squadron.
Orders also stressed the need for cooperation between 39 CBG sub-units, including not only engineers and armoured recce elements but also assets from 39 Signal Regiment, 39 Service Battalion, and 12 Field Ambulance. Although vehicles and troops were expected to deploy with 24-hours of food, water and fuel, service support was made available as needed by the supporting arms. “This was a valuable opportunity” , said Peters, “because it allows us to train the way we fight. Having multiple units working together like this allows us to develop partnerships within the brigade and strengthen our collective capabilities.”
Orders for the exercise presented the BCRs and BC Dragoons with the task of securing a launch site for the vehicle raft, followed by route reconnaissance tasks and the establishment of a screen of observation posts on the far side of the lake, where the exercise came to centre on determining the enemy’s axis of advance and reacting to a rapidly changing set of circumstances to increase the element of realism in the training.
On the return, opportunities to establish traffic control points and conduct convoy escorts were seized upon and developed by the directing staff. From the standpoint of the participants, the unique circumstance of an engineer-supported lake crossing followed by rapid-fire developments in the training scenario created the impression of this being an extremely rewarding exercise for the troops taking part.
“Floating our vehicles across Cultus Lake was a first for almost everyone, and thankfully we had great weather for it,” said Lt Dima Vengertsev, one of two BCD troop leaders taking part in the exercise. “Not only did the exercise display interoperability between armoured recce elements and the engineers, but it also gave us an opportunity to work in the context of a full-strength Squadron.”
The main takeaway for Vengertsev was the full range of activities that can be assigned to an armoured reconnaissance elements working in conjunction with engineers. “It gave us troop leaders some real hands-on experience with new challenges and our soldiers got to see the bigger picture outside their own troop.” In combination with a training scenario that emphasized the need for adaptability amid rapidly changing circumstances, all participants came away with a new appreciation of the complexity of their tasks and the need for realistic and frequent training exercises like this one.
Exercise Worthy Sapper provided an excellent opportunity to develop skills and enhance the participants’ ability to operate over and across a variety of terrains and obstacles.
The training ensured 39 CBG units are prepared to overcome the geographical challenges of operations in British Columbia as the province’s reserve soldiers continue their steady workup towards Exercise Cougar Defender 15, which will close 39 CBG’s training cycle with a Reserve Demolition Guard operation in the Chilcotin Training Area in August 2015.