BONNERS FERRY — In the twilight as night turned to day, a line of humvees and maintenance vehicles pulled out of the Bonners Ferry National Guard armory Saturday.
Headed on a 600-mile trek to Canadian Forces Base Wainwright in Alberta, about 40 Guard members from North Idaho will take part in Canada’s annual “Maple Resolve” training exercise. Another 30 or so Army National Guard soldiers will leave from southern Idaho later in the week for the training, which is slated to run Oct. 8-30.
In North Idaho, troops are taking include those based in armories in Bonners Ferry, Boise, Lewiston and Post Falls but include communities throughout the region, said the Guard’s Col. Tim Marsano.
“They were kind enough to ask us to join the exercise and participate,” said 1st Lt. Jerome Sitko of Company A, 116th Cavalry Brigade support battalion out of Post Falls. “We were excited to say yes. It gives the soldiers a great opportunity to train in their specialty, whether it’s transportation, maintenance or medics.”
According to the 5 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group’s website, about 3,000 soldiers will take part in the exercise along with support from more than 900 vehicles. That makes it one of the largest training exercises in CMBG’s history.
The training is the final step before the Canadian troops could be made available for possible deployment, according to the website.
The exercise uses an island-based scenario with a simulated multinational undertaking with simultaneous air, land and water operations. The soldiers will join efforts against a fictitious enemy with similar military capabilities as well as insurgent assistance and criminal elements.
While Marsano said he didn’t know if the 116th had participated in past Maple Resolve exercises, the Guard recently hosted about 800 Canadian troops at its 140,000-acre training grounds in the Boise area.
“We’re very tight with the Canadians,” added Sitko.
The primary mission of the Idaho troops is to support the exercise with heavy lift capability and security in the training area, Marsano said.
In talking with his soldiers before they headed out, Sitko said they were excited to take part in the training and to see how the Canadian troops do things.
Guard troops from North Idaho are offering support with heavy lift capability and security, doing everything from driving load handling system equipment to moving supplies from the staging area to exercise locations, Sitko said. Troops from southern Idaho will likely focus on security training.
“While we will be moving supplies back and forth to help support the Canadians, not only are we helping them with transportation in real life, our soldiers are getting real life training in their military specialties,” he said.
The training gives the allies a chance to work together and learn each other’s abilities and improve coordination. The Canadian military is a NATO partner and is deeply involved in ongoing operations in Afghanistan, Marsano said.
The annual exercise gives the troops a chance to simulate real-life scenarios, immersing soldiers and giving them hands-on, “real world” training, Sitko said
“We train as we fight,” Sitko said. “You don’t fight in a vacuum, and you don’t operate in a vacuum so you can’t train in a vacuum. It’s important to learn our allies’ capabilities and to be able to respond.”