CFB SHILO — Members of the 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry are being deployed to Latvia today as part of a major NATO military mission.
The six-month deployment to Latvia is part of Operation REASSURANCE — a Canadian Forces mission in central and eastern Europe designed as an operation to reinforce assurance and deterrence measures with NATO allies.
Approximately 130 soldiers based out of Canadian Forces Base Shilo soldiers are involved in the deployment to Latvia, which marks Lt.-Col. Mike Reekie’s fifth.
The mission is unique because Latvia is so similar to Canada, he said.
"It’s very beautiful there," Reekie said. "We’re pretty excited about this opportunity."
The troops were scheduled to ship out early this morning and land in Riga, the capital of Latvia, a city of more than one million people.
Upon arrival, the week will be focused on the handover of command, with the official change of command taking place on July 15.
The six months in Latvia will be markedly different from Reekie’s previous deployment because the troops are working together as part of a "deterrence posture."
"It’s not a combat operation, it’s not a peacekeeping operation — it’s a stability operation, it’s a reinforcing operation," he said.
The soldiers’ time in Latvia will be similar to day-to-day life in Shilo, the biggest distinction being that they are away from their families in a battle group that is composed of nine different countries.
"From that nine, we have to form one group," Reekie said. "It’s super diverse — it’s kind of a cool challenge."
The nine countries that create the NATO battle groups will be embedded into the Latvia Mechanized Industry Brigade, totalling around 1,000 NATO troops.
Having a multinational contingent creates a unique set of challenges, Reekie said.
"The countries that are there are not necessarily our traditional partners — they’re all NATO countries, but they are not English-speaking."
English is the operating language of the battle group, but a large number of soldiers will not speak any English.
Canada has been a lead nation since the debut of NATO-enhanced Forward Presence Latvia.
"We’ve kind of standardized all of our operating procedures across the battle group," Reekie said.
The group is one of four multinational battalion-size battle groups deployed as part of the eastern part of the NATO alliance in Estonia, Latvia and Poland. The Latvia mission has been spearheaded by Canada.
These groups led by Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany and the United States are combat-ready forces that have been deployed in a show of strength demonstrating the transatlantic bond, according to the official NATO website.
The deployed troops "make clear that an attack on one ally would be considered an attack on the whole Alliance," the website said.
While troops have been sent to western Europe as part of 2PPCLI, they will be fully integrated into the multinational Latvian battlegroup, Reekie said.
It is a totally different language and command structure, Reekie said, and it serves as an exciting opportunity to mix with other cultures and military members.
Maj. Mark Litzenberger is part of the group shipping off to western Europe.
The trip to Latvia marks his second deployment after going to Afghanistan in 2009 and 2010.
"It’s different but just as important — it’s a mission ensuring that our NATO commitments are taken care off," Litzenberger said. "Any challenges should be easy to overcome."
In preparation for deployment, troops spent the last two months in Wainwright, Alta., conducting mechanized operations. Litzenberger said that the full spectrum of war-fighting operation training left him feeling well prepared for the deployment.
One of the most challenging aspects he expects to encounter is the language barrier between the different troops, he said, but with patience he expects the nine nations to work well as one unit.
Members of 2PPCLI are used to working with other nations as a team, Litzenberger added, and many are looking forward to the various opportunities to work together and learn from other countries while deployed.
As part of the exchange of cultures, Canadian soldiers will be playing hockey with Latvians while overseas.
"It’s kind of unique, part of our mandated mission task is to play hockey while we’re over there," Reekie said.
Many of the soldiers are bringing hockey gear and will be able to play on the Latvian military hockey team.
The sport is something shared in common between the countries and can be used as a bridge between the cultures, Reekie said.
Litzenberger said he does not plan on playing hockey, but hopes he will have the chance to join in on some soccer games.
"I haven’t played hockey since I was five," Litzenberger said with a laugh. "I’m sure I’ll be watching (games)."
Padre Troy Dennis will be going to Latvia with the troops today. It’s his first deployment.
As padre, his role will be fairly similar to his daily life in Shilo — including the counselling of troops and advising chain of command on compassionate issues.
"I’m pretty excited; a little nervous. I want to make sure I can do everything."
Dennis has talked with the chaplain in place in Latvia so he can hit the ground running, prepared for the deployment and understanding the role of religion in the country.
"It’s an exciting time for our troops," Dennis said. "We’re glad to do it because it’s what we signed up to do."
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