A Sqn Ex SOUTHERN BEAR, Ft BLISS Texas
By Lt Tim Day
The New Year saw A Squadron preparing to go to Ft. Bliss, Texas with the rest of the Task Force 3-08 Battle Group for Exercise SOUTHEN BEAR. The lead elements of the squadron deployed in late January with the rest of the squadron meeting up with them a week later in early February. Once in location, the squadron wasted no time in heading straight to the range to zero the tanks. Some of them required remote firing after major overhauls to the weapons systems back in Canada. The squadron fired approximately three thousand rounds in only three days. Needless to say, there was not much left in the way of hard targets out on Range 40 in Dona Ana once A Squadron was done with it.
Once the ranges in Dona Ana were complete, the squadron moved to the other side of the training area to Shorad; part of the White Sands Missile Range. A Squadron set up a Forward Operating Base (FOB) in that location and began preparations for live fire attacks at the Troop/Platoon and Combat Team level. First and Second Troop were grouped together under the OC, Maj Ian McDonnell, whereas Third and Fourth Troop were grouped together under the BC, Capt Clayton Gardner. Each grouping took turns operating with different infantry companies and other Battle Group assets at the Combat Team level. Each attack was a ferocious display of the awesome firepower that a Combat Team can unleash when required. FOO parties guided in CF-18s with bombs and guns. They also called in indirect fire from M777 155mm guns located in the distance. Once the villages were pounded sufficiently by the aircraft and the guns, tanks in a firebase used precise direct fire to engage hostile targets. This paved the way for the infantry and intimate support tanks to roll up to and through the objective with little to no remaining opposition. The tanks led the LAVs up to their individual section objectives giving them the cover and fire support they needed to clear the buildings in the village one by one.
Certainly the Canadian prairie winter is not conducive to the kind of training that A Squadron needed to deploy to Afghanistan. The exercise provided the opportunity for A Squadron to operate in a desert environment with other arms of the Battle Group that it will be deploying with. Each member of the squadron had to deal with the harsh desert environment while still focusing on conducting military operations. What sets aside the soldier from the camper is that a camper can survive in the desert perhaps, but the soldier has to both survive and fight in the desert when required. A Squadron proved that they were more than able to do just that. Despite a rigorous schedule of operations and vehicle maintenance, squadron efficiency and morale never diminished throughout the exercise.
Towards the end of the exercise, A Squadron was given the opportunity to have a night off in El Paso to blow off some steam and some American Dollars. The squadron took advantage of a field pay advance in American currency and an excellent Canadian exchange rate. As a result, many kit bags came back fuller than when they left and many wallets came back lighter too. In all, it was an excellent experience in that the squadron was able to familiarize itself with the desert as well as work with other members of the Battle Group.