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Six stories from local soldiers who have deployed internationally in the past year

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31 minute read

In the year that has passed since the last Remembrance Day, six soldiers from our local army units have deployed on international missions to Ukraine, Lebanon, and Latvia. They were asked a series of questions recently to get a sense of what they do on these missions and what they’ve learned, both about themselves, their mission, and the countries that they deployed to.

By way of background, Red Deer’s Cormack Armoury is home to 41 Signal Regiment, (2 Squadron), a communications unit, and 78th Field Battery, an artillery unit, along with army, air, and sea cadets.

The following are transcripts of interviews with each of them upon their return.

Major (Maj) James Gascoyne, 41 Signal Regiment

Major Gascoyne deployed to Ukraine

Mission name and country deployed to: Operation UNIFIER, Ukraine (Ukraine is situated in the central part of Eastern Europe, on the crossroads of major transportation routes from Europe to Asia and from the Scandinavian states to the Mediterranean region).

Dates deployed: October 2019 – April 2020

Job/role while deployed: Staff Officer to the Defense Review Advisory Board in Kiev and later Staff Officer with the Task Force Headquarters.

First impression when arriving “in country”: Central Ukraine had temperate climate and countryside appeared similar to central Alberta. Visible contrast between new and old infrastructure. Modern buildings next to decades old Soviet era apartment buildings.

What are 3 good memories you have from your mission:

  1. Strong relationship with the people I worked with from Ukraine and other supporting countries
  2. Lasting friendships with members of my task force that I served with on Operation UNIFIER
  3. Being involved in the development of democratic institutions and watching a country grow.

Challenges you faced during deployment: Language barrier. The pandemic occurred towards the end of my deployment, resulting in much of the work in Kiev coming to a halt because of the closure to international travel and restrictions on the work place.

How did your deployment help/hurt your civilian employment/studies? My employer was supportive and I was able to return to my position.

What do you remember from when you arrived back in Canada? I was quarantine for two weeks at a CAF air force base before I could return home. This was actually beneficial as it gave me a chance to decompress before returning to civilian life.

Did you face any challenges when you returned from deployment? Being isolated due to the pandemic was difficult. When there was an opportunity to work for the Brigade during the spring and summer, I signed up right away.

Does Remembrance Day feel any different this year being the first one since your return? Last November I took part in a large multi-national ceremony in Kiev. This year, the restrictions on gathering will likely prevent CAF from participating in public.

What should Canadians think about this Remembrance Day? Democracy does not come free. The fight against corruption, autocracy, and apathy continues today.

Corporal (Cpl) Shane R. Kreil, 41 Signals Regiment (2 Sqn)

Cpl Kreil deployed to Latvia

Mission name and country deployed to: Op Reassurance – Latvia (Latvia is in north-eastern Europe with a coastline along the Baltic Sea. It borders with Estonia, Russia, Belarus and Lithuania)

Dates deployed:  10 Jan 2020 – 10 July 2020

Job/role while deployed:  Communications Operator in Rear CP and RRB Dets

First impression when arriving “in country”: Latvia is a beautiful – lush green forest covered country – reminds me most of the province of British Columbia with its tall trees and proximity to the Ocean.  The people are relatively tall and slender and as a whole, generally friendly.  There did seem to be a large number of run-down buildings in less densely populated areas indicative of the Cold War era pre-Latvian independence.

What are 3 good memories you have from your mission: 

  1. The only RRB (Radio Rebroadcast) Exercise that my detachment of 3 soldiers went on was a solid moment for us – a confirmation of skills and faith in our ability to do our job well and independently. The freedom felt at that moment in time wherein we were away from the main battlegroup and left to our own devices was fantastic.  It showed us that leadership had confidence in us and proved to ourselves that we could do whatever was required in that role.
  2. PSP Staff (Civilians hired to run certain tasks around camp) had put on a number of excursions to the surrounding area where we were able to see what Latvia and its culture were all about – one of these was a tour to the KGB museum. It was a fantastic eye-opener that gave us a glimpse into what happened to Latvian citizens during occupation and a feeling as to why they do not want to undergo similar circumstances ever again – hence the integration with NATO.  This cultural awareness was a fantastic memory.
  3. Once again PSP was in the job of creating lasting memories – they hosted a number of Bingo events – these brought a sense of “home” to those deployed in Latvia and helped with bringing nations together – in particular relations with the Spanish who were very boisterous and enthusiastic when it came to Bingo.

What are 3 challenges you faced during deployment:

  1. COVID 19 was by far the biggest kick for us – I had only JUST begun my mid-tour leave – flew to Dublin, Ireland where I was to spend the next two weeks with family. Very little was out of place the first half day there though there was much talk of closure of certain events.  The next day was almost surreal on a guided bus tour – going past the Guinness Factory a few days before St. Patrick’s Day – and it was CLOSED.  That was the first indicator we had that this was incredibly serious and impactful – that night as I was on the phone with the family wishing them a safe flight over I got a call telling me I was being recalled to Latvia in the morning – it was heartwrenching calling the family back to tell them NOT to board the plane as I would not be there when they arrived.  The next two weeks were spent in quarantine in Latvia and the remainder of the tour felt very different.
  2. It was difficult to intermingle with NATO personnel at times from other nations due to the difference in spoken languages, both during exercises and during off time. Though this was a challenge it was an excellent opportunity to discover ways to communicate with people whose native language is not English.
  3. One last major hurdle was not actually in the deployed environment but instead on the home-front. With the world being turned upside down due to Covid 19 in addition to other family matters (deaths, weddings, other personal issues that arose) it was very difficult to be in a virtual bubble in Latvia while the rest of my family had to deal with everything happening in Canada.  Due to the remote location we live in there was very little in the way of support services my family could call on to assist which compounded the stresses on both family and me as a deployed member.

How did your deployment help/hurt your civilian employment/studies? Due to deployment I had essentially farmed my job out to a number of other individuals in order to keep things running during the slow season.  Unfortunately Covid happened and management decided that restructuring was required – as I was deployed I was unable to compete for any of the positions worked in nor able to provide directional feedback with pros/cons and impacts to business.  Upon return to work in July just in time for a busy agricultural season I was promptly demoted and moved into a modified work schedule but with no impact to my pay – just responsibility.  Not all for the worse – it means that working from home can be done without concern as to what is actually happening at the branch – major adjustment to way of thinking required is all.

What do you remember from when you arrived back in Canada? It was a late return – plane landed at 2300h in Edmonton – we had to sort baggage and transport all the way to the North end of Edmonton (Garrison) in order to meet personnel that were to transport us to our home unit and from there family would meet us.  It also proved difficult communicating to the family as my phone was deactivated during my tour – so messages were being relayed through others.  During deployment my Regiment had undergone a leadership change and the new CO/RSM were there to meet us at the garrison – by this time is was about 0200h.  After being transported back to Red Deer to meet a very tired looking family it was about 0400h and back in my home town by 0545h.  I am still getting used to seeing arrows on grocery store floors and using hand sanitizer with an insane frequency.

Did you face any challenges when you returned from deployment? Minus the work adjustment and getting used to different procedures being used by day to day business challenges upon return have been minimal.

Does Remembrance Day feel any different this year being the first one since your return? Undoubtedly Remembrance Day will be different this year – not only due to many Legions not holding an official ceremony due to Covid fears but a new respect for what our predecessors fought and died for is very real.

What should Canadians think about this Remembrance Day? As Canadians even though we have a diverse history and broad spectrum of personal experiences most of us were born in a free and unoccupied country and cannot fathom a daily struggle for freedom and independence that is happening in other countries around the world even today and has happened in generations past.  I would encourage Canadians to really think deeply on what it means to be free and the sacrifices made by many people to keep it this way including time away from families, hardship and difficulty with daily tasks and the ultimate sacrifice when necessary. 

Master Bombardier (MBdr) Rhett Quaale 78 Field Battery / 20 Field Regiment

Bdr Quaale deployed to Lebanon

Mission name and country deployed to: Operation Impact Lebanon (Lebanon is located in the Middle East and bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the west, Israel to the south, and Syria to the east and north.

Dates deployed: 14 Dec 2020 – 16 March 2020

Job/role while deployed:  Land Border Regt (LBR) Instructor. Our Job was to teach the Lebanese LBRs to work, move and survive in winter conditions. For instance LOSV, Improvised shelters, how to treat cold weather injuries.

First impression when arriving “in country”:  It was a bit of a shock to see firsthand how different parts of the country were, from very poor (refugee camps) to very westernized.

What are 3 good memories you have from your mission:

  1. Improving my own skills for surviving winter conditions
  2. Making new friends both from Canada and Lebanon
  3. Getting to see parts of Lebanon that I probably would never see if not for my deployment.

What are 3 challenges you faced during your deployment:

  1. Language gaps made it difficult to train and trying to convey what we were trying to say through translators
  2. Working with a fairly new army who aren’t as well equipped as the CAF took some time to get use to
  3. Being away from friends and family through life events

How did your deployment help/hurt your civilian employment/studies? I am employed full time by the CAF.

What do you remember from when you arrived back in Canada? I remember a sense of disbelief that I was home when I landed in Canada and I was very excited to see my wife and friends again.

Did you face any challenges when you returned from deployment? When I arrived back in Canada it was the beginning of COVID 19 and I had to stay isolated from people I hadn’t seen in months.

Does Remembrance Day feel any different this year being the first one since your return? I’ve always felt pride being a solider but having the opportunity to deploy has made me hold my head a little higher. I’m humbled still by the fact that there are many solders who didn’t make it back home.

What should Canadians think about this Remembrance Day?

Canadians should always remember soldiers stand for Canadian values both domestically and abroad, and that men and woman have died defending our values. As well, soldiers who have come back home with both physical and mental injuries that changed their lives forever. Remember that they went on deployment to represent Canada.

Corporal (Cpl) Courtney McKinley – 41 Signal Regiment, (2 Sqn)

Cpl McKinley deployed to Latvia

Mission name and country deployed to: OP REASSURANCE – Latvia

Dates deployed: 15 JUL 19 – 15 JAN 20 

Job/role while deployed: Radio operator – Forward CP

First impression when arriving “in country”: My first impression was being confused by European road signs and lights. A red light flips back to yellow before it turns green! Besides that, wondering why the Latvians did not smile more because their country is beautiful!

What are 3 good memories you have from your mission:

  1. We did a road move with all the multi-national armoured vehicles through the Latvian countryside. It was nice to see the locals waving and taking photos. The trees in Latvia are the nicest I have seen.
  2. Another signaller and I went to Latvian elementary schools for Operation Radio Santa where we used our radio’s to “call the North Pole.” I was Santa’s signaller out in the van, who happened to be an old Latvian veteran, while my colleague played the Head Elf in the classrooms. I enjoyed spending a few days away from work to make the kids happy and listen to Santa’s amazing stories.
  3. Working with soldiers from eight other nations was incredible because we all realized that we are not so different from one another, and that we all share similar experiences being far from home.

What are some challenges you faced during deployment:

  1. Keeping my focus on my job while also remembering I have people waiting for me at home. It was easier at times for me to ignore things going on in Canada, and I was on exercise for a large part of the tour, which often left me mentally fatigued in my downtime.
  2. Adjusting how I have been trained to operate to accommodate soldiers from other nations. It is too easy to think the way you have been taught is the best way. Every soldier has something to offer and that is why we all come together as a battlegroup.

How did your deployment help/hurt your civilian employment/studies? When I arrived back in Canada I immediately went back to university. On one hand it is great that I was not too late into the semester — I did not want to be a full year behind. On the other hand, this was a serious change of pace and I struggled tremendously to get back into my post-secondary routine.

What do you remember from when you arrived back in Canada? When the plane first landed in Canada everyone was so ecstatic because we thought we were in Edmonton…turns out we were in Winnipeg with three hours flying left. Eventually we arrived late in the night, it took forever to get our luggage and I had never been so irritable in my life. I just wanted to get home and the delays did not seem to quit. Eventually it all worked out, the logistics of these things are never as simple as imagined while overtired and homesick.

Does Remembrance Day feel any different this year being the first one since your return? Last year I really missed celebrating in Canada, it was not the same. Although all the nations were respectful, Remembrance Day does not carry the same weight for non-Commonwealth countries. This year many people are remaining inside due to the virus, which is great, but you do not see those poppies on jackets as frequently and the ceremonies will be small for safety reasons.

What should Canadians think about this Remembrance Day? The world is quite different than it was last year. With the pandemic and Canadians staying at home, it is easy for people to forget why we celebrate Remembrance Day.  Canadians should think of creative ways to show their remembrance to the Fallen. Remembrance Day is a part of Canadian identity that deserves to be preserved and we can do so safely. Wear your poppy during your online conferences/Zoom meetings maybe!

 

Bombardier (Bdr) Levi Tanner Mee, 78th Field Battery, 20th Field Regiment

Bdr Mee deployed to Latvia

Mission name and country deployed to: Operation Reassurance, Latvia

Dates deployed: 15 August 2019 – 14 October 2019

Job/role while deployed: Command Post Technician / Signaller

First impression when arriving “in country”: First thing I noticed was how old all the buildings and roads where

What are 3 good memories you have from your mission: 1) Visiting downtown Riga. 2) Watching the live fire armoured demonstration. 3) Ball hockey tournament during Latvian Constitution Day.

What are 3 challenges you faced during your deployment: 1) Learning to use new equipment used by the Regular Force. 2) Integrating and communicating with other nations. 3) Finding time to call home due to time zone and work schedule

How did your deployment help/hurt your civilian employment/studies? Really had no effect as I was working for the army doing courses.

What do you remember from when you arrived back in Canada? Being tired from long flight and time change.

Did you face any challenges when you returned from deployment? No, I took leave then returned to working for my unit.

Does Remembrance Day feel any different this year being the first one since your return? No

What should Canadians think about this Remembrance Day? Canadians should be thinking about those who gave their life for their country and those serving overseas now.

Warrant Officer (WO) James Wyszynski 41 Signal Regiment HQ Sqn SSM

WO Wyszynski deployed to Jordan

Mission name and country deployed to: Op IMPACT, CTAT, Jordan, (Jordan is bordered by Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria, Israel and Palestine West Bank) 

Dates deployed: 07 July 2019 to 12 Jan 2020

Job/role while deployed: CQ Mentor. Imbedded  into Infantry Battalion (Bn),  325 Km south of Amman Canadian HQ. 1-15 miles drive north of the ancient city of Aqaba. I Instructed and mentored Jordanian personnel on Logistic Combat Support Services (CSS). This resembles CAF administration company in Infantry Battalion.

I also taught methods of resupply by ground and air transport,  convoy drill, counter ambush drill, defensive routine. Spent days with supply, ammunition, rations, medical, vehicle, and weapon spare parts to support an infantry Battalion. Introduced resupply by other methods such as donkey and camel. Aided in instruction of resupply by air and conducted joint exercise with 1 Bn Royal Gurka Regiment (Nepalese under British army)

First impression when arriving “in country”:  It was very hot.  Temperatures of  +42C during the day and +38C at 0445 in morning. The civilian population was were welcoming as was the Jordanian Army.

What are 3 good memories you have from your mission: Each day seeing the beauty of desert land scape and camels wondering freely.

Another highlight was being invited for dinner to a Bedouin camp, where I was guest of honor, was another highlight.

Success of having Jordanian troops depart from hide at night with 37 vehicle convoy, several packets and arrive to destination on time and at correct location.

What are 3 challenges you faced during deployment: I took for granted all students could read and perform basic math. I had to teach these basic skills to them so that they could understand navigation and enable them to be deployable in the field and capable from an operational perspective.

Also, language was always a barrier and I worked closely with a language assistant. We used pictures and drawings to communicate and convey ideas.

How did your deployment help/hurt your civilian employment/studies? This is difficult to assess. The onset of Covid 19 started on my arrival back to Canada. The impact of the virus is well known and I have had very little civilian employment as an independent electrical contractor.

What do you remember from when you arrived back in Canada?  That I had not gotten paid my allowance.

Did you face any challenges when you returned from deployment?  Civilian Work. This however was due to the pandemic.

Does Remembrance Day feel any different this year being the first one since your return? This was my 6th deployment so it didn’t change anything. Each time I arrive back (from deployment) the county has changed somewhat. Maybe some things like different Canadian currency or store that were open are now closed.

What should Canadians think about this Remembrance Day? I feel grateful that Canada has a strong democratic society, that it is multicultural. Generally Canadian’s take some pride with having strong environmental values. Canada is open, free travel is normal and uninterrupted by the state. Freedom of speech and right to hold peaceful protest are normal. I can’t say 100% for sure that all of these things gains were given to us by our soldiers in conflicts.  I do recognize, though, that without their commitment and sacrifice we would be living in very different society.

About 41 Signal Regiment: The Signal Corps in Canada originated in 1903. An independent Reserve Communication Troop was created Red Deer in 1974.  As part of the Canadian Armed Forces Communications and Electronics branch, they play a critical role in the communication systems deployed in the field, and increasingly, cyber and intelligence.

About 78th Field Battery:  78th Field Battery is part of the 20th Field Regiment Royal Canadian Artillery, an army reserve unit based out of Red Deer and Edmonton.  Created in 1920,  it formed part of 13 Field Regiment and saw action in WW II in such places as Boulogne, Calais, The Scheldt, Wortburg, Niemejan, Millimgen.

Lloyd Lewis is Honorary Colonel of 41 Signal Regiment.

Local artist records original song for Remembrance Day with video showcasing Red Deer’s military history

 

 

 

President Todayville Inc., Honorary Colonel 41 Signal Regiment, Board Member Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Arts Award Foundation, Director Canadian Forces Liaison Council (Alberta) musician, photographer, former VP/GM CTV Edmonton.

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Alberta

Beehives and goat farms: Lacombe school shortlisted in global environmental contest

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Taylor Perez says she learned more about her passions while tending beehives, goats and fruit trees at her central Alberta high school than sitting through lessons in a classroom.

“These are all skills we don’t learn in regular classes,” says the 18-year-old student at Lacombe Composite High School.

“You’re not going to learn how to collaborate with community members by sitting in a classroom learning about E = mc2.”

Perez and her classmates are buzzing with excitement after their school’s student-led beekeeping program, goat farm, fruit orchard, tropical greenhouse and other environmental projects were recognized in a global sustainability contest among 10 other schools.

It’s the only North American school to be shortlisted by T4 Education, a global advocacy group, in its World’s Best School Prize for Environmental Action contest.

“The projects are coming from the students’ own hearts and passion for taking care of the environment,” says Steven Schultz, an agriculture and environmental science teacher who has been teaching in Lacombe since 1996.

“They are going to be our community leaders — maybe even our politicians — and for them to know what the heartbeat of their generation is (is) extremely important.”

Schultz says the projects are pitched and designed by students in the school’s Ecovision Club, to which Perez belongs, and he then bases a curriculum around those ideas.

The school of about 900 students began reducing its environmental footprint in 2006 when a former student heard Schultz say during a lesson on renewable energy that “words were meaningless or worthless without action,” the 56-year-old teacher recalls.

“She took that to heart and a year later she came back and told me that she wanted to take the school off the grid.”

Schultz and students watched a fire burn down solar panels on the school’s roof in 2010, an event that further transformed his approach to teaching.

“As their school was burning, my students gathered in tears. That day I realized that students really care about the environment and they really care about the projects that they were involved in.”

Since then, 32 new solar panels have been installed, and they produce up to four per cent of the school’s electricity. After the fire, students also wanted to clean the air in their classrooms so they filled some with spider plants, including one in the teachers’ lounge.

More recently, students replaced an old portable classroom on school property with a greenhouse that operates solely with renewable energy. It’s growing tropical fruits, such as bananas, pineapples, and lemons, and also houses some tilapia fish.

Two acres of the school are also covered by a food forest made up of almost 200 fruit trees and 50 raised beds where organic food is grown.

The school also works with a local farm and raises baby goats inside a solar-powered barn that was built with recycled material.

“They breed and milk them at the farm because there are really tight regulations,” says Schultz.

“We take the excrement from the goats and the hay and use it as mulch and fertilizers for our garden. The goats also chew up the grass and allow us not to have to use lawn mowers and tractors”

Perez said her favourite class is the beekeeping program with 12 hives that produce more than 300 kilograms of honey every year.

“I love that they have different roles in their own little societies,” Perez says of the bees.

She says while working with local businesses and groups as a part of her curriculum, she learned she’s passionate about the environment and wants to become a pharmacist so she can continue giving back to her community.

James Finley, a formerly shy Grade 10 student, says the Ecovision Club and environment classes have helped get him out of his comfort zone.

“I made friends, which was a hard thing for me in the beginning. But now I have, like, hundreds,” says the 16-year-old, who enjoyed the lessons he took on harvesting.

“Taylor and Mr. Schultz were the main people that made me stay.”

Schultz says the winners of the contest are to be announced in the fall.

A prize of about $322,000 will be equally shared among five winners.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sunday, July 3, 2022.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Fakiha Baig, The Canadian Press

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Alberta

Missing 13-year-old Edmonton girl found alive in Oregon, 41-year-old man arrested

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EDMONTON — Police say a 13-year-old Edmonton girl missing for more than a week has been found alive in the United States.

She was located following a week-long search that began when she was seen arriving at her junior high school but didn’t show up for class.

Edmonton Police Insp. Brent Dahlseide says the girl, who was reported missing June 24, is currently in an Oregon hospital for a precautionary examination after being found safe in the state early Saturday morning.

Dahlseide says a 41-year-old Oregon man will be charged with child luring and is expected to face additional charges in Canada and the U.S.

He says Edmonton police received assistance from other agencies in Canada, as well as from the FBI and other police services in the U.S.

Dahlseide says it’s believed the suspect came to Edmonton, but it’s not yet clear how he initially made contact with the girl or how she crossed the U.S. border.

“We would be speculating to say they crossed the border together, but I do know that they were located together, again, in the U.S. once they gained entry,” Dahlseide told reporters during an online news conference Saturday, noting he believed the two had been communicating online.

“I don’t know how long they may have been in contact with one another. I do know that the reason we’re going with a child-luring charge at this point is that it’s one we can support because of some of the online history.”

Photos of the girl have appeared on billboards and posters across Alberta this past week asking people to be on the lookout for her and contact police with tips.

Dahlseide said an Amber Alert was not issued because investigators lacked a description of a suspect or a suspect vehicle. He said police got that information on Friday and were drafting the alert that afternoon when they learned from Canada Border Services the suspect had crossed into the U.S.

At that point the suspect was no longer in Canadian jurisdiction, Dahlseide explained, which is another criteria for an Amber Alert. He said they made a deduction about where the suspect was going and alerted authorities on the U.S. side.

Dahlseide said he believed the arrest was made outside Gladstone, Oregon, just south of Portland, away from the suspect’s residence. He said the suspect’s name would not be released until charges are formally laid.

He said the girl’s family were informed early Saturday she’d been found safe and they are making arrangements to bring her home.

“I’m sure we likely woke them up, showing up at their door so early,” Dahlseide said.

Canadian investigators have not had a chance to speak with the girl or the suspect yet, Dahlseide said, and other questions remain.

He said investigators believe the suspect was in Mission, B.C. for three to four days, so they’ll be asking RCMP there to speak to people who may have seen him or the girl during that time. The FBI will also be able to help supply bank or credit card information to piece together the suspect’s movements, he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 2, 2022

Rob Drinkwater, The Canadian Press

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