Nearly 5,000 military personnel are at CFB Wainwright in Alberta, taking part in the largest and most comprehensive military exercise of the year.
Exercise Maple Resolve allows the military to practise their skills in a setting as realistic as possible for when they are deployed.
“I think the only thing that is missing is that there are not real bullets flying,” said Col. Peter Scott, the commander of the Canadian Manoeuvre Training Centre in Wainwright. “We’ve created an environment that is as close as possible to what they will face on any given deployment.”
The exercise is a force-on-force battle where Canadian troops work to liberate the fictitious country of Atropia from the aggressive nation of Ariana and re-establish the international border between the two.
Those who take part in the exercise wear sensors at all times. There are also sensors connected to their guns and equipment. The technology allows their leaders to track the men and women in real time and see when and where a person has been hit by gunfire.
“It gives the soldiers a real type of environment that they would face without actually using real bullets,” Col. Scott said.
Soldiers play both friendly and enemy forces and use their expertise just as they would if it was a real-life battlefield.
Soldiers practice skills from combat, to peacekeeping, building bridges – both literally and figuratively – with those in villages who are played by actors.
Blackhawk helicopters practise medical evacuations and Hercules aircraft drop much-needed supplies to soldiers and villages.
Troops from the United States, Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand are also helping which allows the allied countries to work together in an environment where the realities of a deployment are replicated as closely as possible.
“This training area is probably one of the best in Canada,” Col. Scott said. “It enables us to bring those forces together into a great training environment.”
The soldiers are being tested. This is the last major training exercise before they’re at a high level of readiness, which means they are prepared to be deployed anywhere in the world where they are needed.
“Whether you are a soldier or you are a leader or you’re staff, it definitely allows you to refine your skill sets,” said Maj. Mike Miller, who has taken part in the exercise before and has served overseas twice.
He said the training is invaluable.
“You get to link in with your allies, understand what you need to do to get yourself and your guys ready to go and conduct – whether its domestic or international – operations.
The members sleep as they would if they were on a real mission, eat rations and there are no showers. They are exhausted and that’s the point.
“Many of the soldiers are very tired, however, this accurately reflects an operational theatre of war,” said Lt.-Col. Ben Irvine. “The length of training (and) the complexity of the stressors applied are quite challenging for the members.”
When the exercise is over, the entire group will sit down and look at what went right and what went wrong so soldiers can learn from their successes and failures.
After days of observing the work of the men and women on the ground, Lt.-Col. Irvine believes the group will be ready to head into combat if need be.
“I’m fully confident on completion of this exercise we’ll be able to not only meet but exceed any expectations from the army and the Government of Canada for any operations abroad,” he said.
View a photo gallery of the training operation below: