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Kootenay squadron navigates rough water on Columbia River

The 44 Engineers went through a series of assault boat training and rescue exercises on the Columbia

The 44 Engineer Squadron boldly ran the Columbia River last month in a unique series of training exercises.

A total of 18 Nautical Sappers from Greater Trail and Cranbrook conducted assault boat training exercises for two days on the river between Castlegar and Trail under ominous skies and challenging conditions.

The forecast threatened rain through the entire weekend but the participants were fortunate to only be exposed to heavy rain for about an hour on Saturday, said Major Nils French.

“This exercise again leveraged the previous exercises that 44 Engineer Squadron has consistently conducted every year for the last few years. Each year has built on the squadron’s readiness to conduct boat operations and the skills of our operators have progressed.”

The 44 Engineer Squadron is a Canadian Army Reserve unit with armouries in Trail and Cranbrook. Canada’s military engineers, or sappers, serve wherever the need arises. Their motto — Ubique — is Latin for “everywhere.”

On April 27 and April 28, boats were launched at Robson Park and ploughed through 40 km of free-flowing river downstream to Gyro Park in Trail.

Training involved three boats with four to five personnel per boat and included inflating, launching, and starting motors, moving in various formations, navigation, paddling, rafting, and practising rescue techniques.

Most notably, the group moved through several stretches of fast water in various locations along the Columbia River, and one particularly rough stretch where the Kootenay River flows into the Columbia below Brilliant Dam.

Sappers navigated the rafts through large waves and whitecaps, traversed shallow rocky bottoms, and battled small whirlpools, eddies, and strong currents.

“The 44 ES operators handled these confidently and with ease,” said French. “Previous nautical sapper exercises were considered as crawl and walk phases.

“When it comes to moving on water, the squadron is now running.”

Future exercises will integrate tactical aspects and night operation, added French.

Soldiers of the 44 Engineer Squadron build everything the army needs and ensure it can get everywhere it needs to go. Sappers are the army’s experts on road and bridge construction, fortification, boat operations, explosives, and more.

Soldiers of the 44th are also deployed in B.C. to fires, floods, and other emergencies, and serve on development and international aid missions around the world.

Anyone interested in joining can call 250.368.2129.

Soldiers of the 44 ES are paid to serve part-time from September to May on Thursday evenings and one weekend per month.

They must complete four to six weeks of paid training each summer in their first two to three years and also have the option to be employed full time from May to August.

Read more: 44 Engineer Squadron wraps up training exercise near Trail

Read more: Army exercises near Trail

Jim Bailey

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