Published Articles

British forces participate in ‘Exercise Prairie Storm’ at CFB Suffield

Originally published in the Bow Island Commentator

British military forces stationed in CFB Suffield, the largest military training range in the Commonwealth, conducted a live fire exercise, dubbed “Exercise Prairie Storm,” on May 16.
“A lot of the training we do in the U.K. comes together here and this is where we hope to bring together all the different parts of this battle group,” explained Lt.-Col. Angus Tilney, commander of the King’s Royal Hussars.
“Canada gives us this space in the Prairies that we don’t have in the U.K.”
Tanks, infantry, artillery and engineers were all part of the massive 32-day exercise, which Major Alex Mills says is meant to prepare participants for future deployments overseas.
“We take them away from their creature comforts,” Mills said. “They won’t have mobile phones on the prairie. They’re limited in what they can do (with) regards to their personal life.”
Col. Marcus Evans, British Army Training Unit Suffield commander, says almost 2,000 troops are participating in the training exercise, which is meant to prepare them for battle in a variety of terrains.
“They’re exercising to prepare them to go onto NATO’s frontline, so they’re preparing for war,” said Evans.
“The bottom line is that we have a lead armour battle group here, which is being prepared for future operations.
“Those operations could be high-intensity combat. They’re most likely to deploy to Estonia.
“Estonia is wooded and flat, but the manoeuvre they do here and practicing combined arms, and bringing that concert of arms together is really the same.
“They need to have the same aggressive soldiering styles and techniques that they use anywhere.”
He said northern Estonia has quite a different terrain from the badlands in Suffield, but Ukraine and northern Syria — two other NATO hotspots — are surprisingly similar to the Prairie terrain.
“The British army isn’t so much training for the fight, but for any fight,” said Evans.
Lt.-Col. Simon Smith, who originally hails from the Isle of Wight, agrees that the prairie climate is ideal to help forces train for numerous terrains, which they’re unable to do to the same extent back home.
“The extremes you experience on this training area — extreme heat, extreme dust, just a couple days ago it was extremely cold, and I’m sure we’ll be in for some rain here… That is very similar to what I’ve experienced in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo,” said Smith.
Prairie Storm is the first major exercise of 2018. There will be three more before the winter.

Fire and relations with locals

Fire is a major concern for BATUS. Just last year, CFB Suffield accepted responsibility for a grass fire that killed some cattle at a nearby ranch.
“Prairie grass can catch fire quite easily,” Evans said. “We do use ammunition types that will set fire to the grass. If there’s too many fires, we will reduce the number of ammunition types that will set fire to it.
“But all of us are trained to put out fires … We’ll put out a fire as soon as we see it.”
“By the nature of what we do here, inevitably there will be, especially during the summer exercise season, risk of fire,” Mills said, adding that the troops take a two-day fire training course.
That afternoon, firefighting forces put out a minor grass fire that was started from tank fire.
Evans said that despite last year’s fire, BATUS has a good relationship with nearby ranchers and the Village of Ralston located next door.
“We are guests in the prairie here,” said Mills. “The (BATUS) has been here since 1972 and we want to continue that relationship with the local community.
“We take every single measure to prevent those fires from spreading.”

The future of BATUS

BATUS will be in existence until at least 2022.
Evans said some American brigades are looking to train in Suffield as soon as 2021.
However, the long-term future of BATUS is up in the air.
“The British army is reviewing what it needs to do in terms of training its troops,” he said.
“We’re looking to achieve defence engagement around the world and to train in different environments, so we’re always looking at training in Europe, training in the Middle East and we’re looking at training in North America, in both Canada and the U.S.”
Poland, Estonia and Germany, as well as Amman, Jordan, and California are distinct possibilities for future training.
It’s also possible that they stay in Suffield.
“By the end of the year, we’ll probably have an announcement about what takes us beyond 2022,” said Evans.

Community News, Entertainment, Published Articles

Blues at the Bow celebrates 25 years

Originally published in the Bow Island Commentator

San Francisco-Bay area bluesman Roy Rogers made the trek up to Blues at the Bow to celebrate its 25th anniversary on May 12 in front of a sold out audience.
“It’s great to be back here. It’s one of my favourite places to play,” said Rogers. “I’m honoured … An anniversary gig like this, it’s an accomplishment to be recognized.”
This was his fourth time playing the Bow, which he said he loves playing due to its intimacy compared with clubs in bigger cities, like Calgary or Los Angeles.
“These are the kind of gigs where everybody’s just up close and personal, and as much as I play big cities, it’s fun to play for people who have their own community and there’s a different vibe about it,” he said.
“That vibe translates to the musicians on stage and you feel like you’re all part of it. Sometimes if you’re playing larger venues elsewhere, you can be kind of removed from the audience and you have to work a little harder to make it happen.”
Rogers says he got into the blues as a teenager, listening to B.B. King, and then he heard Robert Johnson’s slide guitar, which sealed the deal for him.
“That was it. When I heard slide guitar, that said it all for me,” he said.
“It’s a very expressive way to play and it’s become my signature way of playing.”
Rogers was attracted to the blues for its emotive potential.
“I want music to move me,” he said. “It’s not about how complex it is, necessarily, it’s if it moves you or it doesn’t.
“The blues moves me most of all, because you’re hearing the passion of someone … When you’re listening to a John Lee Hooker or a Howlin’ Wolf or somebody like that, if you’re not moved, there’s something wrong with you.”
Rogers has himself collaborated with John Lee Hooker and Sammy Hagar from Van Halen, as well as recording three albums with Ray Manzarek from The Doors.
He also worked on the soundtrack for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1976.
Steve Ell, Blues at the Bow’s business manager, has been involved with the venue since the beginning, first as a regular attendee and then as a board member since 2008.
“Who would have thought, right here in Bow Island, an old shut-down theatre? It was a whim of a couple guys who had a dream and believed in it.
“They went through and tried it, and they said, ‘Yeah, okay. This is cool, but it’s probably not going to last forever.’ But it just keeps going.”
Ell attributes this continuing success to Blues at the Bow having found a niche market in southern Alberta, attracting not just locals, but attendees from Medicine Hat, Lethbridge and Taber.
“We’re out here in the middle of nowhere with a dedication to the blues and it attracts people,” he said.
“The atmosphere is really good when this place fills up with people, it’s unique. I’m in this area and I come in here and it’s a little bit of escapism.
“I walk in and it’s like being in a downtown Vancouver nightclub, not little old Bow Island.”