Petawawa Post reporter Patricia Leboeuf took part in Exercise COLLABORATIVE SPIRIT, gaining a greater appreciation for the expertise of CAF personnel. (Photo by Garrison Imaging Petawawa)

Soldier for a day: Exercise Collaborative Spirit

By: Patricia Leboeuf

Posted on Thursday, October 5, 2017

Sergeant James Mustard is an incredibly patient man.

Why? Because he had to deal with me during Exercise COLLABORATIVE SPIRIT 2017. It may sound like I’m being hard on myself. I’m not.

Really, he suffered just as much as I did, if not more so, as he tried to lead me through an urban assault. The fact that he patiently took the time to answer all my admittedly, and sometimes purposefully, ridiculous questions while leading me safely towards the makeshift Ortona Village proved that he should be elevated to sainthood.

Sergeant Mustard and my other guide Corporal Sebastian “Zeus” Zuniga-Contreras at the Royal Canadian Dragoon (RCD) Battle School as well the rest of the Canadian Armed Forces members on hand were utterly professional, helpful and kind. Because I am not a soldier, and could never pretend to be one correctly, they had to take the time to explain things to me. Sure he reminded me to hold my gun correctly more often than I can count, but never once did he demand I drop and give him fifty.

From the moment I put on the uniform, strapped on a helmet, pulled on a frag vest and rucksack, I was guided by a team of highly trained soldiers whose sole purpose was to give me a finer appreciation for everything the military does. And trust me, I now do! The 1,000 or so soldiers taking part in the exercise made sure we had a good time.

Close to 400 civilian participants were immersed in Army life during Ex COLLABORATIVE SPIRIT 2017, held from Sept. 19 to 22.

Held annually, the Exercise aims to familiarize senior government personnel and industry leaders with the combat capabilities that exist in 2 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group, 4th Canadian Division and the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF).

The Exercise also allows the CAF to showcase personnel and equipment and for participants to develop a better understanding of the relevance and readiness of the CAF to support taskings at home and abroad.

The day I was on the exercise, about 60 of us were divided into three groups. This allowed our wranglers to ensure our safety as we underwent basic training and then used our skills in the field.

“Safety is always number one,” said “Cpl Zuniga-Contreras. “Especially your safety because you guys aren’t sure what you are doing. But we are going to be there every step of the way. So I have no worries.”

I took comfort in that.

Just like all the others, I was gung-ho to shoot, fly around in a helicopter, liberate a village and try out some trench warfare in a mechanized attack.

I fell flat, both literally and figuratively. And these soldiers were here to pick me up, again both literally and figuratively.

The whole thing may have been more fun for the troops then it was for me.

“This is actually one of our favourite days because we get to show off what we do here on a daily basis to our neighbours, not only in Petawawa and Pembroke but the rest of the Ottawa Valley,” said 2 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group (2 CMBG) Commander Colonel Michael Wright.

Throughout the day, we were encouraged to ask as many questions as we wanted about what we saw and did.

Since I’m naturally curious as to how they conducted training, I peppered instructors, demonstrators, leaders and partners with questions that they patiently and thoughtfully answered. They took it all in stride because they are trained to be professional.

“They are super proud of what they do, they are so proud of being able to show their skills,” said Garrison Petawawa Commander Colonel Louis Lapointe.

The time we civilians spent training with these soldiers did have a higher goal; it allowed us to connect.

Instead of having a nebulous idea of what occurs at the Garrison, we now know exactly goes on. We know just how itchy that uniform is, how often those earplugs pop out and how disappointing the salmon Individual Meal Pack tastes.

“Now when they see a soldier, they have a better understanding,” said Col Lapointe. “It also gives a better understanding of what happens when somebody is out shooting in the training area.”

Honestly, all I know is that I’m never going to nag my husband about doing chores when he comes back from the field. I’m still tired!