Commanding Officer's Update
By LCol PPJ Demers
Your Regiment has had an amazing year. It would not be an overstatement that the changes we have seen and the tasks we have been assigned have truly been “history in the making”. We have reached a steady state in preparing tank squadrons for deployment on a rotational basis and so I finally have the time to pause and write an update letter to all of you who are away from the Regiment.
I doubt that anyone foresaw the changes the Regiment would be facing this year. When I took command on 30 June, the Regiment was slated to provide a Reconnaissance Squadron for Afghanistan early in 2008. We were also to be prepared to lead a small Task Force, based on another Reconnaissance Squadron, for a second theatre of operations in the spring of 2007. The realities of combat operations in Afghanistan in July and August 2006 made it clear that the firepower, protection and mobility of tanks are required after all in the Contemporary Operating Environment. Combat losses hit home here as we lost a fine professional soldier, Corporal Francisco Gomez of ‘E’ Company. Corporal Gomez, who was attached to the 1 PPCLI BG, died when a suicide bomber struck his Bison on 22 July. E Company and the Regiment honoured his life and service with a funeral in Edmonton and an internment at the National Military Cemetery in Ottawa. We then quickly turned our attention to preparing soldiers for operations.
The first squadron to deploy was ‘B’ Squadron, led by Maj Cadieu and SSM Laughlin, which left for Afghanistan on very short notice to join the 1st Bn RCR Battlegroup. The squadron was in Wainwright conducting troop level battle runs when I received the order to have a tank squadron ready for deployment in 14 days. A squadron bivouac of 150 personnel grew into a camp of 600 as infantry, artillery and engineer sub-units joined in the combined arms training of B Squadron. Tanks and Tracked LAVs were overhauled, uparmoured, and deployed into Afghanistan. Our Headquarters Squadron maintainers deserve a great deal of credit for making this a success under incredibly challenging timelines.
As soon as ‘B’ Squadron deployed in October, it was time to prepare ‘A’ Squadron for their rotation behind ‘B’. ‘A’ Squadron and the maintainers had even greater challenges in getting our next 15 tanks running to ensure that their training went ahead and that they were ready to conduct operations. The squadron, led by Maj Broomfield and SSM Crabb, was put through its paces and joined the 2nd Bn RCR Battlegroup on CMTC. The “Gunfighter” PWT 4 training was done on some very cold January days but the important thing is that the squadron was ready to go in February to relieve ‘B’. The performance of both squadrons has been outstanding. They are respected by the Battlegroups they have joined and feared by the Taliban they fight. The tanks and crews have been tested in every respect—their firepower, their protection, and the mobility provided by their tracks, dozer blades and mine ploughs and rollers. They have faced RPGs, small arms fire, mines and IEDs. It has been wonderful to see that our old drills work well and that the combined arms team is critical to success against a determined enemy—whether he fights conventionally or as an insurgent. There is no doubt that the reduction in Canadian casualties is in no small part due to the capabilities that our tank squadrons bring to the Task Force.
In addition to the squadrons we have also deployed key staff officers to work in the Task Force Afghanistan Headquarters of the Senior Serving Strathcona, Brigadier General Grant, and have sent a crew for his tactical command vehicle. During their 9 month tour, these Strathconas are bringing class and calm professionalism to Task Force Afghanistan.
‘C’ Squadron has been reformed and is completing CMTC now. In order to assist in filling out our ranks and to develop operational tank experience in the other Regiments, a troop from each of the RCD and 12e RBC as well as 6 Reservists have joined ‘C’ Squadron. Under the leadership of Maj Gosselin and SSM Bamford, this squadron has become a cohesive team that immediately started making a great impression on the 3rd Bn R22eR as an outstanding manoeuvre sub-unit when the Battlegroup formed for an exercise in Fort Bliss, Texas in January and February. In April ‘C’ Squadron continued to refine it’s tactical skills as it supported the Combat Team Commander’s Course in Wainwright. The Squadron continues to impress with its ability to handle all of the challenges thrown at it during CMTC this month.
You will have all heard about the tank replacement project. ‘C’ Squadron begins its Leopard 2 conversion at the German Armour School in Munster in June. The mechanics and ARV drivers will be trained at Kraus-Maffei Wegmann in Munich. The Leopard 2A6M will give us outstanding capabilities with its increased protection, particularly against mines and IEDs, as well as its devastating firepower.
‘B’ Squadron’s Welcome Home and Medals Parade will be on 24 May. Our CLS, LGen Leslie, will be reviewing the parade and presenting medals. Given his role in getting a tank squadron into theatre and then moving the tank replacement project forward, I cannot think of a more appropriate presiding officer for this historic parade, which will recognize the first Canadian tank squadron to engage in combat operations since the Korean War. ‘B’ Squadron will see some personnel changes next week, including incoming OC Maj Adams and SSM Batty, and then begins it’s pre-deployment training cycle for TF 1-08, joining the 2nd Bn PPCLI Battlegroup.
On the Reconnaissance front, things have been on hold. All deployable soldiers have gone to tank squadrons this year. I am pleased to announce that we are forming a fourth fighting squadron in each Regiment. For us that means re-forming Reconnaissance Squadron starting this summer and to be complete by the end of APS ’08. Additional PYs and personnel are beginning to come in. Our intention is to be able to deploy both a tank and a reconnaissance squadron in 2009.
The LAV TUA ITAS initial product testing and acceptance was completed last July and we had a platoon ready to deploy with ‘B’ Squadron by end September. The company supported the Combat Team Commander’s Course in April and a 1 PPCLI exercise in May, showcasing the capabilities of the ITAS system and the skills of the crews. This is part of our internal “information operations” campaign to educate our Army on what this system could bring to operations. Unfortunately, we have not received orders to deploy this outstanding capability yet. Coupled with soldiers who I am confident are the best-trained TOW crews in the world, there is no doubt that ‘E’ Company will make a huge impact whenever they are let loose upon an operational theatre. In the meantime, the TOW Company continues to develop courses and training on this system while contributing individual soldiers on attachment to the 2nd Bn PPCLI Battlegroup for operations.
Society troops had full calendars until August, but have had to reduce their activities over the past 7 months. The Mounted Troop, Pipe Band, and Historical Vehicle Troop have all sent most of their membership overseas. They are now reforming and preparing to carry on with promoting our proud history and heritage over the summer, with appearances at the Calgary Stampede, Spruce Meadows and Capital Ex Days to name a few. Spruce Meadows will be making a point of educating its spectators that many members of our SMT have recently returned from Afghanistan. They are not merely “ceremonial” troops.
All in all, it has been an outstanding year. Troops are focused in garrison and in the field as they get themselves or our kit ready for operations. Overseas, they are performing brilliantly across the entire spectrum of operations. They have risen to every challenge. I am sure that you are as proud of them as I am. Have a wonderful summer with your families and I hope that you drop in when you get a chance.