Atlantic Region NRDs host the first ever Naval Reserve exercise in Sydney

LINK - April 2017 / May 31, 2017

By Lt(N) Jamie Tobin, HMCS Scotian

The Atlantic Region units made history from October 21-23, 2016 when HMCS Scotian hosted Exercise STEEL SHEILD, a small boat and diving exercise in Sydney, Nova Scotia. The exercise was the first time in recent Naval Reserve history that an exercise was held in Cape Breton.

"Conducting exercises away from our home units and communities takes sailors out of their comfort zone which adds training value," said Commander Owen Brine, the Commanding Officer of HMCS Scotian. "We held a successful exercise in St. Margaret's Bay in March 2016 and based on its success, we decided to go even further from home for Exercise STEEL SHIELD. Having received my Commander's Intent, Scotian planning staff began the herculean task of planning a major road move to conduct a combined small boat and diving operation - all while still tending to their full time civilian commitments. I could not be more proud of their accomplishment."

After a welcoming and mission brief by staff, 85 sailors, vehicles loaded with Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIBs) and other small boats formed a large convoy and began the six hour road move to Sydney. The exercise mission was to conduct small boat and dive training to practice skills that are used to support a wide range of naval operations. The exercises and drills were shaped to allow the newly formed Naval Security Team staff to conduct their own operational analysis. Throughout the exercise, participants performed tasks such as launching and recovering small boats, navigation and manoeuvres, diving operations and port inspections, tactical communications, Command and Control from a tactical operations centre, land based force protection, and more.

Conducting a complex 400 kilometres movement of equipment and personnel to conduct training in unfamiliar areas and waterways posed unique challenges for the exercise planners and leadership. The team's ability to overcome these challenges confirmed the Atlantic Region Naval Reserve Divisions' ability to deploy in support of domestic operations like Operation LENTUS, the Canadian Armed Forces contingency operation to provide humanitarian aid and disaster response support following a natural disaster or emergency as requested by municipal and provincial authorities.

"This was the first time in our history that we conducted a coordinated road move. The number of personnel coupled with adverse weather conditions tested both the planning and execution of this exercise," said Lieutenant-Commander Beth Vallis, the Executive Officer of HMCS Scotian and the Officer Conducting Exercise STEEL SHIELD. "In the end, the sailors adapted well to a changing and challenging environment, progressed in their training, and continued to build capacity to meet Force Generation requirements."

While in Sydney, participants stayed in the Victoria Park Armouries, home of the Cape Breton Highlanders Infantry Battalion. Not only did they provide outstanding accommodations and security support, their staff taught lessons on small arms and land based force protection measures to enhance interoperability and promote force integration. This built the foundation for a long history of positive working relationships with the Army Reserves in Cape Breton.

"The City of Sydney was receptive of our plan to utilize the harbour and shore facilities and they were gracious hosts throughout our time there, we truly appreciate them letting us train in their community," said Major Bradley MacAskill, Cape Breton native and HMCS Scotian's Administration Officer. "Additionally, the amazing support that we received from the Canadian Coast Guard College and our Army Reserve colleagues made our stay comfortable and enjoyable."

The exercise also created a great opportunity for the Atlantic Region recruiting staff to travel throughout the area to visit schools and set up information booths in public areas to inform potential recruits about part-time employment opportunities with the Naval Reserves.

"Exercise STEEL SHIELD presented us with a great opportunity to recruit in a community that does not normally get a lot of exposure to the Royal Canadian Navy. One of the highlights of the trip was being welcomed into four local aboriginal communities to present about the Naval Reserves," said Petty Officer 2nd class Mia Lynch, a member of the Atlantic Region recruiting staff currently serving at HMCS Cabot.

In addition to the recruiting initiatives, the leadership met with community leaders to inform them about the current state and future plans for the Royal Canadian Navy and the role of the Naval Reserves. Overall, all of the interactions that sailors had with Sydney residents were positive.

Small boat and diving exercises provide Naval Reservists with valuable training in challenging environments in order to support the Royal Canadian Navy's core mandate and by that standard, Exercise STEEL SHIELD did not disappoint.