By: MCpl P.D.J. Gallant, Veh Tech, 8 MSS TEME
The Government of Canada asked the Canadian Armed Forces to prepare for and deploy a Task Force into Gao, Mali to provide support to the United Nations (UN) stabilization mission. The task force conducts logistical air support and transport for our UN partners in addition to our 24/7 forward Aeromedical Evacuation capability for UN forces and civilians on the ground. Canada’s contribution to UN peace support operations in the West African nation of Mali largely involves air power, but the Canadian Army (CA) is playing a vital role in supporting the mission with eight members of the RCEME Corps.
Operation PRESENCE-Mali rotation 0 (roto 0) deployed five vehicle technicians, two electronic-optronic technicians (EO tech) and one weapons technician to support a Task Force of 250 personnel. Roto 0s are often categorized as difficult and this roto has been no exception. The limited amount of work-up time, equipment delivery delays, extreme temperatures, and heavy winds and dust, have contributed to this being one of the most difficult deployments in one of the most austere locations in recent military history.
The task of maintaining and repairing the vehicles was made more difficult as parts and tooling took time to arrive. Vehicle technicians have been tasked to provide support for several vehicles including the F-450 ambulance, re-fueler, G-Wagon, forklifts, gators, LSVW, mules, AMSE equipment and generators. RCEME technicians overcame this challenge through creative repairs to return vehicles and other equipment back into service.
They successfully completed a second line axle change on the 10K RTFL at the beginning of the mission when they had few specialized tools. Master Corporal Gallant and Corporal Hutchinson replaced the axle in less than 8 hours using nothing but basic hand tools, four jacks and a zoom boom to lift the axles in and out of the crate.
Due to the harsh climate and dusty environment, preventative maintenance was key and each vehicle was serviced weekly to minimize breakdowns. We were fortunate to receive excellent support from our UN allies, including the Netherlands and Germany, who were always willing to help and often provided us with specialized testing equipment and consumables such as nuts and bolts to carry on with repairs.
Master Corporal Bohler, as the sole weapons technician in theatre, maintained and serviced all the Task Force members’ side arms, service weapons, C-9s and C-6s. With his professionalism and eye for detail, he solved issues efficiently and effectively. During his down time he often assisted our allies with small arms repairs which required quick turnaround.
The EO techs were tasked to maintain and repair generators and power distribution systems. Master Corporal Martin put his secondary skillset to the test and often acted as the Task Force carpenter, building several objects required for Avn Bn and the national support element, as well as a several ‘muskoka’ style chairs and TF Mali roto 0 crests. They were also tasked to maintain and repair all the MSVS SEVs; challenging to keep them air conditioned and running in temperatures up to 50 degrees Celsius.
On several occasions RCEME members worked closely together to creatively solve the issues that the TF presented them with. For their ingenuity and hard work for the TF, Sergeant Leroux and Master Corporal Bohler received coins from the 1 Wing Commander, Colonel Morehen and Master Corporal Martin received the Chief of Defense Staff coin.
The RCEME soldiers from Task Force Mali were fortunate to be in Mali during the 100th anniversary of the armistice and conducted the parade wearing the coveted UN blue beret. Another key parade was when Commander CJOC, Lieutenant General Rouleau visited the Task Force and presented the MINUSMA medal and the Canadian Peacekeeping Service Medal to the group.
The visits did not end there. The highly secretive visit of the Prime Minister accompanied by the Minister of National Defence, the Chief of the Defence Staff and the CAF Chief Warrant Officer was memorable. The sole purpose of the visit was to have Christmas dinner with TF Mali and to present some coins and a few gifts (Tim Hortons coffee and a bubble hockey game!). The TF Commander, Colonel McKenna then presented the UN Flag to the PM which was in a shadow box constructed by our very own Master Corporal Martin. All that to say, a little piece of TF Mali RCEME is now in the PM’s office!
As we prepare to hand-over to roto 1, we can safely say that it has been an adventure. Remaining flexible and creative were key to operating in this environment on the edge of the Saharan desert. It is not a deployment that we will soon forget.