The latest deployment of Edmonton-based 3rd Canadian Division soldiers will “hit the ground running” when they arrive in Poland as part of Canada’s ongoing commitment to NATO missions in Eastern Europe.
About 100 soldiers from 1 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group departed Wednesday from Edmonton to take part in large-scale military exercises as part of Operation Reassurance.
Predominantly drawn from 3rd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, the troops will replace Canadians nearing the end of their own six-month stint.
Since the operation began in May 2014, about 1,600 Canadian troops have rotated through the region to improve “interoperability” between NATO nations and to act as an “assurance and deterrence measure” against Russian aggression in the region.
Canadian soldiers currently in Poland earlier this month wrapped up two military exercises with Dutch, Polish, German, Estonian, Belgian and U.S. troops which saw them hone their skills via urban warfare and reconnaissance drills.
This newest deployment will undertake similar war games, Col. William Fletcher, commander of 1 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group, said from the tarmac at Edmonton International Airport.
“Our soldiers will deploy and they will work as hard as they need to work,” he said. “They will live hard. They will live in holes in the ground doing simulated war games against a very significant enemy threat.”
Fletcher said the mission was to “show solidarity” with NATO allies “in light of some aggression along the border with Russia.”
Those aggressive overtures are only going to intensify in the coming months, with Russia’s ministry of defence planning to launch two joint military exercises — Slavic Brotherhood and Zapad 2017 — with Belarus and Serbia in June and September.
Meanwhile in Ukraine, a ceasefire put in place on Monday to halt fighting between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces in the embattled Donetsk region appears tenuous at best.
About 200 troops, mostly from 3rd Canadian Division, have been stationed in the far west of Ukraine since 2015 as part of a bilateral agreement to help improve that country’s military.
Despite the increased sabre-rattling from Moscow, full-time reservist Master Cpl. Brennan Massey said he was excited to be headed on his first overseas deployment to Poland.
“It’s good to finally contribute to the Canadian Forces,” the 24-year-old medic said. “I wholeheartedly agree that we need to take part in these missions to strengthen our military force.”
For Massey, who hails from Winnipeg, the deployment marks the continuation of a family tradition — his grandfather was stationed in London as a Lancaster bomber engineer during the Second World War and his two great-grandfathers fought at Vimy Ridge.
“That’s what led me into the military in the first place was that sense of family tradition and the want to serve my country,” he said.
“I feel that there are a lot of people out there less fortunate than myself and that’s why I became a medic and help people.”