Canadian troops train at Camp Shelby

Published 7:48 pm Tuesday, January 9, 2007

The villagers approached slowly, chanting in Arabic.

“Go home, Canada!” they yelled as they came down the dirt path from the village. When they arrived at the gate to the base, they gestured angrily at the dozens of armed soldiers from Canada’s 35 Brigade Group.

On cue they scattered, revealing two men with machine guns. As the battle ensued, two soldiers fell and quickly were dragged through the mud out of harm’s way.

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The villagers were part-time actors from the Hattiesburg area present to help train members of the 35 Brigade, a reserve unit in from Quebec City, for a possible deployment to Afghanistan this summer.

From Jan. 2 through Tuesday, the 659 soldiers are in charge of holding down Fort Operations Base Hurricane, a simulated base, against constant threats and situations.

“It’s a very good training opportunity,” said Maj. Tim Simpson of Camp Shelby.

“It’s absolutely outstanding,” said Lt. Col. Claude Morin, who is the commander of camp for the Canadian forces. “I can say this because I’ve been in the service for years, but rarely I’ve seen the support we’ve gotten from Camp Shelby. Outstanding.”

However, he said, the nature of the training is difficult for his troops.

“It’s rough on the body because we haven’t slept much in the past six or seven days,” he said. “We’re at war.”

Marie Pier Gagne, 18, manned a machine gun in an observation tower.

“She said, ‘It’s nice; we learn a lot,”’ translated Warrant Officer Marie-France Poulin, a public affairs officer for the brigade. “But it’s intense. We don’t sleep. It’s intense.”

This is the brigade’s second trip to Camp Shelby for the training. Poulin said different scenarios constantly are running to keep the troops on their toes.

“We have some soldiers that do the enemy, so they might walk around here just to look like someone is getting information,” she said. “But always, something is going on.”

She said that although they have similar training facilities in Canada, they aren’t always available.

“We cannot do it during the winter because it’s closed,” she said. “And it’s different for the troops to do it here, they are like, ‘Yeah, we’re going to Mississippi and Camp Shelby for training!’”

Most of the brigade, she said, are reservists; many are students who have dedicated their winter break to the training.

During the battle, the “referee” designates soldiers who have been wounded or killed by activating an alert on their back that beeps; other soldiers then can practice their first aid skills. After one manifestation, several soldiers lay on the ground, face up in the pouring rain.

“I feel bad for that guy,” Simpson said as he rode by one unflinching soldier.

He said that the Canadians are the only other forces that have trained at Shelby.

“We’ve enjoyed working with them,” he said. “It’s an experience for us to see how another country does things. They can learn from us, and we can learn a few things from them.”