Sustaining Community Friendship Beyond the Eagle Complex Wildfire

Photo 1 – 721 RCAC Hawk Sqn on parade. Photo by Lisa Peterson
Photo 2 – RCAC Cadet Warrant Officer First Class Kamren Westling addressing Reviewing Officer, Capt Kyle Ho. Photo by A/SLt Christopher King
Photo 3 – (L-R) 721 Hawk Sqn CO, Capt Ken Westling, Royal Canadian Legion District 1 Commander, Lisa Peterson, Reviewing Officer, Kyle Ho, Cadet Sergeant Laney Thompson. Laney inspired by the Air Cadet Program and determined to be an Air Force Officer in the Royal Canadian Airforce.  Photo Supplied
Photo 4 – Capt Ken Westling (podium) addressing his Sqn during the award ceremony. Photo by Lisa Peterson
Photo 5 – A/SLt Christopher King, 3 CDSB Public Affairs Officer on Operation NANOOK in 2023. Photo Supplied
Publication Date 
19 Jun 2024

By: Capt. Kyle Ho, RPOU(W) HQ Operations Officer

Real Property Operations Unit (West) (RPOU(W)), Operations Officer Capt Kyle Ho was deployed 10 May 2023 on Operation Lentus (Op LENTUS) as the Sergeant Major. This specific Op LENTUS was comprised of 127 Super Squadron (Sqn), 1 Combat Engineer Regiment (1 CER) augmentees by 1 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group (1 CMBG) and was responsible for battling the Eagle Complex Wildfire. Upon arrival, as the encroaching fire posed too great of a risk, 127 Super Sqn was forced to move towards Whitecourt. Accommodation requests could not be supported by all the community centers in Whitecourt due to evacuation orders that were in effect. In true military fashion, 127 Super Sqn was prepared to camp by the side of the highway if required.

In this moment of disparity, Capt Ken Westling, Commanding Officer of 721 Royal Canadian Air Cadet (RCAC) Hawk Sqn, welcomed 127 Super Sqn with open arms and housed 1 CER so the Sappers could remain operationally effective. While the immediate impact of their actions was profound, the true significance lies in the lasting connections that were forged during those challenging times. Beyond immediate relief efforts, the 721 Hawk Sqn embraced its role as a goodwill ambassador, bridging the gap between the military and cadet programs by inviting Capt Kyle Ho as a reviewing officer for their annual review ceremony.

In the aftermath of the wildfire, the challenge lay in sustaining the momentum of the cadet program with community volunteers. Community volunteers exhibited their resilience and selflessness, as they volunteered their time to build the annual review ceremony program and coordinated with external agencies to organize event sequences. Lending to the importance of community affiliation, A/SLt Christopher King offered up his appreciation for the RCAC, “Ken is my family away from home and this is at least what I can do to pay it back to the community that lent a helping hand during some of my most challenging times in life.”

Capt Ken Westling’s dedication to the cadet program is truly inspiring. Whether aiming to master the winter survival skills or participating in community service projects, they approached each opportunity with passion and commitment, making them role models for aspiring cadets. Many cadets transition to Reserve and Regular Force service after their time with Capt Ken Westling. During the domestic deployment to Whitecourt, some cadets were inspired to be deployed on Op LENTUS after interacting with 1 CER soldiers. Through this deployment, the importance of the synergy between the Cadet program, the Regular/Reserve Force components, and the importance of community engagement was captured concisely by Capt Ken Westling “The steadfast support has been our compass guiding us towards excellence. Our community volunteers are the wind beneath our wings; I am forever grateful.”

The story of sustaining community friendship beyond the Eagle Complex Wildfire is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit. In the face of tragedy, ordinary individuals, whether military or civilians, rose to the occasion, demonstrating generosity and adaptability during Op LENTUS. Their willingness to open their doors and hearts to fellow service men and women from 1 CMBG exemplified service and unity in our shared mission and value to safeguarding the community.

True friendship knows no bounds. It is nurtured not only in times of crisis but through continued acts of kindness, empathy, and support. Thanks to the Lions Club of Whitecourt, which has been an official sponsor and provides financial support for the cadet program and many local activities, including the Annual Review Ceremony for 721 RCAC Hawk Sqn.