CAF members and US Marines combine forces during Exercise Maple Flag 50

News Article / June 5, 2017

To see more images, click on the photograph under “Image Gallery”.

By 2nd Lieutenant Stephanie Leguizamon

What do you get when you put a group of Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members and Marines together in the forests of the Cold Lake, Alberta, Air Weapons Range? Apparently, one impressive explosion!

On May 28, 2017, CAF combat engineers, medics and other personnel conducted demolition training alongside United States marines from Engineer Company, Detachment Bravo, Marine Wing Support Squadron 473 (MWSS-473), 4th Marine Aircraft Wing, Marine Forces Reserve as part of exercise Maple Flag 50.

The group used field-expedient Bangalore torpedoes to clear an abatis created by CAF members at the Primrose Lake Evaluation Range, a training area within the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range, to the north of 4 Wing and Canadian Forces Base Cold Lake. The Air Weapons Range is a vast area of land used primarily for aerial training, and straddles the Alberta-Saskatchewan border.

A Bangalore torpedo is an explosive charge placed within one or several connected tubes, allowing combat engineers to clear paths through wire obstacles, heavy undergrowth and, in this case, an abatis approximately 60 feet long and 30 feet wide. An abatis is an obstacle formed by felling trees in such a manner that the trees fall interlocked, pointing at a 30-degree angle towards the direction of approach of an enemy. Especially when fortified with wire entanglements and other obstacles or debris, an abatis can present a menacing improvised obstacle for personnel and vehicles such as tanks, light armoured vehicles and trucks.

Before driving from the main operating facility at 4 Wing to the demolitions range, the Canadians and US personnel gathered in the early afternoon to practise making calculations necessary to ensure that the breach was a success.

“We’ve taken several classes in preparation,” said Corporal Melvin Clemens, a combat engineer with MWSS-473. “We’ve studied how to time a time-fuse, relate explosive factors, and how to calculate stand-off to ensure we’re a safe distance away from an explosive.”

While an abatis can easily be simulated using lumber, for the visiting Marines, training with an actual abatis of felled trees is an extremely rare opportunity. “This exercise is awesome,” said Sergeant Michael Nadon, a combat engineer with MWSS-473. “I’ve never had the opportunity to breach an authentic abatis. This is a huge opportunity for the combat engineer community.”

The Marines were accompanied by Canadian Armed Forces range staff and augmentees from Exercise Maple Flag. Canadian Army Master Corporal Brock Hogan is a reconnaissance patrolman from 3rd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. Augmenting Maple Flag for two weeks, he assisted in coordination and transportation of the group to the demolition range. “I want to learn how the engineers work,” he said. “I can take it back to my guys and we can all work better together, whether we’re Canadian or American.”

Marines learned about creating effective obstacles as well as breaching them. Before the time fuse was initiated, 2nd Lieutenant Kevin Roy, the opposition forces commander for MWSS-473 during Maple Flag and executive officer of Engineering Company, spoke to Marines about thinking critically to make an abatis more effective against enemy forces and creating a defense in depth.

At 5:45 p.m. Master Corporal Hogan and Lance Corporal Zachary Hooper, a combat engineer with MWSS-473, initiated the time fuse and everyone retreated to a safe position. Exactly four minutes and 59 seconds later a satisfying blast echoed through the area. When Marines and Canadian troops returned to the blast site the mission was deemed a success.

The training event was made possible thanks to considerable coordination between Canadian range personnel and operations planners. Canadian Army Sergeant Major Mitchell Booker is the Range Operations Master Warrant Officer for the Aerospace Flight Test Training Centre at 4 Wing, and manages PLER. Master Warrant Officer Booker’s team prepared the abatis under his direction and he oversaw the event.

There are strict safety and environmental protocols to follow on any live-fire range. Primrose Lake Evaluation Range personnel were present to ensure safety protocols were followed and precautions were taken to prevent adverse effects on the environment and surrounding wildlife. An environmental officer at 4 Wing Cold Lake closely monitors weather conditions and range fire hazard levels.

The MWSS-473 engineers repeated the exercise on Sunday June 4, 2016, increasing the level of difficulty with added fortification to the abatis.

“The Canadians give us huge support,” Sergeant Nadon said. “They support us with accommodations, food, water and demolitions. They’re true allies.”

Date modified: