DANIELLA PONTICELLI / BRANDON SUN
Pte Gary Boucher (left) surveys the area with fellow 2PPCLI soldiers at CFB Shilo on Thursday as the group prepares for their upcoming training in Hawaii.
CFB SHILO — Soldiers are leaving behind the rain and mud of Shilo for the tropical beauty of the Hawaiian Islands.
Soldiers from 2PPCLI share a laugh after a morning section attack practice in CFB Shilo. (DANIELLA PONTICELLI / BRANDON SUN)
2PPCLI soldiers take watch as part of their pre-deployment training at CFB Shilo on Thursday. (DANIELLA PONTICELLI / BRANDON SUN)
But it’s far from a vacation — army soldiers from CFB Shilo, teamed up with sea and air forces, will be Canada’s contribution to Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC), a multinational training exercise.
"It’s a great place to train, but it’s also an extremely rare opportunity," said Maj. Stephen Davies of 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry.
RIMPAC, the world’s largest maritime training exercise, started in 1971 as an annual event. Since 1974, it has been scheduled every other year and runs for six weeks. This is the first time CFB Shilo is sending a large contingent — 107 soldiers from 2PPCLI — to Hawaii.
"Like everything in the army, it’s rotation," Davies said, adding the Land Force Western Area was chosen to be involved with the 2012 exercise from June 29 to Aug. 3.
In 2010, 2PPCLI was tasked with training for non-combatant evacuation operations (NEO). If a Canadian tourist, diplomat or embassy worker is in a hostile environment and needs to escape, the NEO team will be sent to extract them.
Over the last two years, they’ve done specific training for their NEO tasking and knew they were headed to Hawaii. On Thursday, soldiers from 2PPCLI practised section attacks on the live fire range at CFB Shilo as part of the pre-deployment exercise, Kapyong RIMPAC.
"I’m very pleased with the work our soldiers have done in five days," Davies said. "We’re perfectly suited to do this."
But crossing the Pacific is no regular forward march.
The large-scale exercise is broken into three phases. First, soldiers will be stationed at a harbour for operational planning meetings, safety briefs and sporting events. Next is the operational phase, where soldiers will perform live fire exercises, vessel boardings, anti-surface warfare, mine clearance and an amphibious landing. They will also spend time aboard aircraft carrier, USS Essex; an opportunity not lost on the army soldiers.
"We would never have done this in our entire lives otherwise," Davies said.
The soldiers will then put it all into practice with a scenario-driven tactical phase. They will be challenged by an opposition force in a simulated hostile environment, including time in a Military Operations on Urban Terrain (MOUT) facility. Located on the island of Oahu, the facility is set up like a village, rigged with devices to create a specialized sensory environment.
"They can say ‘insert burning wood smell,’ and you can smell it," said Davies, adding Canada does have MOUT facilities, but not on the same scale.
The sea, air and land forces will finish the exercise at Pearl Harbor to evaluate each nation.
It is the combined training with soldiers from around the world that is the most appealing for Shilo soldier Cpl. Ric Wieler.
"We’re getting a chance to see different countries’ tactics and movements," Wieler said.
"Any training we do is always appreciated."
Canada, along with Australia and the U.S., have taken part in the exercise since its inception.
This year will bring together 22 countries, including Chile, Russia, France, Indonesia, Mexico, the Netherlands, Philippines, Korea and the United Kingdom.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition June 15, 2012