July 6, 2018 4:57 pm

Troops depart CFB Trenton for Mali peacekeeping mission

The first planeload of RCAF ground support staff left CFB Trenton on Thursday night for Operation Presence in Mali.

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The first planeload of Royal Canadian Air Force ground support staff left Canadian Forces Base Trenton Thursday night for Operation Presence in Mali.

The RCAF component of the 12-month peacekeeping mission in Mali will primarily supply medical support for United Nations peacekeeping forces in the west African nation.

READ MORE: Canadian troops leave for Mali peacekeeping mission

A total of six helicopters have already been sent to Mali: two CH-147F Chinook helicopters will conduct medical evacuations and transport troops, equipment, and supplies. Four CH-146 Griffon helicopters will be armed escorts for the Chinooks.

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Col. Chris McKenna, air task force commander, says he is confident they have the tools to do the job. However, he acknowledges the risks as his troops join the UN peacekeeping force MINUSMA which is working with the Malian military to fight Islamists and rebel groups.

“Every time we launch an aircraft, I have a plan to take care of that crew, if that aircraft had to land for a maintenance reason or any other reason,” he said.

“Certainly I will have the ability to go and look after my people with the resources I’ve been given. I’m not concerned about not having enough combat power on the ground to do that.”

On Thursday evening, personnel waited to board the plane to take them into what has been called a war zone. There were last-minute phone calls to family and friends but they are confident in themselves and their mission

READ MORE: RCAF, Coast Guard rescue sailors on Lake Ontario near Brighton

“We did have had some good training,” said Capt. Michelle Wilson, a member of the medical emergency response team. “I think you’re feeling a normal range of emotions — some apprehension, some excitement and some … it’s hard to leave…”

The 50 troops were sent off by new RCA commander, Lt.-Gen. Al Meinziner. He reminded them to lean on each other while away.

“Having deployed personally in the past, I know some days can get long and you think often of your family back home in Canada, so I’ll encourage them to take care of one other.”

Up to 250 personnel will be deployed to Mali.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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