The following article is a first-person account of the weeks leading up to the closure of Camp Mirage as told by the last commanding officer of the base in southwest Asia.
On October 5, 2010, I received a call from Colonel Robert Perron, the Canadian Defence Attaché in the United Arab Emirates.
“Tom, you’ll never believe the news,” he said. “Canada is to be completely out of Camp Mirage within 30 days!”
This type of surprise doesn’t come along too often and I had never expected that the end of Rotation (Roto) 10 would come in this manner. The 30-day timeline was tight but due to a period of diplomatic negotiations on the final end date, I was only able to give the camp 25 days notice to move.
I made the official announcement to all of Camp Mirage Roto 10 personnel on Oct. 11, telling them we had a unique opportunity; that we had the good fortune that our Roto would be entirely different. Ours was an important challenge – we had the responsibility to close Camp Mirage in record time - we had to be out by November 5.
The great news was that Theatre Support Element (TSE) Roto 10 did not have to do it all alone. Help was on its way in the form of a mission closure team (MCT), mounted by Canadian Operational Support Command (CANOSCOM) and led by Lieutenant-Colonel Ghislain Sauvé.
The MCT played a key role in much of the logistics involved in cataloguing, loading and shipping our equipment and they were heavily involved in other areas, from engineering to communications and finance. They also brought along experts in disposal and contracting – two areas that were key to our departure.
The task ahead was clear. Consolidate vital Canadian equipment. Identify what was to be forwarded to Kandahar, what was to be relocated to Germany or Cyprus, and what was to return to Canada. Make preparations to vacate all buildings. Leave the Camp in an acceptable state to hand over to the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Complicating this was the ongoing requirement to support the mission in Afghanistan until alternate support arrangements could be made. Fortunately, we were well supported in this. Plans had been developed at Canadian Expeditionary Forces Command (CEFCOM) and CANOSCOM to relocate services at a designated time and minimize the impact on Joint Task Force Afghanistan (JTF-A). TSE Roto 10 and the MCT reacted fabulously, achieving success despite ever-changing circumstances.
Since Canada had been in the UAE the longest of all our coalition partners, we were still providing support to them in a variety of ways. We were relied on for everything from fuel trucks to fire trucks and medical clinics to barber shops. Before removing a service, we ensured there was adequate time available for the coalition partners to put alternate arrangements in place.
The Camp Mirage Cenotaph was critical in order to properly respect our fallen. The TSE Camp Chief Warrant Officer, CWO Richard Lefebvre, prepared a solemn and respectful farewell to the cenotaph on Oct. 22. It was then carefully dismantled and loaded into a sea container headed back 8 Wing Trenton, Ont.
During the ceremony, I remarked that, “Nearly every soldier, sailor and airman that has worked in support of this mission has walked this path and laid eyes on this monument. [The monument] will return to glorify them on our native soil.” Plans are now being put in place to have this same cenotaph re-erected in a suitable location at 8 Wing.
In the end, 62 sea containers were shipped, 122 vehicles were prepared and shipped and more than 150 aircraft pallets were also prepared and shipped. The final sea container was shipped on Nov. 2.
The personnel challenge was one of the most difficult. Morale is greatly affected by uncertainty and, due to changing circumstances, it took some time before I could tell everyone with certainty where they would end up on Nov. 5. In the end, about 250 military and civilian personnel were either relocated to Kandahar or Cyprus, or returned to Canada.
A CC-150 Polaris conducted the final personnel movements on Nov. 4. However, some members of Roto 10 were delayed longer in theatre. The engineer support flight didn’t return to Canada until Jan, 22, 2011, having spent a few unexpected additional months outside the wire in Afghanistan. For their great work in theatre they earned a JTF-A Commander’s Commendation.
The final camp closure ceremony took place on Nov. 3. It was a significant event, with a lot of visibility from Canada. Canadians were well supported by all our Allies throughout the closure, and they didn’t miss the opportunity to say goodbye to us officially on parade as well. I have a vivid and lasting memory of watching the Canadian flag being lowered for the last time amongst the flags of those with whom we had worked so closely, for so long.
During the ceremony, I cited the positive relations that remained with those with whom we had worked, including the UAE military. I noted, “…this is the final ceremonial act of closure. When we take this flag down, we are closing a chapter on Camp Mirage. However, we part as friends. Aviators, warriors – men and women of arms. But friends.”
I am extremely proud of all the work that went into the closure of Camp Mirage. It was a team effort, facilitated by the early work of Roto 10 and completed by dedicated people from both TSE Roto 10 and the MCT, sweating in the desert sun, loading box after box and sea container after sea container. The assistance of the MCT was well appreciated and the help that was provided by our Allies was phenomenal.
But, most of all, it was the hard work and flexibility of TSE Camp Mirage Roto 10 that will always stand out in my mind.
In recognition of the historical significance of what we had accomplished, I signed off Roto 10’s final situation report to headquarters with these words: “Ten years of accumulation...rarely before in the history of mankind has so much been moved by so few, in so little time.’