Call of duty: Reserves put their training to the test

Members of the 192 Construction Engineering Flight, established in Abbotsford and based in Aldergrove, build military facilities.

Members of 192 Construction Engineering Flight in Afghanistan.

Members of 192 Construction Engineering Flight in Afghanistan.

The armed forces reserves train regularly, staying ready for when they are called upon. The men of 192 Construction Engineering Flight (CEF) have been hearing the call a lot.

So much so, that at least half of the unit has an Afghanistan campaign medal. Others, like Sgt. Blaine Reynolds, have effectively been full-time soldiers during the campaign. His civilian career as a carpenter has been on hold, as he worked through four tours in Afghanistan. Like most of his comrades, he is eager to go.

“I like the travel and adventure – the unknown,” said Reynolds. “It gets in your blood.”

They are gas fitters, carpenters, plumbers, electricians and other tradesmen, and their skills are needed to build whatever facilities the military needs. In the Gulf War of 1991, Air Command was frustrated in trying to build a operating base in Qatar – there was a lack of construction engineers available to rapidly build and maintain it. In response, the air reserve program was born, and in 1996 the 192 Airfield Engineering Flight was established in Abbotsford as one of four reserve units across Canada.

The name was later changed from AEF to CEF, to more accurately reflect the work they do. Today they are based out of a military transmitter/receiver site in Aldergrove that dates back to the 1950s, and is due to receive as much as $7 million in facilities upgrades.

The 38 men in the unit generally train every Thursday night, plus one weekend per month. Most nights it’s tool time. Last Thursday they discussed running a chainsaw, and pouring concrete. They have specialties, but each becomes a jack-of-all-trades.

Once per year they do readiness training where they have a range day. They practise with rifles and pistols, throw live grenades, and train on a machine gun. In the classroom, they learn the rules of engagement. Depending on their deployment, they may also receive specialized training, such as being part of a convoy.

While they are not a fighting force, their discipline and their approach is straight-up military.

Capt. Pete Pitcher, the flight commander, wants people with a great work ethic and who are thick-skinned. He had a commanding officer who, on a rainy day, with a job to be done outdoors, formed up his troops and marched them into a water-filled ditch. Rain was not an issue.

He has taken a page from that mentor’s book – everyone is part of the team, and they are in neck deep.

“If you’re going to be with us, you’re going to do what we do,” he said.

Rain is the least of their problems in Afghanistan. In scorching heat that soars to over 50 C, Reynolds said troops were able to literally fry an egg on the runway in Kandahar. In that oven, if they forget to set their tools down in the shade, leaving the metal in the baking sun, they will not be able to pick it up again. They have to watch each other. If a man’s shirt is dry, and he has stopped sweating, he is dangerously dehydrated.

Master warrant officer Tom Bentley has made four trips to Afghanistan with 192. He first signed up as regular forces in 1975, and had a 23-year career before switching to civilian life and the reserves.

Typical of the troops in 192 CEF, he is keen to take a deployment.

“Everyone’s proud to serve – it’s a chance to go and do the job you’ve been trained to do.”

Having been in the regular forces as an engineer during the first Gulf War, in Yugoslavia, and in the Golan Heights region between Israel and Syria, he knows the life of a military man stationed overseas.

“I can go there and make their life easier, by doing my job,” he said.

Master warrant officer Al Labelle has been with the unit for a month, but joined the army in 1986, and served in the infantry with the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI). He is one of three full-time soldiers with the unit.

He has had two tours in Kabul, Afghanistan, managing projects done by civilian contractors, including a nursing institute and a school for boys. You have to be in a place where such institutions have been lost, in order to appreciate the effect that they have.

“You can see a difference. You see the difference in the way they behave, the way they dress – it went from a war zone to a trading route.”

One of the 192’s finest moments was their part in project Noctua (latin for Little Owl), when they were tasked with building hangars at camp Kandahar for UAVs (drones) and helicopters, along with facilities for some 300 people.

They got the job done early, so they added a much-needed wing onto the base hospital, which serves both civilian and military patients, and took on other projects.

The result of the can-do attitude was the team earning a Task Force Commander’s Commendation.

Just Posted

Harrison Hot Springs country singer Todd Richard poses for a photo with Mission firefighters. (Photo/Sarah Plawutski)
VIDEO: Harrison country artist Todd Richard plans for a busy, rockin’ summer

Richard and his band look to live shows as restrictions start to lift

The theme for this year’s Fraser Valley Regional Library Summer Reading Club is “Crack the Case” and Katie Burns, community librarian at the Chilliwack Library, is encouraging people of all ages to sign up. She is seen here at the Chilliwack Library on Friday, June 18, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Crack the case, read, win prizes with FVRL Summer Reading Club

‘Immerse yourself in other worlds and have a bit of fun while you do it,’ says Chilliwack librarian

A police pursuit involving Abbotsford Police ended in Langley Saturday night, June 20. (Black Press Media file)
Abbotsford Police pursuit ends in Langley with guns drawn

One person arrested, witnesses say an officer may have been hurt in collision with suspect vehicle

Cpl. Scott MacLeod and Police Service Dog Jago. Jago was killed in the line of duty on Thursday, June 17. (RCMP)
Abbotsford police, RCMP grieve 4-year-old service dog killed in line of duty

Jago killed by armed suspect during ‘high-risk’ incident in Alberta

Kalyn Head, seen here on June 4, 2021, will be running 100 kilometres for her “birthday marathon” fundraiser on July 23. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Woman’s 100-km birthday marathon from Chilliwack to Abbotsford will benefit Special Olympics B.C.

Kalyn Head hopes run raises awareness, advocates for inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

FILE – Most lanes remain closed at the Peace Arch border crossing into the U.S. from Canada, where the shared border has been closed for nonessential travel in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Thursday, May 7, 2020, in Blaine, Wash. The restrictions at the border took effect March 21, while allowing trade and other travel deemed essential to continue. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Feds to issue update on border measures for fully vaccinated Canadians, permanent residents

Border with U.S. to remain closed to most until at least July 21

A portion of the George Road wildfire burns near Lytton, B.C. in this Friday, June 18, 2021 handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, BC Wildfire Service *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Blaze near Lytton spread across steep terrain, says BC Wildfire Service

Fire began Wednesday and is suspected to be human-caused, but remains under investigation

(Black Press Media files)
Burnaby RCMP look for witnesses in hit-and-run that left motorcyclist dead

Investigators believe that the suspect vehicle rear-ended the motorcycle before fleeing the scene

Blair Lebsack, owner of RGE RD restaurant, poses for a portrait in the dining room, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. Canadian restaurants are having to find ways to deal with the rising cost of food. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Canadian restaurateurs grapple with rising food costs, menu prices expected to rise

Restaurants are a low margin industry, so there’s not a lot of room to work in additional costs

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
Fort St. John man arrested after allegedly inviting sexual touching from children

Two children reported the incident to a trusted adult right away

(file)
Pedestrian hit by police vehicle in Langley

Injuries described as serious, requiring surgery

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Most Read