By Peggy Revell on May 17, 2018.
“Exercise Prairie Storm” is underway with a bang at CFB Suffield. Well, many bangs, explosions and gunfire.
“We’ve got about 2,000 troops out here and they’re exercising to prepare them to go on NATO’s front line. They’re preparing for war,” said Col. Marcus Evans, commander of the British Army Training Unit Suffield. The next deployment will likely be to the Balkans.
“This is a 32-day exercise, we take them through a training progression. They start at a basic level — that’s the vehicle crew, or a section of infantrymen, or a gun crew, and then we build them up so they’ve got bigger and bigger groups over the days.”
Wednesday marked the first day it’s all come together, with a live fire exercise — including tanks firing and artillery shells whizzing across the prairies.
“This is really the highlight of our training,” said Angus Tilney, commanding officer of the King’s Royal Hussars. “Canada gives us the space of the prairie that we simply don’t have in the UK.”
“This is about as close to the real thing as we can get,” he said, adding that it’s also a learning experience —as soldiers will be getting feedback from all the observers to “make us be our best and ready for whatever NATO needs us to do.”
The experience of the exercise is a “profound one” for the British soldiers, said Evans, as they’re flying to another continent, taking over a “massive fleet” and deploying.
“That is a replication of what they do when they go on an operation … learning how to live in the field for a long time and deal with the environment.”
“We take them away from their home base, we take them away from their creature comforts, they’re limited in what they can do as regards to their own personal life, they leave that behind for a 32-day exercise,” said Major Alex Mills, in charge of training operations for BATUS.
It’s more than just blazing guns and tanks — roughly 400 soldiers are training to provide all the supports needed during an operation.
This includes such things as medical and logistics assets, equipment support and maintenance, engineers, said Lt. Col. Simon Smith, with Combat Service Supports. With one live fire training day completed, the following day will be support services there with fuel, ammo, rations, and to “get them back up to the combat effectiveness,” he explained.
“It’s priceless,” said Smith about the scale of training at Suffield. “Because the only way to get good at it is to spend time with the equipment.”
As well, it’s similar to what the soldiers will experience while on a real operation, he said.
“The extremes you experience on this training area, extreme heat, extreme dust, just a couple days ago it was extreme cold, and I’m sure we’ll be in for some rain here … that is very similar to what I’ve experienced in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo.”
BATUS brings troops to Suffield for four exercises a year normally, said Evans, although the British Army is “reconfiguring gently” and so this is the first one of the year. There are two more exercises planned for the year — for an approximate 5,000 troops in total for 2018.
BATUS’s future in Southern Alberta is “pretty much assured” for the next three to four years, due to resources allocated for exercises, he said.
The military is always looking into training possibilities elsewhere in Europe, the Middle East, Canada and the U.S., he said, with an announcement expected later this year about “what takes us beyond 2022.”
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