BBAAAAAARRRRMMMM…Hello. This is your Captain speaking. You will receive one free boarding pass for an all-inclusive road move to Meaford, Ontario if you stay on the line until the end of this message. We’ve all had that call, more than likely 100 times. The normally electronic drone of “Your Captain’s” voice was replaced with that of then Captain, now Major Sykora, but nevertheless, this is what I heard when I was tasked to Ex Spartan Bear II. With the Officers and Senior NCOs of 2 RCHA firmly entrenched in a stack of PERs a mile high, the opportunity to spend time away from the office was paramount to winning a tropical vacation.
My tropical Meaford vacation would include all of the same elements of any cruise. Included in the ticket was the pleasure craft (civvie bus), expensive food (Navarin, dinner #10), and of course it was all you can drink (from your local water buffalo). Notables not included in the 10 day stay were a) your DWAN e-mail account and b) your PERs. The bus was leaving on 8 May and I was looking forward to it.
HQ Bty was part of the main body to move down to Meaford on the morning of 8 May; the first packet departed the Z lines at 0500 hrs. A Regimental road move presents a multitude of challenges and many man hours go into the preparation and planning of such a move. Considering the challenges involved, the road move to, and later back from, Meaford ran quite smoothly. On the way to Meaford the Regiment had 10 breakdowns including mechanical issues with a differential plug, trailer wheel bearings, an HLVW transmission, and brakes on one of the howitzers. Regimental Transport described the move as being good experience for drivers, crew and technicians. The last packet arrived in Meaford at 0245hrs on 9 May, hungry and tired.
No live fire was to be done on Ex Spartan Bear II so the main focus was put on the local defense of the battery’s positions. 2 RCHA received great support from Engineers throughout the exercise. When arriving on either of the gun battery’s positions one could see how important this was as an elaborate system of trenches had been dug to help conceal and protect the M777s and command vehicles. It should be noted that despite the Engineer support, the troops and command teams from each battery spent countless hours digging personal trenches, laying concertina wire, applying further concealment through using cam nets and working long periods of time in hot weather to increase the defensibility of their positions.
(Above: Soldiers dig in their gun positions)
The first few days of the exercise saw a number of recce and deployments of the guns, but the last two days were almost solely dedicated to defensive upgrades and the upcoming enemy attack. BHQ D Battery commented that “the length of time devoted to the last position gave time to demonstrate more properly upgraded OPs and LPs.” Observation Posts and Listening Posts are integral pieces of the local defense puzzle as when these positions are properly sighted they can give ample forewarning of enemy movement within the battery’s area of operation.
What would a military exercise be without its “Points to Sustain” and “Points to Improve”? Of course there were many from Ex Spartan Bear II; that is what training is about, applying lessons learned, learning from mistakes and building on successes. This exercise’s “lesson learned” is on proper challenges at check points. It should be noted that when challenging using the password the proper challenge is “Tango Tango,” with a reply of “India India” (based on a password of TIGER). Flabbergasted would be a good way to describe BC F, Major Williams’s expression as he recounted his story of arriving at a check point one night to a challenge of, “Are you the enemy?” to which he replied, “No,” and was then allowed to pass. However, much progress was made throughout EX Spartan Bear II and a great point to sustain came from Brigade Commander Col Hetherington. At a recent 2RCHA Officer’s function Col Hetherington described the defences of E Bty as “the best defense of a gun position that I have ever seen.” Finally, if you are wondering what happened when the enemy did show up, let me assure you that they were soundly defeated. During a Regimental parade after Spartan Bear II, 2 RCHA Commanding Officer LCol Ivey expressed his pride in what the Regiment had accomplished and described what happened behind the scenes with the enemy. The enemy had been attempting to recce D Battery’s position to ascertain whether there were holes in their defense or areas that they could exploit, but the well placed outer defenses made it impossible for the enemy to gets good eyes on. This forced the enemy to attack E Battery who could be seen but had also established an outstanding placement of weapons and all around sound defensive tactics. The enemy did not stand a chance as they were quickly and decisively defeated. The Guns, one of the most important and impacting Brigade assets were safe.
(Above: Lt Wilson, WO Reid and Gnr Graham in their defensive position)
Ex Spartan Bear II served as a great way for the Regiment to display exactly what we can do. With the speed at which today’s dynamic battlefields move and change, the notion of the Artillery being in the rear guard has become a thing of the past. Modern Artillery gun positions need to be prepared at all times to provide a strong and effective defence against a highly mobile and capable enemy. This makes an exercise like this one of utmost importance as the Guns need to be able to not only provide indirect fire support but also be able to properly defend their position in the likelihood of an enemy attack.
Lt W.J. Malone