Canadian Forces invade Virginia during Exercise Southbound Trooper

Soldiers of the 2nd Regiment, Royal Canadian Horse Artillery based out of Canadian Forces Base Petawawa in Ontario fire M-777 Howitzers Feb.22 during Southbound Trooper at Fort Pickett, Va. Southbound Trooper is a joint, multi-national exercise conducted by the Canadian Army Reserves in the United States annually. The 2nd RCHA, an active-duty Canadian Army unit, saw the advantages of firing their 155mm guns on the Fort Pickett ranges and made coordination to participate in Southbound Trooper alongside their reserve counterparts. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

FORT PICKETT, Va.—Soldiers from the Halifax, Nova Scotia-based 36 Canadian Brigade Group entered Fort Pickett Feb. 18 to engage in Exercise Southbound Trooper, a seven day training exercise designed to bring Canadian troops realistic training scenarios incorporated with U.S. forces. The 700-plus Canadian Soldiers focused their training on military operations in urban terrain, improvised explosive device defeat, and air and infantry operations.

The Canadian forces decided to come to Fort Pickett over a decade ago and have been returning almost every year due to the access to equipment and facilities Fort Pickett can provide to the Soldiers that they do not have access to in Nova Scotia. At Fort Pickett during Southbound Trooper, the Soldiers of the 36 CBG have access to UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and their Navy equivalent, Seahawk helicopters, and C-130 Hercules aircraft via the Blackstone Army Air Field.

“By coming here we are able to complete a lot of our Battle Task Standards, and we do that with things we could never get in Canada,” said Col. James Camsell, 36 CBG commander. “We have over a thousand Soldiers, Canadian and U.S. here. There’s about 700 Canadian and 300 U.S. We have over 11 American units on site here, from U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corp, West Virginia Guard, Virginia Guard, Maryland Guard, etc., etc.”

While staying focused on their Battle Task Standards, the Canadians also utilized their time during the exercise to build on their international relationships, which prove invaluable during real world, international operations.

“What we’ve done here is we’ve partnered up with them at the lowest levels and that allows our Soldiers, our Canadian Soldiers and our American allies to work together, to learn different drills and to become friends,” Camsell said.

Soldiers of the Fort Pickett-based 183rd Regiment, Regional Training Institute teach rappelling techniques Feb. 21 to Soldiers of the Canandian Army At Fort Pickett.The Canadian forces are at Fort Pickett for one week participating in Southbound Trooper 2012, an annual exercise held in Virginia by the Canadian forces. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Being a reserve unit presents time challenges for the 36 when it comes to meeting their annual training objectives. Coming to Fort Pickett for Southbound Trooper provides the unit with ample time to conduct training and meet those objectives, so the Soldiers will be ready and relevant if called up for active service.

“We are very similar to the Virginia National Guard, where most of us are [part-time] Soldiers, so by coming here it gives us a collective training period of five days where we can practice a lot of the skills that we would use overseas,” he said. “About 25% of our Soldiers are Afghanistan veterans. We have a lot of young folks who have never served overseas, so being here with Afghanistan veterans, both American and Canadian, we learn a lot of skills that help us move forward.”

According to Camsell, the focus of the exercise is to train what they call their sub–units, companies or platoons at the lower levels. The training at Fort Pickett includes everything from convoy operations, rappelling from helicopters, artillery operations, medical evacuation to counter-IED, force on force and airmobile operations.

“A big thing in Canada now is ‘Train to Excite’. As our Army is out of Afghanistan, we want our Soldiers to stay and to be retained, and the only way we are going to do that is by having challenging training events and this is one of them,” he said.

The exercise task force commander, Lt. Col. Victor Grandy is the man directly responsible for Southbound Trooper coming to Virginia in the first place. He discovered Fort Pickett over a decade ago and immediately knew the post could meet his organization’s needs and has been coming back ever since.

“We have been coming to Fort Pickett since 2001; we were looking for an installation where we could conduct urban operations and aviation ops and this has been the best place we have ever encountered,” said Grandy. “It seems to be a crossroads for the American military; we began training with the 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment, Virginia National Guard and from there we have linked up with U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Navy and a multitude of National Guard units and Special Forces out of Fort Bragg.

“Coming here, we seem to be a catalyst. We come up with an exercise plan and those multiple units plug in and it looks like a task force in Iraq or Afghanistan would look,” he said. “It’s incredible training value for our dollar and we’ve built long-lasting relationships and friendships over the last nine to 10 years.”

Grandy expressed his desire to bring Southbound Trooper for years to come. He recognized the potential for unparalleled training anywhere else in the world because of the host of training facilities and complexes available at Fort Pickett.

“The facilities at Fort Pickett are outstanding. The MOUT site in particular is a big draw for us, but then you have not only the MOUT site, but then the ability to branch out into other places; the multiple villages that have been constructed, the waterways that are here so that we can switch from urban to a water-crossing and you get the open savannah-type area here, so Fort Pickett’s got multiple venues for us to train on,” Grandy said. “Then Fort Pickett has arranged for us, venues off-post that we can go into to challenge the troops in different areas. The MOUT, the waterways and the range complex are amazing; the Infantry Platoon Battle Course is outstanding and the Urban Assault Course and the shoot house are excellent.

“There is no question; the hospitality in Virginia is second to none. Everywhere we go, we have been treated royally.”

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