Operation LENTUS – Home Game Home Run
By Lt Couture and Lt Jaradat
At around 2000 hours on Thursday, 20 June 2013, the Vanguard Company of the Immediate Reaction Unit (IRU) received the call to deploy forward and be prepared to assist with emergency operations for the floods occurring in Southern Alberta. After spending the better part of three months in the field, most Strathconas were looking forward to a much needed long weekend and some quality time with their families, but instead they were in for a trip to the scenic Canmore and Kananaskis region. Unfortunately, our friends and family would have to sit this one out. Due to heavy rains and higher than normal run off, the Bow and Elbow Rivers had caused severe flooding and damage to the Canmore and Kananaskis areas. This would be the area of operations tasked to the Vanguard and LdSH(RC) Battle Group. For many soldiers, this was unlike anything we had ever done before. Fellow Canadians were in trouble and it was severe enough to deploy the Canadian Armed Forces.
The IRU Vanguard, composed primarily of B Squadron personnel, assembled at the Regiment very quickly after receiving the call to mobilise. In an excellent display of preparedness, everyone was on time and had all their required kit. The B-Fleet wheeled vehicles were also in excellent condition and prepared to deploy in short notice. With everyone slightly overtired, yet excited to have a mission, there were only three things left to do: load the vehicles with the rations and equipment, wait for Capt Callum “I’m on my way” Smith, and anticipate the official order to move out. We didn’t know exactly where we were going or what we would be doing when we deployed, but what we did know was that Canadians needed our help and we were more then willing to assist them anyway possible.
After approximately six hours of preparation at the Regiment, we finally pushed out to rendezvous with the IRU Recce Party lead by CO LdSH(RC), LCol Paul Peyton, at the Red Deer Armoury. We stopped in Red Deer long enough for an hour of much needed shut-eye and a quick breakfast ration. From Red Deer we pushed out to our semi-permanent camp and base of operations at the Willow Rock Camp Grounds just east of Canmore, arriving around 0700 hours on 21 June.
As soon as we arrived at Willow Rock Camp Grounds, we were quick to work. We barely had time to dismount from our vehicles and busses before WO “We’re going first” Churchill had volunteered his platoon, call-sign (C/S) 23, for the first task from the Vanguard Company Commander, Maj Clayton Gardner. C/S 23 was briefed by the Vanguard 2IC, Capt John Kim, to move to the Delta Kananaskis Resort and assist with the evacuation of local civilians and tourists who had been stranded there due to a washed-out bridge. Lt Ahmad "Subbie Arabia" Jaradat and WO Churchill immediately coordinated with attachments from 1 Service Battalion. After a 30 minute drive to link up with the Vanguard Company Commander, the situation was assessed, and C/S 23 got to work with the evacuation of the resort. With WO Churchill ensuring that all vehicles were marshalled to their proper positions, the evacuation finally started to commence. In the end, C/S 23 assisted with the evacuation of 125 people from the Delta Kananaskis Resort. Once back on the ground at Willow Rock Camp Grounds, you could sense the pride within the soldiers who just completed their first domestic support task.
After the first day, you could sense the edginess in the Willow Rock Camp Grounds. Every single soldier was excited for an opportunity to go on a mission to assist Canadians in need. C/S 23 had been very successful with the first evacuation; however, the other two platoons had not yet been deployed in a situation where they were able to directly influence the evacuations. This opportunity came on the second day at 1400 hours when Sgt Jay Clark informed Lt Steve Couture and Sgt Stu McLoughlin that there was another mission – C/S 21 was in the breach for this task. The Operations Officer, Capt Paul Leonard briefed us on the situation: earlier that day, Maj Gardner and a medic from 1 Fd Amb, MCpl Shawn Banville, had taken a helicopter ride deep into Kananaskis county to William Watson Lodge to assess the requirements needed to evacuate a group of civilians. Roughly 40 people required recovery via helicopter, and many of them would require special assistance. C/S 21 was tasked to setup a receiving area for the civilians arriving via helicopter, ensuring they were comfortable and cared for until their families could arrive to retrieve them.
MCpl Nick Patterson and Cpl Evan Stewart were tasked to control civilian movement at the helicopter pickup point at William Watson Lodge. Almost immediately after C/S 21 arrived at the reception area, they heard inbound helicopters. Cpl Matt “No seriously I know how to land a helicopter” Sebo helped guide in the first Cormorant helicopter, and the rest of us immediately got to work assisting the evacuees. MCpl Rob Kearns, sporting a pretty ridiculous facial expression, got his picture on national news, as he pushed “the heaviest wheelchair of all time.” In the end, the total evacuees numbered 108 people and even a few dogs! On the third day of the operation, C/S 22 received the final task of the IRU Vanguard to receive and care for the final civilians to be evacuated from Kananaskis County. C/S 22 performed their duties with great success.
Operation LENTUS was nothing like a traditional military exercise. Domestic Operations encompass a multitude of problems and complexities, including dealing with a varying degree of civilian personalities. Every Soldier in the IRU Vanguard knows that they played an important role in the success of this operation. The civilian authorities were extremely appreciative of our assistance throughout the operation as well. As the Commander of 1 CMBG, Col Dave Anderson, stated when he visited the LdSH(RC) BG: "This was a home game in front of a home crowd and we won 25 to 0.”