By Tpr Korenowski
2 March 2010

When it was announced that two months of work-up training were to be conducted at Ft Irwin, California, it was doubtful that anyone in A Sqn knew exactly what they were getting into. Traditionally Wainwright and Texas have been the pre-deployment training areas for fledgling Task-Forces, so California was a new training area to get accustomed to. Sadly, however, all preconceived notions of beach parties and amiable weather were shattered upon A Sqn’s arrival in the ‘sandbox’.

In Alberta, if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes. In Ft Irwin, if you don’t like the weather, too bad. Hail, flash-flooding, sideways snow, hurricane-like winds, dust-storms and thunderstorms all conspired to shatter the morale of the Sqn. True to the nature of Strathcona soldiers, everybody remained flexible and maintained the dark-sense of humour that is a staple of the Armour Corps.

Despite the relentless weather, the Sqn tempo remained high. With a high tempo, the soldiers were out wrenching on the tanks and were instrumental in the Sqn producing the highest number of “Runners and Gunners” in a pre-deployment Sqn since the tanks were sent to Afghanistan. Not only was this accomplishment a distinct point of pride for the soldiers of A Sqn, but a very sobering reminder of what would be waiting for them in Afghanistan.

Adjusting to the American-influenced training was another interesting challenge. In particular, the Mass-Casualty stand deserves particular note. With an astronomical budget for training their soldiers, the Americans employ Hollywood special-effects experts to build mock-towns and hire actors to populate them. During one training session, the Americans decided to try and overwhelm the soldiers participating in the exercise. From rockets on wires exploding, to real amputees with fake injuries screaming on the ground, the members involved were exposed to as realistic a scenario as possible.

On a lighter side, the ever-present catering trucks were a welcome sight at all hours of the day. MCpl Spencer, especially, seemed to have a sixth-sense for the whereabouts of the “gut-trucks” and on one occasion spotted one a kilometre away - at night. Cheeseburgers and coffee were a blessing in disguise and helped keeps the troops happy, especially those tasked with QRF duties.

For many, the high-point of the deployments was the twenty-six hours of leave in Las Vegas given to the Battle-Group. Everybody was given an opportunity to refresh both mind and body, be it solitary confinement in a hotel room with television and six-pack, or “suiting-up” and staying awake for the whole leave-period, sampling all that Vegas had to offer. Regardless of the personal experiences, once back at the FOB, there seemed to be a sweeping case of drained bank-accounts and “26-hour Amnesia”. Must have been something in the water…

The Sqn’s experiences in the deserts of California will not soon be forgotten. The uniqueness of the training, the all-too realistic setting and the high tempo formed the Sqn into a cohesive unit, which in turn gave rise to a newfound Sqn pride. Both the fun memories and the lessons learned will serve the soldiers well as they get ready to deploy, with the main lesson learned being that all soldiers must expect and prepare for the unexpected.