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News - All - 28 Jan 2019

News Item 122 of 1830 

Miscellaneous: 28 Jan 2019
THE ENGINEERS - Gittin 'er done!

Ron Ormson, director of engineering services and integrated planning and public works for the City of Waterloo (left), Captain Charles Benyair, Officer Commanding, 48 Field Squadron, 31 Combat Engineer Regiment (centre), and Master Warrant Officer Art Churcher, 48 Field Squadron Sergeant Major.
Credit: Sub-Lieutenant Andrew McLaughlin

The local Waterloo Army Reserve combat engineer unit knows a thing or two about building bridges, both literally and figuratively.

The 31 Combat Engineer Regiment (31 CER), which has two field squadrons — 7 Field based in St. Thomas and 48 Field based in Waterloo — built upon a burgeoning partnership with the City of Waterloo when they recently conducted Exercise Constructive Castor. The bridges being built between the partners took on their literal form, as the goal of the exercise was to construct an Acrow bridge along a creek tributary that drains into the Grand River in north Waterloo. The exercise saw several government organizations come together in co-operation, a model they hope spans decades to come.

The Acrow 700XS Bridge is a “line of communication bridge,” and is the primary bridge system used by Canadian Army Reserve combat engineer units like 48 Engineer Squadron based on Parkside Drive in Waterloo. Being a portable bridging system, it can be easily adapted to military and emergency use, characteristics beneficial to planning and executing co-operative responses during crises like natural disasters or routine infrastructure improvements.

The Acrow is known to be strong, easy to assemble and can be built using minimal equipment. However, some heavy equipment is utilized by the army to expedite the process and act swiftly when time is of the essence. The design is based on the iconic Bailey bridges used in the Second World War. They have served the communities they have been rapidly installed in well, most recently in May of 2017 during Operation LENTUS where the Canadian Armed Forces swept into flood-ravaged Quebec to assist local and provincial authorities.

Fifty soldiers from 31 CER and a handful of city and fire officials participated on a recent rainy and cold November weekend, where safety was paramount to the success of the training exercise. Combat engineers wear protective equipment including helmets, eye and ear protection, and steel-toed combat boots when constructing things like bridges in civilian communities. Army officers and their senior members monitor the soldiers to ensure mental and physical preparedness while conducting these complex bridging operations. They also employ a site safety officer whose sole task is to monitor bridging tasks to ensure a safe operation.

The vast majority of the soldiers installing the bridge were reservists — soldiers who work or attend school during the day and train one night a week, and usually one weekend a month. The training required to become a combat engineer is intense, but that is due to the highly specialized nature of their work which includes explosive demolition in addition to more mundane tasks, says Lt.-Col. Blair Ashford, commanding officer of 31 CER.

“Many of the skills used to build an Acrow Bridge are taught on the very first combat engineer course,” said Ashford. “Even though we learn the fundamentals early, it’s very helpful to do it regularly in a controlled environment.”

This particular exercise simulated a domestic operation with members of Waterloo Fire Rescue present as partners and observers.

“We could have just built the bridge in one of our compounds, but there is additional training value to operating in a real-world location to determine the size of the required bridge,” Ashford says.

The official role of the combat engineers is to allow friendly troops to live, move and fight on the battlefield while denying that to the enemy. Canadian Army engineers also train in the use of demolitions and landmines; the design, construction and maintenance of defensive fortifications; breaching obstacles; establishing and maintaining lines of communications; and, of course, bridging like that demonstrated during Exercise Constructive Castor.
Working with the City of Waterloo is nothing new to 31 CER. This exercise was just the latest collaboration in a long-standing relationship between the city and the unit.

Ron Ormson, director of engineering services and integrated planning and public works for the City of Waterloo, emphasized the significance of this working relationship: “The City of Waterloo has strong ties to 31 Combat Engineer Regiment; they’ve participated in the restoration of our veteran’s park, the dedication of Waterloo’s LAV III memorial, the Canadian Veterans Memorial Green Project and have been granted freedom of the city,” he explains.

“The City of Waterloo and its engineering services division would like to partner with the regiment again in the near future,” the city engineer says of his Canadian Army counterparts. “These types of training exercises are vital to our collective preparedness.”

It looks like they will get their chance, due to the bridges they’ve built; both literally and figuratively.


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