By: Capt K.E. Theroux, Maintenance Officer
RCEME soldiers from 3rd Canadian Division were deployed to Ādaži Military Base, Latvia from June 2017 to January 2018 on Rotation 8, Operation REASSURANCE. The tour marked the very first rotation of Canadian soldiers deployed as part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) enhanced Forward Presence Battle Group (eFP BG) based in Latvia. Over the course of their seven and a half months in Latvia, eFP BG Latvia’s Maintenance Platoon- and their brothers in the A1 echelon – enjoyed a myriad of personal, professional, and technical challenges and successes as the initial group of soldier-technicians on the ground.
The tour represented the very first expeditionary deployment of the recently fielded LAV 6.0 and, although most technicians had worked on the equipment previously in Canada, also represented a challenge to support while they awaited the completion of maintenance infrastructure being erected during the tour. In keeping with their reputation, Maintenance thrived in the austere workspace achieving and maintaining an exceptionally high standard of equipment readiness throughout the tour. A high state of equipment readiness was critical to the BG’s mission to deter aggression and if necessary defend Latvia.
The deployment also presented an opportunity for RCEME technicians to work shoulder to shoulder with soldiers from the five other nations belonging to the BG: Albania, Italy, Poland, Slovenia, and Spain. By the end of the tour RCEME soldiers had distinguished themselves as valuable teammates within the BG’s technical community; in fact the Polish contingent specifically recognized the Canadian Materiel Technicians for their assistance throughout the tour.
In time, the pattern of life at Ādaži Military Base became more and more normalized for the RCEME soldiers. Soldiers improved their skills during Saturday morning “Skills Parade” where all ranks and trades were challenged by the BG Commander to demonstrate their skill – from Armoured Fighting Vehicle Recognition, to communicating a thought in the various languages spoken by the members of the BG. Maintenance policies and readiness directives were drafted and workshop Standing Operating Procedures were developed. Overtime, the Canadian contingent moved into accommodation buildings, vacating their weather-haven style tents that had a tendency to flood. A gym facility was erected and newly approved walking out policies enabled RCEME soldiers to experience the beautiful Latvian capital city, Riga.
By late fall, the BG was set to participate in Exercise SILVER ARROW, an exercise that would see the completion of the first-ever Latvian brigade road move conducted to Alūksne (approximately 200km one way). The challenges presented by the narrow roads, unfamiliar terrain and sheer amount of equipment participating in the move were met with the same tenacity and professionalism that the RCEME Corps has upheld throughout its 75 years; after a long evening, Maintenance set up camp in Alūksne having performed extremely well as the BG’s trail party.
Christmas in Latvia, as could be expected, represented a personal challenge for many of the young RCEME soldiers away from their families. Nonetheless, RCEME persevered and spent Christmas Eve wearing the ugliest sweaters they could find and enjoyed some pizza together in the workshop.
By the end of December, Rotation 8 was preparing to handover to the next rotation. Upon reflection, the amount of progress that had been made in seven short months was astounding; a workshop had been built from the ground up, theatre maintenance practices instituted, and a foundation for the future success of LEMS operations in Latvia had been established.