“Every day, we’re really shaking the rust off. Kind of like an athlete coming out of the offseason”
Soldiers at Canadian Forces Base Wainwright are “shaking the rust off” after the COVID-19 pandemic forced many training exercises to be cancelled last year.
Exercise Maple Resolve, Canada’s largest military training exercise, typically hosts between 5,000 and 6,000 soldiers but the operation was cancelled last year following the start of the pandemic. The operation, which got underway on April 27, was scaled back this year to roughly 2,500 Canadian soldiers and a few from the United States and the United Kingdom.
The majority of the soldiers participating are from 1st Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group (1CMBG), which includes units in Edmonton and Shilo, Man.
Col. Wade Rutland, commander of 1CMBG, said if the exercise didn’t move forward this year there was a danger of the brigade’s readiness dropping.
“Since we started the battle procedure process on the 27th, we’ve conducted defensive and offensive operations,” he said. “The skill level, the readiness, the resilience of the brigade is just going up and up. Every day, we’re really shaking the rust off. Kind of like an athlete coming out of the off season.”
The training is necessary as the brigade will be on standby for the entire year starting July 1. Rutland said they would be called on by the government to go on missions for NATO or something non-combative such as assisting with evacuations.
He said the quality of the training hasn’t diminished despite the reduced scale as the focus has shifted from a brigade-level to battalions, which are smaller.
“It is actually a little faster pace because they don’t have to wait for their headquarters to make many decisions,” Rutland said. “Aside from the fact that we’re cohorted more, which means you can’t interact as much with your fellow soldiers, and (we’re wearing) masks and washing our hands a lot more, it feels like every other Maple Resolve.”
Rutland confirmed that there were positive cases among soldiers but couldn’t provide exact numbers. The cases were identified through operational screening when troops arrived in Wainwright.
He said they were expecting to have some positive cases.
“We did some modelling before we came here that said if you do seven days of isolation upon arrival you will have a certain percentage of positives,” he said. “Because people were isolated in the cohort before allowed into what we call the box, which is the simulated training, we isolated the contacts as well so it didn’t spread.”
Soldiers were also provided with their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Within four days, more than 90 per cent had taken the jab. At its height, clinicians were processing more than 700 vaccines a day to those who wished to get immunized.
Rutland said he wanted to acknowledge military families for their support during this chaotic time.