FORT CHAFFEE, Ark. - Eighteen Reserve members of the Canadian Armed Forces, Royal Canadian engineers imbedded with the U.S. Army Reserve's 412th and 416th Theater Engineer Command engineer units for Operation River Assault at Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, July 14 to 26.
"Our mission here is to observe how you guys train, as in the U.S. combat engineers," said Canadian Cpl. Unyun Ni, 41 Canadian Engineer Regiment, out of Edmonton, Alberta.
"Training will mainly focus on how you build bridges, demolition and get a little bit of weapon handling time in there as well."
The Canadians said they were well received by the U.S. Soldiers they are working alongside.
"(The Canadian Soldiers) have been welcomed by the American forces here," said Canadian Maj. Steven Boychyn, commander of the Canadian contingent, with the 32 CER, and a Toronto resident. "We've integrated our corporals, sergeants; all levels have been fully integrated."
The Canadian Reserve decided to send forces from all across the country due to availability and other training commitments.
"We are all volunteers who came here on this exercise," said Boychyn. "I think a lot of us recognized the opportunity with the scope and scale of this exercise."
The Canadians were mixed into units just like any other Soldier.
"Right now one of my sergeants is leading the recon team for one of the companies, so he's in charge of the small detachment that's out there," said Boychyn. "Most of my corporals, as that is the vast majority of what I have here, are actually just imbedded into the different platoons and squads so they are doing everything from the demolition, the crew-serve weapons; they did the individual qualification on the M16 (rifle). They will be participating as a boat crew and probably driving some of the boats as we build the bridge across the river. Everything from a little squaddie digging trenches to my lieutenant leading the entire platoon and doing all the planning as well."
The equipment training available during River Assault is impressive for the Canadian Soldiers, said Boychyn, as well as the training opportunities and the grand scope of the exercise.
"Just the number of bays, number of bridges, all the different equipment, the size of the river that's being crossed and the size of the floating bridge that's being created," Boychyn said. "We don't get to see that type of opportunity almost ever in our careers up north."
The Canadian group expressed similarities, more so than the differences between their military and the much larger American one to the south.
"I think it was one of the colonels here who mentioned, 'we're all the same, with just a slight difference,' and it has proven to be absolutely true," Boychyn said. "This is an opportunity to share knowledge and just see the slight differences between how we do things and (the American Soldiers) do things. It has been a great learning opportunity."
Boychyn said the one major difference is the time spent at the unit.
The Canadian Reserve usually spends one to two nights a week conducting training and preparing for an exercise, followed by one weekend a month in the field. Annual 10-day exercises are usually in the summer, as opposed to the U.S. Reserve's one weekend a month and two to three weeks a year.
"That's the primary difference," said Boychyn. "Otherwise I think the Canadian Reserve and the American Reserve are very similar in that we bring a vast experience from our civilian side that only augments our abilities to do our military jobs."
This experience was important for the Canadian Soldiers for the training, but also because of the possibility of being deployed in the same location. The networking is one of the most integral parts of the exercise.
"Any opportunities we have to train here at home in North America together is just an excellent opportunity and I personally fully plan on keeping contact with the people we've met here, those who are close to the border at least, inviting them north to some of our events, even if it's just a social event, to keep up the ties," said Boychyn. "I think these types of cross-border opportunities are invaluable. You can't put a price on it when we're actually working together like this."