Establishing a Theatre of Operations in Prince Edward Island: Exercise NIHILO SAPPER 2018

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Article / December 7, 2018

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By Captain Jamie Tobin, Public Affairs Officer, 5th Canadian Division

Slemon Park, Prince Edward Island – Before any expeditionary mission can be conducted, one team is the first to go in, search for and eliminate threats, and build the operating bases and infrastructure that is required to execute and sustain operations. That team is the dedicated military engineers from 4 Engineer Support Regiment (4 ESR), the Canadian Army’s only general support engineering unit. Theatre opening is their specialty, a specialty that is practiced during Exercise NIHILO SAPPER, the unit’s annual confirmation exercise, which ran from November 1 to 20, 2018.

In addition to adversarial threats, the troops were challenged by torrential rains, gale- force winds, an early season blizzard, and an extensive collection of community-based engineering tasks that needed to be completed in tight timelines.

“Our troops were subjected to a lot of challenges, many of which were beyond the scope of our exercise,” said Lieutenant Colonel Jason Gale, Commanding Officer of 4 ESR. “Despite these challenges, our troops harnessed their soldier spirit and proved that they were Strong, Proud, and Ready to confirm our theatre opening capability.”

4 ESR was also Strong, Secure, and Engaged with communities across P.E.I., completing 10 complex engineering tasks in support of community initiatives. They completed a facility renovation and built a 1,600-metre walking trail in the Abegweit Mi’kmaw Nation, constructed an elevated walkway and bridge at the Lennox Island First Nation, and completed an extensive renovation on the Boys and Girls Club of Summerside.

“The partnership has been … it’s more of a relationship,” said Adam Binkley, Executive Director of the Boys and Girls Club of Summerside. “It’s not just a construction crew that is coming here to do a job. The soldiers have actually taken time out to talk to our children and youth because we see what the Canadian Armed Forces has, what they are doing for our country and we are so appreciative.”

On completion of the Abegweit Mi’kmaw Nation trail project, the walking route was named the Sapper Erik Bernard Memorial Trail in honour of a member of the regiment that passed away in a car accident in the fall of 2016.

“These troops came into the Abegweit Mi’kmaw Nation as strangers, and left as our friends with sincere intentions,” said Roddy Gould, a representative of the community leadership. “Great bonds were made in the short time they were here and they all worked hard for our small community.”

Of all of the successes that can be celebrated by Ex NIHILO SAPPER participants, the strengthened relationship between the Canadian Army and its neighbours across P.E.I may be the most significant.

In addition to these community-based initiatives, 4 ESR was able to conduct valuable joint training with the Royal Canadian Air Force, which provided air support with a CH-146 helicopter and a CC-130 Hercules as they conducted Ground Search and Rescue (GSAR) training with GSAR P.E.I, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the HMCS Queen Charlotte from the Royal Canadian Navy, and the Civilian Air Search and Rescue Association.

“We owe the success of Exercise NIHILO SAPPER to the outstanding support that we received from communities across P.E.I and the contributions that were made by our inter-agency partners. We wouldn’t have been able to do it without their help,” stated LCol Gale.

In the exercise scenario, 4 ESR was tasked to deploy to the fictional Gorgan province of Prince Edward, build a 600-person main operating base, establish forward operating bases across the province, search for and eliminate explosive threats, deter further aggression from adversaries, build positive community relationships, and complete a range of challenging engineering tasks. On completion of these tasks, the infrastructure that they developed would be occupied by a battle group from 2 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group that would sustain operations in Prince Edward. 

At this year’s Ex NIHILO SAPPER, 4 ESR successfully opened a theatre and sustained operations in various locations across Prince Edward Island. By doing so, they proved once again that they are able to execute any theatre- opening task that the Canadian Armed Forces requires and they remain Strong, Proud, and Ready to execute their unique capability anywhere in the world.

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