Some Elgin County residents may see an increased number of military vehicles on area roadways this weekend as local reservists take part in a bridge construction training exercise in Shedden, Ont., officials with the Canadian Armed Forces say.
The training exercise, which begins Friday and ends on Sunday, involves army combat engineer reservists from the St. Thomas and Waterloo-based 31 Combat Engineer Regiment.
Members of the 31 Service Battalion, based out of Hamilton, London and Windsor, and personnel from 2 Military Police Regiment will also take part in the training, officials say.
As part of the exercise, reservists will construct and then dismantle a temporary bridge across Talbot Creek in Shedden’s Open Space Park.
Construction of the bridge is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. Friday, with deconstruction to be completed by 7 p.m. Sunday. Members of the public are invited to observe the exercise Saturday morning.
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“This is an opportunity for our engineer reservists to practise a number of core skills that they have in terms of establishing bridges across obstacles, and in this case, it would be a river,” said Col. Chris Brown, commander of the 31 Canadian Brigade Group, on Friday.
“This is one of the key skills for the engineers, and it’s probably the most interesting type of exercise in the area for folks that are able to see it to come watch what the Army Reserve can do.”
Motorists along Fingal Line, John Wise Line, Sunset Drive and Union Drive may see military vehicles hauling heavy equipment for the training drill, dubbed Exercise Beaver Crossing, which Brown says is an “apt name for the engineers” taking part.
“Our combat engineers, in a military environment, are tasked to construct obstacles and construct … mobility resources, so bridges, pathways, clearing minefields to enable us to manoeuvre,” he said.
Members of the public interested in observing the exercise can do so by visiting the park at 9210 Union Rd. between 9 a.m. and noon on Saturday. Guideposts will be set up, and military personnel will be on hand to provide guidance, Brown said. Army soldiers may also be seen carrying unloaded weapons at the scene and along specified routes.
“While the construction is ongoing, those travelling by the site are asked not to stop on the side of Union Road to observe the bridge in order to ensure the safety of all vehicles,” a Department of National Defence advisory reads.
Brown says members of 31 Service Battalion, who have specialist skills in transportation, supply and maintenance, will assist in erecting the bridge, while members of 2 Military Police Regiment will provide safe passage of equipment, secure a perimeter and conduct local policing.
“You can imagine in a bridging activity the amount of resupply that would be required and the amount of traffic movement of vehicles,” he said.
“So both the service battalion and the military police are going to get excellent training out of this bridging exercise, even though they may not be directly putting the bridge in.”
The training that the reservists will take part in this weekend will allow them to practice key skills that can be applied in the event the armed forces are called upon in a domestic emergency.
“We’ve only seen in just recent years so many examples … either through forest fires or other natural disasters, extreme weather or in a pandemic, where the army’s been called out,” Brown said.
“So you can imagine in floods, for example, or hurricanes where roadways are washed out and bridging is washed out and communities would require emergency bridging.”
The Canadian Armed Forces has been receiving more requests to respond to natural disasters across the country in recent years as extreme weather increases in intensity and frequency.
Last month, Maj-Gen. Paul Prévost, a senior officer with the Strategic Joint Staff, told a House of Commons committee that CAF had received seven such requests in 2021, up from four per year between 2017 and 2021, and an average of two per year between 2010 and 2017.
As combat engineers work on the bridge in Shedden, other army reservists will be taking part in a separate military exercise at London’s Wolseley Barracks on Saturday.
The exercise, dubbed Trillium Dragon, is aimed at simulating an emergency scenario in the province, and the capability of the local reserve, in this case 31 Canadian Brigade Group, to “work under higher headquarters and respond to it,” according to a Department of National Defence advisory.
Brown says the Trillium Dragon exercise is being conducted across the province under the command of Joint Task Force Central in Toronto.
“There’ll be a scenario provided to our troops that are participating, they will need to come up with a plan, they’ll need to do a series of briefings and reports and communication back to Toronto via secure communications,” he said.
“It walks the team through all the necessary steps that we would have to do in the event of a situation where we are called out in support of a domestic operation.
“You can appreciate that it’s better to go through that the first time when it’s a training scenario and not for the first time when it’s a real situation.”
Unlike the exercise in Shedden, which will see military vehicles on local roadways, Trillium Dragon will stay on the Oxford Street barracks.
— with files from Carolyn Kury de Castillo of Global News