Connecting File 2003
The Royal Canadian Regiment
By Major Jamie Morse
The parting words from the CO, LCol Don Denne in December 2002 (prior to Christmas leave) were simple and to the point - "Keep your rucksacks packed and your powder dry". With rumours of an American led invasion of Iraq looming, and the participation of 3PPCLI in Op APOLLO in Afghanistan the previous year, there was no doubt any soldier's mind that 3RCR would probably be put to the test this year; and we were. The year started with a Rapid Reaction Unit (RRU) validation exercise, confirming 3RCR's ability to conduct Coy and Battalion Group Airmobile Operations. We then shifted gears into Ex Resolute Warrior, where we became the trainers for the Brigade Training Event (BTE). This exercise was designed to validate 2 CMBG in their warfighting role prior to assuming the High Readiness Brigade Task for the Army. Ex Resolute Warrior was also to mark the end of 3RCR's tenure as the RRU, and the start of our reconstitution phase in the ATOF cycle. Alas this did not happen. Prior to deploying to Wainwright the Bn received word that we would be the Op ATHENA Battalion Group, Canada's contribution to the International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul Afghanistan. Despite the tragic deaths of three of our soldiers, Op ATHENA proved to be a successful and rewarding mission for 3RCR. The mission was long, difficult and conducted under adverse conditions, but all the soldiers who made up the Bn Gp performed admirably, in the finest traditions of The RCR.
WINTER CAMPAIGN SEASON
January started with a bang with the focus of the training being Winter Warfare refresher for everyone. The rifle companies began with a week of sect to coy low-level skills training to "shake out the cobwebs", while Bn HQ (incl 9er TAC) practiced CP Operations in the field. This was followed by two weeks of Battle Group and Brigade controlled exercises (Exs ROYAL STRIKE and SWIFT BEAR), designed to practice and later evaluate the RRU BG (3RCR plus our affiliated Light Gun Battery, Close Sp Engineer, and Recce Sqn). Unfortunately, this was also the start of a cold weather snap (minus 35 degree weather) that lasted the entire two weeks of the exercises. Ex ROYAL STRIKE saw the Bn Gp deploy out on the civilian economy into the communities of Round Lake, Killaloe and Bonnechere, Ontario. The exercise consisted of two distinct phases. The initial deployment included living within the towns and conducting urban patrolling as part of the deterrent phase. This had the side benefit of connecting with the locals through equipment displays and an open house, with the media invited to participate, all while collecting intelligence for the combat phase. Once the enemy situation was sufficiently defined (a group of terrorists had seized the Bonnechere airfield and had established delaying positions along the main route), the BG was ready to start operations. The combat phase commenced with a classic parachute operation - an Airfield seize and hold. At first light, Parachute Company (led by Major John Vass and MWO Wayne Bartlett) executed a Parachute drop onto DZ Round Lake, and captured the Bonnechere Airfield. At the same time, the remainder of the BG commenced a dismounted advance clearing all pockets of resistance between Round Lake and Bonnechere as it forced a link up with Para Coy. By last light the route was clear of enemy, and the Airfield became the new base of operations from which to launch a Bn(-) raid and Ex SWIFT BEAR (the 2 CMBG directed RRU Validation Ex).
Ex SWIFT BEAR was designed by 2 CMBG to reconfirm the 3RCR Bn Gp as operationally ready for International Contingency Operations. In turn, each company planned and launched a live fire Airmobile Assault from the Bonnechere Airfield back into Petawawa, using an impressive collection of aviation assets from across Canada. The aim of the attacks was to clear a force of insurgent troops from a hasty coy defensive position, followed by the establishment of a bridge demolition guard. The final test for the Bn Gp was the planning and execution of an airmobile assault to destroy the final enemy position, and clear the Petawawa area of the last of the insurgents. This final assault was a complex operation, but with CWO Dave Preeper's outstanding PZ control, the rifle coys and sp pls were lifted and deposited on their LZs exactly as planned. By last light the BG had cleared the area of all enemy, and the much-anticipated End Ex was called. All that remained was to re-deploy the Bn, carry out post-ex drills, and complete the final After Action Reviews to capture the many new lessons learned. By the end of the three weeks of winter trg the Bn was again validated and declared operationally ready in not only its Winter Survival skills, but also all the skills required to conduct any potential RRU task.
The winter campaign season was capped off with two serials of Alpine Ski School (under the direction of CSM Romeo Coy MWO Tim Robinson, now the DSM 2RCR), which took place at Mont-Ste Anne Quebec. In addition to the winter sports program a series of QL4 courses were conducted to ensure the Bn would have the necessary qualified soldiers to maintain its operational effectiveness. During this time of individual training, the Companies were busy planning and preparing for the ranges they would build and run during the Brigade Training Event (BTE), Ex RESOLUTE WARRIOR, while the Battalion's leadership prepared for the Bde level CPXs held in Petawawa.
Ex RESOLUTE WARRIOR
At the beginning of March 2003, it had been over a decade since formation level training had taken place in the Canadian Army (RV '92). From 18 March until 10 May 3RCR deployed with 2 CMBG to CFB Wainwright for Ex RESOLUTE WARRIOR. The aim of the Exercise was to bring the Brigade to the same high level of readiness that was already held by 3RCR, and the unit was responsible for the planning, construction and running of the live fire training for the Brigade Units, including Combat Tm and Battle Group level advance, attack and defensive ranges. This was an immense task, especially considering the lack of LAV III expertise within 3RCR. Despite the challenges, we devised and built many excellent and challenging ranges to practice the combat skills of the other units of 2 CMBG in a live fire setting.
With the realization that 3 RCR would be taking part in Operation ATHENA, the Bn's role expanded during the Exercise Phase. The original BTE plan had 3R22eR acting as the Light Bn within 2 CMBG, but their unavailability resulted in 3RCR being thrust into its traditional role within 2 CMBG. As the Light Bn in a primarily Mechanized Bde, 3RCR tends to receive such tasks as dismounted night attacks to seize initial objectives to commence an advance, or the conduct Airmobile Operations ahead of the Bde to seize critical objectives, while the remainder of the Bde conducts the link up. The BTE was no exception. Throughout the seven days of the exercise phase, the Bn conducted one dismounted silent night attack to seize and hold three crossing points on the Battle River - starting the Bde Advance. It also planned and executed a Bn Level Airmobile Assault to seize the key crossings on the Ribstone Creek ahead of the advancing Bde, and the exercise concluded with a Bn Airmobile Coup de Main operation back to the Battle River (while the remainder of the Bde advanced to link up). The final task of 3RCR (and the end of the BTE) was the planning and execution of a Bn Airmobile into a BG defensive position, for a day and night live fire shoot. The timing of the range was a happy coincidence for 3RCR, as it landed on the 50th Anniversary of Hill 187, in Korea. Maj Steve Kooistra (OC Oscar Coy, now DCO 1RCR) designed this challenging range, which ensured that all the elements of the Bn Gp were put to the test. The BTE was a hectic exercise for 3RCR, but one that again confirmed the Bn's ability to plan and execute complex operations, under adverse conditions, and with restrictive timings.
OP ATHENA TRAINING
Following a short post BTE leave 3RCR was thrust into an intensive, month-long Theatre and Mission Specific Training (TMST) period, which included administrative preparations for Op ATHENA. Commencing with a reorganization into our overseas Battalion Group configuration (Parachute Coy, November Coy, Charles Coy, Quebec (Combat Sp) Coy, and 24 Fd Sqn) our training included Afghanistan cultural awareness and medical threat briefings, as well as training and practice in mine awareness, first aid, and urban patrolling. The training period was finished off with a three-day exercise in the Town of Petawawa, followed by a two day Command Post Exercise. Although short in duration and without much of the equipment that would be used in Afghanistan (all the equipment was shipped prior to the commencement of TMST) the training period set the tone for what was to become a very busy and successful tour.
Although the training was busy the Officers' Mess of the 3rd Battalion Group managed to take some time to bid farewell to those posted out while welcoming those new officers who made up the Bn Gp. Additionally, we were honoured to host LCol Ed Hollyer MC, CD (ret'd) and Mrs Hollyer as the Guests of Honour for a Mixed Dining-In. As he always does, Ed gave a detailed, first hand account of the Battle of Hill 187, fought by 3RCR in Korea on the night of 2-3 May 1953. The dinner marked the conclusion of the TMST cycle and saw the Bn Gp depart on a month of well-deserved OP ATHENA pre-deployment leave prior to departure to Afghanistan in August.
OP ATHENA is Canada's military contribution to the NATO led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which has a mandate to assist the Afghan Authorities in maintaining a secure and stable Kabul. 3RCR Battalion Group's focus during OP ATHENA was assisting the authorities in the South-Western Sector of Kabul (and its environs) in order to provide security and stability to Kabul. Since we were there to assist the Afghan Transitional Authority we ensured we operated in a Second Row Approach (meaning we assisted the authorized security forces in performance of their duties). Many family and friends gathered at CFB Petawawa to see the Bn Gp off as they departed for Afghanistan. The first flights left CFB Trenton on 6 August and arrived in Kabul two days later. On 21 Aug, following a two-week deployment and handover, 3RCR officially took responsibility of the Area of Operations (AO) from the German Battle Group (West), based on 152 Panzergrenadier Battalion, with a formal handover parade.
In order to improve the relations and trust with the Kabul City Police (KCP), joint patrols and Vehicle Check Points were quickly established as the norm within the AO. Additionally, the three rifle companies conducted basic police training courses in order to improve the professionalism of the Afghan Authorities. Based upon a program developed by the Germans, these courses focused on training the Police in basic procedures, such as roadblocks, traffic control, VCPs, incident scene management, and the general conduct of police patrols. These courses were greatly appreciated by the police and went a long way towards fostering trust and cooperation, and they played large dividends down the road.
The Battalion Group's engineers of 24 Fd Sqn were among the busiest and most important members of the unit. With the many wars and battles that have taken place in Afghanistan's history, there is no shortage of unexploded ordnance (not to mention old tanks and armoured fighting vehicles) scattered about. 24 Fd Sqn began the difficult and unenviable task of disposing of these explosives, as well as conducting route maintenance, clearances and a host of camp defensive tasks. During the six months in theatre, our sappers disposed of over 2000 UXOs, cleared dozens of patrol routes, and responded to calls throughout the City for assistance in Explosive Ordnance Disposal.
In addition to its security tasks the Bn Gp was often called upon to host numerous VIP visits, and to escort countless media visits on AO tours/patrols. Capt Kai Szeto, the Assistant Adjt (and Bn Gp Visits Officer) and Maj Greg Smith the Ops Officer were kept extremely busy trying to deconflict the visits while ensuring the aims of each were met. Although not exhaustive the following list of some of the more notable visitors gives an indication of the magnitude of the visit schedule: the Governor General of Canada, the Prime Minister of Canada, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Defence (old and new), the Chief and Deputy Chief of Defence Staff (and their CWOs), the Chiefs of the Land and Air Staff, the Canadian Ambassador to Afghanistan, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, the Comd AFNORTH, the Commanders of LFCA and SQFT, the Colonel Commandant and RSM of the Infantry Corps, and The Colonel of The Regiment of The RCR. In fine Royal fashion, all visits were conducted to highlight the good work of the soldiers of the Battalion Group who received favourable reviews from all.
Despite the successes of the mission the Regimental Family lost three of our own during the tour. On 2 Oct 2003, a patrol from Para Coy struck a TM-57 land mine on a patrol route in the JOWZ Valley, a couple of kilometres from our camp. This tragic event took the lives of Sgt Robert Short and Cpl Robbie Beerenfenger, and injured three others. On 27 January 2004 tragedy struck a second time when a suicide bomber set off a bomb as one of our Iltis patrols passed, killing Cpl Jamie Murphy and wounding three others. In both these tragic incidents the members of the Bn Gp, Task Force Kabul and the Rear Party to ensured our fallen comrades they were returned to Canada and laid to rest with the utmost dignity. The overwhelming support provided by all nations of the Kabul Multi-National Brigade was a great comfort. These losses serve to highlight the dangers of OP ATHENA.
Needless to say, six months is a long time to be away from home, and without a strong support network back in Petawawa that time could have seemed longer. Fortunately the deployed members of 3RCR were well supported by a strong Rear Party (ably commanded by Major Matthew Sprague and the DSM, MWO Mark Baisley). Before closing it is appropriate to note some of the activities undertaken by those who manned the home front. Not only did the Rear Party have the demanding and vital tasks of the rear party duties, and providing outstanding support to the families of deployed soldiers, they also continued to support brigade training and operational commitments. It certainly didn't seem that there was any reduction in the number of tasks, despite the majority of 3RCR being deployed. In addition to the important and challenging responsibility of looking after the families of deployed soldiers, the Rear Party also helped launch three missions overseas, participated in numerous equipment trials for the Army, conducted a number of basic courses, and participated in several exercises with both the Regular Force and Reserves. It was quite clear, however, that the most significant event was welcoming back the majority of the battalion from yet another highly successful operational deployment. It is hard to say who was more excited about our return, our families, the Rear Party, or us.
By the time you read this article, 3RCR's mission in Afghanistan will have been completed, we will have successfully passed control of West Kabul over to the 3R22eR Battalion Group, and all our soldiers will have returned home. The remainder of the year will likely be somewhat less busy as we move into a much-needed reconstitution period. On the ceremonial side the Battalion will Troop the Colours on Parliament Hill in on 12 June 04. This will be the first time our Regimental Colour has been trooped since being presented by the Colonel in Chief in 1997. Another regimental milestone this summer will be the change of command between LCol Don Denne and LCol Rory Radford, on 25 June 04. The remainder of the year will be taken up by individual skills training, battle schools and section and platoon level training. The intent is to keep close to home for a while, and to keep the soldier skills sharp for the next time 3RCR is called upon. Until then…we are keeping our rucksacks packed and our powder dry.