Training for the worst

·4 min read

For the past three weeks, CFB Suffield has been host to more than 380 military personnel from 13 different NATO countries, participating in live-agent chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear precise response training.

Formerly known as Exercise Precise Response, the training aims to enhance existing understandings of and responses to CBRN warfare and through multi-national collaboration. Over the three-week period, military personnel of all ranks and specialties, including commanding officers, researchers, front-line medics and laboratory specialists, participate in a variety of scenarios meant to simulate real-world CBRN events.

"We are linked with other partners from the intelligence community... to be able to provide training around what to do if worst comes to worse," exercise director Major Christian Lepage told the News. "With that, you get an increased level of readiness for all the (NATO) nations and you carry on with it."

Lepage says the annual training provides military personnel an invaluable opportunity to practise CBRN tactics, technique and procedures, as well as share ideas and technology.

Major David Fortin, a logistics officer and formerly a firefighter and paramedic, explained the controlled nature of the training is beneficial not only for participants, but also for researchers - defence scientists - who are able to test their work prior to usage.

"We're training here (because Suffield) has this permanent facility; Defence Research and Development Canada," Fortin said. "(With) a lot of very smart people, like PhD (graduates) who are specialized in all the threats we are facing.

"There is permanent research that is done (on) chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear. And they also do studies on the medicine that is being been deployed or the suits we use or the decontamination equipment... That's why we're doing this with our NATO partners, because all the countries are converging together to make better products."

Lepage agrees, saying the training exercise "brings relevance and context to defence scientists to accomplish (their) research mandate."

Lepage and Fortin are glad to be back at Suffield for the training, after a two-year pause resulting from the pandemic.

Deemed the only suitable venue for live-agent training in Canada, Suffield offers many on-site or nearby amenities - like a DRDC facility and staged training buildings; security which ensures the protection of training participants, community members and local wildlife; as well as ample space for large-scale simulations.

Such features are a draw for military members outside Canada, Colonel Stephan Saalow of Germany said.

"The biggest benefit is the unique scenarios and the scientific background Canada is really providing us," said Saalow. "We only have it in Canada, here in Medicine Hat or in Suffield. That's the professional part. The (other) motivation for my soldiers to come to Canada and train in the prairie, is because we are living in Medicine Hat in a nice environment."

Saalow, who will take over commandership of NATO's Combined Joint CBRN Defence Task Force in 2023, has taken part in the Exercise Precise Response training multiple times, but remains a firm believer in its benefits.

"The team of scientists, the team of the staff here is so great because they have fantastic ideas, which they get from real life," Saalow said. "And they challenge the team. (Some of) my soldiers been here six or seven times. Every time they learn something different... they learned something new. And this is exactly what our opponents are going to do. They don't lay back and say 'Yeah, it's good enough.' No, our opponents also develop and so we have to develop with them to be better than them."

Saalow was one of several military personnel taking part in a decontamination exercise Tuesday morning. Working collaboratively, participants from numerous nations entered sea-cans, each containing a unique simulated CBRN environment, then put into effect Canada's decontamination practice as it would be carried out in real-life.

Participants not only donned genuine decon suits, they also worked in a fully functional, three-section, 10-person decontamination system; rehearsing protocol for people with and without injuries, the deceased and materials, like vehicles.

The NATO Exercise Precise Response training concludes Friday.

KENDALL KING, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Medicine Hat News

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