Show of strength bridges the gap

By Rose Matjasic, Creston Valley Advance. Thursday 23rd September.

More than two years after it was washed out, there's a new bridge over Summit Creek for the Creston Valley Wildlife Management Area.

The much-anticipated replacement project featured 75 Canadian military sappers from Trail, Vancouver and Calgary squadrons spending almost 24 hours constructing the bridge over two days.

In doing so they restored the CVWMA's only direct access to almost 1,000 hectares of wetland, which was cut off when the high spring run-off in 1997 destroyed the old span.

Hundreds of local spectators showed up to witness the effort Friday and Saturday.

"I can't explain the great sense of accomplishment that we feel," said CVWMA manager Brian Stushnoff. "We all feel very excited.

"Everything worked out well and we are so amazed with the bridge. We're pleased with the quality and we're so pleased with the public support we received on the project.

"I want to say a very big thank you to the community for the many forms of support they've offered and to the military for the incredible job that was done. The bridge is now open and I hope it will be well-used."

The 140-foot Bailey bridge has been named the Izzy Bridge after Master Cpl. Mark Isfeld of the Trail squadron *, who was killed in 1994 while attempting to disengage land mines in Croatia.

Commanding officer Maj. Brent Warne of the 44 field engineer squadron of Trail, which oversaw the operation, hopes the bridge will not only be used to serve the memory of Isfeld, but also the Creston Valley community for years to come.

"The project was a resounding success," Warne said Monday. "This is one of the best bridges that we've ever done and we're glad that we could be of use. The soldiers did hard but skilled work and had a great time doing it. It was a good training exercise for us but it meant a whole lot more.

"We want to thank the community for coming out -- the soldiers worked 50-per-cent harder because of the crowd -- and between the hospitality we received from the town (businesses) and having (Mayor Lela Irvine) bake muffins, the moral support meant a lot. I've never seen so much support in any community as I have from this one."

Warne added that he hopes to offer his services to the CVWMA again, hopefully as soon as next year.

"The support from the town was overwhelming," he said. "Everyone is looking forward to coming back."

**************

Some statistics on the Bridge Build.

Participation - Total 75, from 44 FES (Trail), 33 FES (Calgary), 6 FES (North Vancouver) and 1 CER (Edmonton).

Bridge Type

140 Ft triple single, chord reinforced standard widened bailey bridge.

Building Schedule

Advance party deployed 13 Sep and prepared abutments,  installed rollers and constructed nose.

Main party commenced building 0800 on 18 Sep and had the bridge across the gap by 1900 ( a pig roast halted construction until 0700 the next morning ). The bridge was jacked down and decked with a non-standard decking system by 1700 on 19 Sep.

The bridge commander was Sgt Sharman Thomas and the troop commander was Capt Al Moreau.

* Master Cpl. Mark Isfeld, was actually a member of 1 CER at the time of his death, not 44 FES. (Echo Two editor)

Photos' will be appearing on the 44 FES website soon.
 

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Day to Day Life

9 Sept 99 Canadian Press, Steven Thorne (Kitchener-Waterloo Record)

Kosovo - Keeping the peace; Day-to-day life for a Canadian soldier  in the Yugoslav province means trying to stay clean, well-rested and fed.

Canadian soldiers keeping the peace in war-torn Kosovo live a nomadic life, eating rations out of foil bags and bedding down under the stars, sometimes to the cracks and pops of not-so-distant gunfire.

Reconnaissance troops from Lord Strathcona's Horse Regiment in Edmonton travel in eight-wheeled armoured vehicles equipped with high-technology observation equipment and padded benches that make ideal beds in a pinch.

The Canadian "reccy" squadron was at the forefront of NATO's move to stop ethnic fighting in the Yugoslav province. Ethnic Albanians had been the target of a systematic campaign of 'ethnic cleansing' ordered by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and carried out by Serbian soldiers and police.

The Serbian forces were opposed by ethnic Albanian civilians and members of the Kosovo Liberation Army, or KLA, a rebel band representing sweeping elements of Kosovo society, from farmers and labourers to doctors and lawyers.

Clashes between Albanians and Serbs continued even after NATO moved in. The Canadians' abilities to detect military movements using long-range video and infrared cameras have meant their 17 Coyote vehicles, each with three or four soldiers, have often been near the action.

The reccies' special abilities have also meant their creature comforts lagged far behind those who manage to establish semi-permanent base camps with kitchens, showers and large tents or, better, buildings to sleep in.

Engineers, for example, were the first to find a home in Kosovo. Within eight days, the Canadian soldiers whose job it is to build camps, repair roads and bridges, and sniff out landmines were ensconced in an abandoned, partly constructed warehouse outside the provincial capital of Pristina.

They called it Camp Isfeld, after one of their own - Master Cpl. Mark (Izzy) Isfeld of Courtenay, B.C., who was killed while disarming a landmine in Croatia in 1994.

The engineers were also busy negotiating a contract with a local gravel supplier as they prepared a site for the reconnaissance squadron, already occupied by support troops.

The former abattoir located in a field on the other side of Kosovo was muddy, but it fast became home to the 100 or so medics, mechanics, radio operators, officers and the like who had already camped in a mine-infested compound nearby and on the hard concrete of a shot-up and looted gas station just down the road.

Cheers erupted across that muddy field when the first portable toilets arrived on a Saturday afternoon in June. For their first week in Kosovo, the threat of mines beyond the perimeter or off the roadsides had prevented the soldiers from finding privacy for even the most private of functions.

And for a week before that, they'd been camped out in neighbouring Macedonia, bathing and shaving in bowls as they went.

"For every soldier, that's probably the hardest thing - not having the proper washroom facilities," said Warrant Officer Doug Donnelly, a medic originally from Ontario.

A soldier travels on his stomach, the saying goes. And the Canadians' rations are reputed to be the best in NATO. But after weeks, sometimes months, of the same stews, goulashes, hamsteaks and other meals boiled in a thermal bag, the prospect of change - even to other rations - is mighty tempting.

Soldiers make it a project to "get rid of as much Canadian ration as you can," said Sgt. Denis Dubois of Montreal.

"Go to the Brits, the French, the Italians and start trading rations. Tonight, we're eating French. We're eating moussaka, we're eating lamb, we're eating chicken, and we're eating sardines and pate of beef."

Eventually, showers get built and pallets of supplies, construction materials and personal belongings start arriving by the truckload.

Soon a kitchen is up and running and the troops get fresh-cooked steaks and shrimp, pasta and pizza, potatoes and vegetables.

"The conditions aren't that bad, but it makes a big difference when you're clean and well-rested and fed," said Cpl. Robert Gould of Charlottetown.

"It's nice to eat off a plate instead of out of a bag after 12 or 13 days."

NATO peacekeeping forces moved into Kosovo after an 11-week bombing campaign against Yugoslavia ended

Q: What is Kosovo's history?
A: Kosovo occupies a mostly mountainous corner of Yugoslavia bordering Albania and Macedonia. For centuries, it has been a crossroads for cultures and a point of conflict. During the Ottoman Empire, it was a favoured enclave because of its high conversion rate to Islam.
Serbia seized Kosovo, which had been the centre of the Serbian kingdom in the Middle Ages, from the Ottoman Turks in 1912.

During the Second World War, Kosovo was occupied by Italians and briefly consolidated with Albania. But it returned to Yugoslavia in 1945 and gradually earned autonomous status under the Yugoslav leader, Marshal Josip Broz Tito. After Tito's death in 1980, Serbian nationalists cracked down on Albanian student protests and chipped away at Kosovo's special provisions. Autonomy was revoked in 1989.

Q: Why is Kosovo so important to Serbs?
A: Ottomans defeated Serbian forces in 1389 on the Field of Blackbirds in Kosovo, a pivotal event in cementing Ottoman control over the region. Kosovo has served as a point of reference for Serbian nationalists for centuries and the Serbian Orthodox Church has its roots in Kosovo.

Q: What's the difference between Serbs and Albanians?
A: Serbs are a Slavic people with an Orthodox religion. Albanians are predominantly Muslim, and speak a language unlike any other in Europe, descended from the old Illyrian tongue used in parts of ancient Greece.

Q: What was the ethnic breakdown in Kosovo before the NATO campaign?
A: The province's two million people were about 90 per cent ethnic Albanians. The rest were mostly Serbs.

Q: What prompted the bombing campaign?
A: NATO wanted to force Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to accept a peace plan for Kosovo. The 19-member military alliance was determined to stop the Serbian policy of "ethnic cleansing" in the province. Serbs had killed thousands of Albanian Kosovars and uprooted hundreds of thousands more. NATO leaders feared the brutality could threaten European security by causing unrest in Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro.

Q: What has happened since NATO's bombing campaign ended?
A: Milosevic withdrew his army and police forces from Kosovo in exchange for the end of NATO airstrikes. Since then about 40,000 NATO peacekeepers - including 1,300 Canadians - have been stationed throughout Kosovo. Minority Serbs have increasingly become the target of hate crimes committed by ethnic Albanians, seeking revenge for atrocities committed by Serbian forces before and during the bombing. The revenge attacks have prompted most of the 200,000 Kosovar Serbs to flee the province.

Q: How much is Canada spending to aid Kosovo?
A: Canada has earmarked $122 million for Kosovo, including some $85 million for refugee relief and $20 million for police and security operations.
The aid tab doesn't include the cost, yet to be tallied, of keeping  Canadian soldiers  in the field as part of the Kosovo peacekeeping force.

Here is some of the equipment issued to each Candian soldier inKosovo:
 
*  flashlight * sunscreen * foot powder 
* anti-chap lipstick  * first-aid dressing  * wash basin 
* insect repellent  * cot * towels 
* sewing kit  * ground sheet  * parka 
* canteen * three trunk lockers * water bottle 
* sleeping bag  * bayonet carrier  * kit bag 
* helmet  * rain jacket and pants  * socks, mitts and gloves 
* combat tuque and sweater  * gas mask carrier  * air mattress (self-inflating)
* knife, fork, spoon, cup, bowl and plate * four sets of combat shirts and pants  * a variety of boots, including mukluks

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Companion: Rescue at Arnhem

Murray Hogben, Kingston Whig Standard, 26 September 1999

What do a quiet, long-retired Queen's University professor and the book and star-studded 1977 war movie A Bridge Too Far have in common?

The short answer is: A lot.

Russ Kennedy, who retired in 1983 after nearly 40 years of teaching engineering at his alma mater and took up forestry near Tamworth, was at Arnhem, in the Netherlands, during the desperate operation there in September 1944.

He was there as a Royal Canadian Engineers reconnaissance officer and became involved in saving more than 2,000 of the 10,000 members of the British 1st Airborne Division who'd been dropped to capture the bridge at Arnhem.

Kennedy won a Military Cross for bravery for his actions there and was presented with the medal by King George VI at Buckingham Palace after the war.

It all began with Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery's ambitious plan to punch through the German lines in Belgium and drive 64 miles northeast across Holland.

The plan was to link up with paratroopers who'd been dropped ahead to seize four crucial bridges along the way.

Finally, they would relieve the British paratroopers who'd been dropped even farther ahead, at the city of Arnhem on the far side of the Neder Rijn, or Lower Rhine.

Arnhem would be a last stop before the German border and a projected end to the war.

But Operation Market Garden failed, due to frustrating delays and fatal oversights, leading to very high casualties among the paratroopers and the relieving force, and to the destruction of the city of Arnhem.

As the officer in charge suggested in vain to Montgomery, they "might be going a bridge too far," a phrase which became the title of Cornelius Ryan's 1974 book and the 1977 blockbuster film.

Kennedy's job with the 23rd Field Company, Royal Canadian Engineers, then attached to the Second British Army, was to scout ahead under fire to see how the paratroopers could be rescued from the far side of the river.

It cost the life of his driver, Sapper Buck McKee. His assistant, Sgt. Don Barnes, who could make drawings of what they saw, was severely wounded.

The rescue also took the life of his best friend, another engineering Queen's grad, who was killed when the company's first rescue boat was shot up when it hit the water.

"It was a disastrous night," Kennedy recalled recently.

The Arnhem bridge seizure was a bridge too far, but it could not be dropped from the plans because it was an all-or-nothing gamble on reaching the German plains.

The long answer to the question of what Kennedy had to do with all this high drama and disaster is part of the long and interesting life of a Kingston family.

Son of Jim Kennedy and the former Mabel Sweeney, Russell J. Kennedy was born on a farm at Dunrobin, near Ottawa, in November 1917. A date which, he says with a smile, means "I'm no longer young."

He studied civil engineering at Queen's and joined the part-time military training of the Canadian Officers Training Corps (COTC).

The coming of the Second World War meant "there was a strong compulsion to do something about all these terrible things that were happening," he said, but there were a couple of personal problems to get around first.

His mother had been active in supporting the League of Nations, formed to save the world from a repeat of the First World War, so it was "a bit of a wrench" to go off to fight in the Second World War.

There was also the problem of some student debts and the expected $150 cost of an officer's uniform, so Kennedy had to work on a northern Ontario dam for the summer following his spring 1941 graduation from Queen's.

On Oct.1, 1941, Russ Kennedy and his friend Russ Martin joined the Canadian Army, did more training in Brockville and Petawawa and then were sent to the 23rd Field Company of engineers in New Brunswick, to be attached to fighting units overseas.

They sailed to England in July 1943 and became part of the 1st Canadian Army Troops (CAT) as engineers.

When the long-awaited Allied invasion of Europe was launched on D-Day, June 6, 1944, they were left at their base at Box Hill, south of London, for four weeks before being shipped to Normandy.

The Allies had been bottled up along their beachhead and had to break out of it and one exit was the German-held highway hub of Caen, to the south.

"Clearing the roads through Caen was our first major job," he said.

"The Germans were good troops. They were fairly experienced and were there, and we were green troops in our first big operation, so of course mistakes were made."

Among those mistakes was what he called "the slaughter of the tanks" south of Caen.

"I actually stood in one place and looked at the [Allied Sherman] tanks on the ground, mostly with the crews laid out on the ground beside them because they'd burnt.

"I counted until I got to 50 Shermans and stopped counting. It just turned my flesh to be there. It was awful," Kennedy recalled. "They just didn't pay enough attention to the fact the German anti-tank guns were so good."

He doesn't remember whether they were British or Canadian tanks and crews.

GATHER INFORMATION

Kennedy said soon after he landed he was taken away from his platoon of 68 men and made into a reconnaissance officer, to gather engineering information on roads, bridges and river crossings ahead of the army.

After Caen, the Allies defeated the Germans at Falaise, and went on to the Seine River assault crossing.

They had done much of their training in England on these assault crossings of water obstacles using heavy plywood "storm boats," which carried a dozen infantry soldiers and their weapons.

Once Operation Market Garden was launched on Sept. 17, 1944, the engineers had to be prepared to make an assault crossing with boats and pontoon bridges on the way to Arnhem, via Eindhoven and Nijmegen, in case any bridge along the road was destroyed.

"Of course, unfortunately, things went wrong," Kennedy said, "and we had to try and bring the Airborne back instead."

The British paratroopers had been dropped west of Arnhem, which was on the north side of the Lower Rhine, while the relieving column had to try to reach them by pushing northwest along the narrow paved road from Belgium, under attack from the enemy and with other rivers and bridges to cross.

It turned out to be much tougher than predicted, not a two-day dash across Holland.

By Sept. 25, Kennedy said his commanding officer, Maj. Mike Tucker of the 23rd Field Company, received word that things were not going well at Arnhem and that the British paratroopers needed to be rescued.

This was "very hush-hush," Kennedy said. "The last thing they wanted was for anybody to find out that they might be going to try to pull these troops out."

The British Airborne troops of Maj. Gen. Robert E. Urquhart (portrayed by Sean Connery in the film) had been dropped west of the city on the north side of the river and held their ground in the western suburb of Oosterbeek.

Further east, in the centre of town the British under Col. John Frost (portrayed by Anthony Hopkins in A Bridge Too Far) were holding on without heavy weapons at the north end of the bridge. They were surrounded by enemy soldiers on both sides of the river.

When Kennedy was called in to sneak ahead and look for a river-crossing site, he said "the Germans were on the hills all around and all this ground [the wet flatland between the relief column and the river] was under German observation, so we had to go and find a place where we could operate in the dark [to evacuate the British].

"We snuck around behind the dikes and peered around. That's what reconnaissance does. You try to get as close to the enemy as you can without getting shot."

The plan was for the Canadians, 23rd Company and 20th Company Field Engineers, to run the storm boats on the east flank and west of the crossing site while the British
260th Company would use canvas assault boats in the middle.

In his address to the United Services Institute here in March 1983, Kennedy recounted how under cover of darkness their company brought up their 14 heavy 20-foot plywood storm boats on vehicles.

They heaved them up the wet and slippery 18- to 20-foot "winter dike" and then over the seven- to 10-foot-high "summer dike" near the river, all this in the rain and under German shellfire.

Tucker directed the company in the rescue from the shore and Kennedy was put in charge of getting the rescue boats and spare motors over the dikes from the trucks and into the water.

The boats could carry a dozen infantry soldiers and their weapons but because of their primitive outboard motors - no clutch or reverse - were very awkward to use.

Kennedy said the first boat promptly sank because it had somehow been shot up in the journey up and a second one was then wrestled down to the river's edge, opposite Oosterbeek, just west of Arnhem itself.

"Russ Martin was put in charge of this boat and set out into the blackness of the river to find the Airborne," Kennedy said. "By now the German artillery was firing in great style and our own mediums were replying in kind.

"No one from that boat was seen again. A few minutes later, we had another boat ready and it also disappeared.

SURVIVED

"The second crew, however, survived and much later rejoined the company, reporting that while returning with the boat heavily loaded with Airborne survivors, a mortar shell had exploded close beside them. The crew and passengers jumped away from the explosion and the boat overturned and sank.

"The fourth boat returned, finally, with a load of survivors.

"We could get a new boat into action every 20 minutes or so and shortly the return flow of Airborne became a problem," because a lot of them were wounded and had to be treated soon after their arrival on the south shore, Kennedy said.

There were also problems with the temperamental outboard motors that failed - requiring them to use paddles and rifle butts to get back to safety - and the overloaded boats were regularly shot up or sunk.

By 3:30 a.m., after he'd got the last boat in the water, and there seemed few survivors to pick up, Kennedy found an abandoned storm boat with a dead motor.

"By some fluke, it started for me," he recalled, so Tucker let him have a lance-corporal and a sapper to look around for Martin's boat or its crew.

Arriving on the north shore, they found a mob of Airborne survivors who rushed his boat and sank it in four feet of cold water.

Kennedy finally managed to get these desperate men to co-operate in lifting and emptying the flooded boat, and then he set off across the river with only two paddles and some rifle butts to propel the boat.

Back on the south shore, the trio found an abandoned boat with a motor that had dried out and a third canvas assault boat.

They then took all three boats back - with only a motor on the front one - to pick up more surviving paratroopers, who had now lined up on shore. They succeeded in bringing them back.

Finally, Kennedy and the sapper took the two storm boats back to the north side of the river, one towing the other.

Once they'd taken on more paratroopers, he found his motor was dead again.

The other boatload cut the line and paddled off on their own, losing all but four men. Of the four, one survivor was the valiant Canadian sapper D.J. McCready, who was awarded the Military Medal for his bravery.

"Our motor finally caught," Kennedy said, "but the blunt bow of the storm boat was so close to the water that I didn't dare use much power for fear of catching a ripple and driving her under.

"The machine guns were still firing, the bullets making interesting patterns on the water around us, but they never actually got onto us. A single projectile hit the man who was jammed under my right elbow, with a sound like the blow of a club. He jerked once and never moved again.

"The bow of the boat hit the beach and 10 seconds later the dead paratrooper and I were alone.

"It was 7:20 a.m. and full light on Tuesday the 26th [of September], the ninth day after Market Garden was launched with such high hopes."

Kennedy won a Military Cross for his bravery at the Arnhem crossing.

According to Cornelius Ryan's book, 2,163 of Urquhart's 10,000 paratroopers were rescued, plus 160 Poles and 75 Dorsets who'd been sent across in a vain effort to help
Urquhart.

The Allies had 1,500 killed and 6,642 missing, wounded or captured at Arnhem. The Germans had 3,300 casualties, including 1,100 dead.

In Kennedy's family-produced memoir of their 1994 return to the Arnhem area, he quotes former Lance.-Cpl. Ken Hope of the British paratroopers, who in the dark and in pouring rain was ordered down to the river's edge to await evacuation.

"Then a seemingly disembodied Canadian voice called out, inviting us to board his fragile assault boat. He urged his passengers to move in quickly. Soaked to the skin, indescribably weary, I gained the comparative safety of the higher ground on the southern bank. I turned and watched in awe and astonishment as the intrepid boatmen plied their hazardous ferry. Who were these unknowns, these strangers who had appeared so fortuitously to rescue hundreds from the humiliating helplessness of captivity or appalling death by drowning?

"Long years were to elapse before I learned their identity - the magnificent sappers of the 20th and 23rd Field Companies, Royal Canadian Engineers, and the 260th and 553rd Field Companies of the Royal Engineers."

Kennedy had also been involved in the final assault crossing by which Arnhem was captured. He was involved in crossing the smallest branch of the Rhine, the Ijssel, east of the town.

During the cold winter of 1944-45, Kennedy was in the often dangerous work of helping the intelligence staff get information and people from the Dutch underground across various rivers.

While they had lost Arnhem, they did maintain a front line covering the bridge over the Waal River at Njimegen and some territory north of that for the winter of 1944-45.

Then in March 1945, they launched a big attack and swept into Arnhem - where the bridge is now called the Frost Bridge, after the British colonel who held out there until wounded and captured with his surviving men.

The Allies then pushed into Germany and they reached the Ems River crossing when the war ended in May 1945.

"I was glad to be in one piece," Kennedy chuckled. "I had never had a scratch on me on the continent."

He began and finished the war as a lieutenant, but with MC (Military Cross) after his name.

After the war, Kennedy came home to his parents' Dunrobin farm, where he received a message encouraging him to return to Queen's to brush up his engineering by teaching other returning war veterans.

"So I came here [to Kingston]," he said, "and aside from some graduate work I was more or less here ever after" - for nearly 40 years.

In 1993, Kennedy received an honorary doctorate of science from Queen's. The citation stated that he "pioneered post-war research links with industry, became a nationally honoured specialist in hydraulics and coastal engineering, helped reorganize both graduate studies and alumni affairs, sparked a major fund-raising success, and was vice-principal."

Prof. Ed Watt, a younger colleague in civil engineering, says Kennedy was his master of science thesis adviser in 1964 "so in a way he was my academic mentor."

Watt joined the faculty in 1966 and worked with him in succeeding years, during which Kennedy won several awards, including a distinguished service award at Queen's and also an honorary doctorate of engineering.

Asked what kind of a man Russ Kennedy is, Watt said: "Superb, superb, I can't use any other word, excellent, a good role model, all the superlatives, and a modest man.
He was a good thinker, a good engineer, and he was well respected as a teacher."

Kennedy also commanded the COTC from 1951 to 1958, retiring as a lieutenant-colonel, and was a vice-principal of administration at the university from 1970 to 1976.

"Russ and I worked closely together," says David Bonham, who had been Queen's vice-principal of finance in those years and is now a partner in Cunningham, Swan, Carty, Little and Bonham.

"He was very capable, a very diligent, low-key person and I was quite surprised to hear about his military background [years later]," Bonham remarked.

"He's a totally nice man, but underneath he's got great strength. I can see him as a leader, and he would lead by example," he added.
 

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Combat Engineers Clear The Way

By Anne Boys DND Web Site

Canadian combat engineers literally cleared the way for thousands of Bosnians returning home this summer.

"As more displaced persons and refugees move back in, there is more need for engineers to make sure roads are clear of mines before our troops start patrolling," said Captain Robert Fish, 22 Field Troop Commander of the 45 engineers currently in the final stage of their rotation in Zgon, Bosnia. For the last seven months these engineers were responsible for mine clearing, road proving, unexploded ordnance disposal, bridge building and land mine awareness training for 2 Royal Canadian Regiment Battle Group (2RCR BG).

"Roads are only good to go when the engineers say so," said Master Corporal George Prudencio, who patrolled with India Company in Drvar this summer. Soldiers only patrol the authorized route trace, which are those roadways cleared or proved by engineers.

From April to July the troop cleared approximately 100 km of land in Canada’s area of responsibility in northwestern Bosnia. High-risk roads are cleared using mine detectors that react to everything from bottle caps to iron rich soil—a task Capt Fish described as "slow and tedious." Low-risk roads are "proven" by passing over the route in mine-hardened vehicles known as a MAMBA, which deflects potential blasts away from
the operators.

At least two Canadian engineers have died clearing land mines in the Balkans. "The risk is always on your mind," said 22 Field Troop Warrant Officer Raymond Getchell in Zgon. He was in Croatia for 10 weeks in 1994 to augment the troop that lost engineer MCpl Mark Isfeld, who was killed in a land mine explosion during a clearance operation.

However, after several years of mine clearance in Bosnia, WO Getchell said the risk has decreased substantially. "When Mark was killed, clearing routes for mines was our primary focus. We’re still doing it, but not as regularly. Currently in Bosnia we do it to accommodate the returnees or to expand patrol routes. In Kosovo they’re starting where we did in Bosnia in 1992."

Capt Fish downplays the risks, focussing on his job. "At times, like any job, you wonder why you’re doing it," he said. "For me it was seeing the number of children walking to school on a blistering cold winter day for an hour there and an hour back. It meant to me that we were doing this to give them some normality and stability back to their lives."

Engineering support for the Canadian contingent in Bosnia during the latest rotation was provided by 106 engineers with 42 Composite Squadron.
 

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Wounds and Nightmares

Canadian soldiers help treat the troubled survivors of Turkey's earthquake

September 6, 1999, Maclean's Magazine By Barry Came with Laurie Udesky in Adapazari

In Turkey, Christine Smith tends to draw attention. The 32-year-old from Whitby, Ont., is not only tall and blond, but she is also a master corporal in the Canadian Armed Forces. And female soldiers are still a novelty to the Muslim crowds who gather daily outside the medical tent pitched amid the rubble of what used to be the flourishing provincial city of Adapazari. It lies 140 km east of Istanbul, and only 50 km from the epicentre of the earthquake that devastated the country. More than 90 per cent of the city's 200,000 people are now homeless. Most live in the streets, the lucky ones in multicoloured tents. Many are in need of emergency medical care, which was in extremely short supply when Master Cpl. Smith, in her combat fatigues and floppy Tilley hat, arrived last week, along with 200 other members of the Canadian military's Disaster Assistance Response Team.

Smith has been busy ever since. An Army medical assistant, she is in charge of vetting patients at the facility that has been hastily erected inside a soccer stadium at Serdivan, on of Adapazari’s many sprawling suburbs. For the most part, the afflictions are physical: broken bones, lacerations, viruses and infections, and other trauma suffered during the fearsome quake that so far has claimed an official toll of more than 13,000 lives and could approach 40,000 dead when all are accounted for. But some of the wounds the Canadian team has encountered are less visible. "There’s been emotional trauma as well," Smith remarked last week as she circulated among those awaiting treatment at Serdivan’s stadium. "A lot of these people can’t get any sleep. Many are having recurring nightmares. What they’re afraid of is that the whole thing might happen again."

Given the region’s geography, astride a major fault in the earth’s crust, the fear is not misplaced. Minor tremors have been rattling windows - and nerves - all over the country since the Aug. 17 earthquake, which measured 7.4 on the Richter scale. Only last Wednesday, Ankara’s residents fled to the streets when a tremor with a magnitude of 4.7 shook the Turkish capital. During the past century, 108 serious earthquakes have struck Turkey. More than 50,000 people died in the last 30 years alone, well before the big one.

The fact that the most recent quake still managed to catch the country’s political and military leadership almost totally unprepared has provoked a swelling chorus of uncharacteristic public outrage. President Suleyman Demirel is now routinely booed in Istanbul’s coffee shops and tea garden’s when he appears on television. Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit was forced to admit last week that the public "had a right to complain" about the government’s reaction to the crisis. Even Turkey’s much-vaunted military, normally a revered institution, has been repeatedly raked over the coals in newspaper columns and TV broadcasts. Turkey’s parliament, meanwhile, set up a committee to investigate lax building regulations that permitted the construction of shoddy apartments incapable of withstanding major earthquakes, a principal reason why so many died in the disaster.

Despite such measures, authorities in Adapazari remain skeptical about any early improvement of the situation. Erdogan Demirci, a municipal councillor in Serdivan, noted acidly that not a single member of Turkey’s parliament had yet contacted the local government. "We haven’t heard a word from anybody in Ankara," he remarked in disgust. "They should have been here. They are, after all, our representatives."

As an example of the government’s attitude, Demirci pointed to statements from Turkey’s right-wing health minister, Osman Durmus, who claimed that the country did not really need any of the massive foreign assistance it has been receiving. On the very day that Durmus, a member of the xenophobic National Movement Party, issued those comments, the members of Canada’s DART outfit, who come from bases across the country, were quite visibly helping out as they set up their facilities in Serdivan stadium.

Lt.-Col. Kenneth Chadder, DART’s commanding officer, chose to respond to Durmus’s comments by gesturing towards some 50 local residents who had gathered on the stadium’s soccer field to await the completion of a 30-bed first-aid station capable of handling 500 patients a day. "There’s certainly the need to do something here," remarked Chadder, who is based in Kingston, Ont. "This is obviously on of the hardest-hit areas of the country. And there does not seem to be a lot of local resources available to look after the local population." The local media had already pilloried Durmus for his comments.

In its first 24 hours of operation, DART’s facility treated 70 patients, and by weeks end that had reached more than 200 a day (slowed somewhat by the need for translation). "Right now, what we’re seeing is chest and back pain from impact when walls and furniture fell on people," said Petawawa, Ont. - based navy Lieut. Peter Clifford, 38, one of the doctors in DART’s 45-member medical unit. "In general, most of the things we’re seeing eventually will settle down by themselves. Most of these people have deep bruises. We’ll give them pain medication, and treat their symptoms." But Clifford, an Ottawa native, fears that there is worse to come for the area’s displaced residents during the team’s planned 40-day stay. "The major problem of living outdoors in cramped conditions is the spread of epidemic," he said. "Improper sanitation and waste disposal can lead to cholera."

To help prevent such outbreaks, the 40 members of DART’s engineering unit were busily setting up a water purification system last week. Once in place, it will allow the team to pull 200,000 litres of water a day from a nearby lake and purify it with the aid of a portable eight-tonne filtration plant. There are, as well, one million water purification tablets, supplied by the Canadian International Development Agency along with 1,000 tents and tarpaulins.

Cpl. Sam Ross, an army engineer from Regina, helped locate the area’s water resources during an extensive tour of the region. It was a task similar to one he performed during a tour of duty in war-torn Bosnia in 1996. "It reminds me a little of Bosnia here," he remarked last week as he worked on the water purification plant. "The only difference is the lack of bullet holes all over the place." Nature, it seems, can sometimes wreck as much havoc as mankind.
 

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COMBAT DIVER ASSOCIATION OF CANADA


Monday 3 August 1998 Orginally published in the Ottawa Citizen by David Pugliese

Canadian heroes rescued U.S. troops from Gulf inferno

The day a U.S. ammunition depot in Kuwait blew up, Canadians sprang into action. The story has never been publicly told.

When the first explosion went off, Canadian Forces Capt. Fred Kaustinen (COMBAT DIVER!!!) thought warships in the nearby Persian Gulf were test-firing their big guns.

Then came a second blast, followed by several smaller explosions. As he rushed out of a building in Doha, Kuwait, Capt. Kaustinen saw a massive mushroom cloud rising 100 metres over a key U.S. army base.

In the compound adjacent to the American base, members of Canada's 1 Combat Engineer Regiment could feel the ground shake from the explosions while red-hot shrapnel crashed down on the roofs of their barracks.

It was July 11, 1991. The Gulf War had ended, but thousands of soldiers from several nations were still in the region to enforce the peace.

Inside the U.S. base, a massive ammunition dump had caught fire, touching off a series of explosions as the blaze spread to dozens of tanks, armoured personnel carriers and other vehicles loaded with fuel and bombs.

In the next four hours the U.S. military lost more tanks than it did in the Gulf War.

Fifty Americans and six British soldiers were injured.

Another three Americans were killed later when one of the explosives left over from the blast accidentally detonated.

But the toll would have been higher had it not been for the bravery and quick thinking of the men and women of 1 Combat Engineer Regiment.

The events of that day haven't been told until now.

Some defence analysts believe the Canadian military and government suppressed the story because the destruction of a main U.S. base in Kuwait and millions of dollars' worth of equipment was too embarrassing to our American allies.

Others say the incident just slipped through the bureaucratic cracks of the Department of National Defence, an all too common occurrence in a military that has failed over the years to publicly honour its own.

It was 11 a.m. when Capt. Kaustinen and other soldiers from the engineering regiment finished lunch at their base in Doha. It was a typical Kuwaiti day.

Temperatures were a blast-furnace 55 C, making any activity uncomfortable.

The Canadians, usually based in Chilliwack, B.C., were part of a UN mission to clear land-mines and other explosives left over from the war. It was dangerous, hot, dirty work. About 50 Canadian troops were in the camp, next to the home base of the U.S. army's 11th Armored Calvary Regiment. Another 250 Canadians were at work in the desert or on scheduled rest and relaxation trips.

Capt. Kaustinen, the regiment's deputy commanding officer, had almost finished washing his dishes when the first blast rocked the camp. Windows in some of the Canadian buildings shattered and the roof of the nearby British headquarters was torn off. Windows rattled in Kuwait City, 20 kilometres away.

As Capt. Kaustinen and the other Canadians ran outside, they saw the huge black cloud suspended above the adjacent U.S. compound.

"When I saw it, I thought the Americans had been hit by a terrorist attack," recalls Capt. Kaustinen.

He turned to his regimental sergeant major, Harry Poile, and ordered the Canadian troops to don their flack vests and helmets and grab their weapons.

Accompanied by Pte. Curtis Hoare, Capt. Kaustinen moved quickly among his men, issuing orders and telling his medical team to prepare for casualties.

Then came the Americans. It began with a trickle of survivors as U.S. troops fled their compound and poured over the four-metre-high wall, topped with razor wire, that separated their base from the Canadian area. Then came a wave of dazed and panicked U.S. soldiers, some severely wounded by shrapnel, others breaking ankles or legs or shredding their skin on the razor wire as they tried to climb the wall. Some were in their underwear, others in towels, having been caught in the shower when the explosions started.

"Our ammo dump's gone up," one yelled at Sgt.-Maj. Poile.

An engine fire in a truck carrying howitzer shells had ignited a massive ammunition dump nearby. The explosives, stacked on pallets in a large open-air compound, included tank rounds, artillery shells, and land-mines. In seconds, the dump was on fire and the explosions sent deadly shrapnel whizzing through the compound.

The fire then spread to rows of Abrams tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles and M109 self-propelled howitzers lined up bumper to bumper near the ammunition dump. All were loaded with ammunition and fuel.

"It was raining metal," recalled U.S. army Specialist Mark Alexander, a 23-year-old firefighter from Norwich, Connecticut, hospitalized for smoke inhalation. "I saw a dude with half his hand off."

Some U.S. soldiers were cut down by the shrapnel. One had the back of his skull shattered by a piece of flying metal.

To make matters worse, the Americans had located their hospital right beside the ammo dump, making it impossible to use the facility during the crisis.

The explosions continued for 45 minutes as thousands of rounds of ammunition showered the U.S. and Canadian compounds with shards of red hot steel. Miraculously, none of the engineers was injured.

During the next 20 minutes, more than 1,700 Americans scrambled over the wall and crammed into the small Canadian compound. Canadian military surgeon Dr. Barry Fung had converted one of the buildings into a makeshift operating room. Plywood tables from the engineers' mess were used as operating tables as Dr. Fung and his medics, along with U.S. doctors, worked on the most severely wounded Americans.

The Canadian engineers moved among the American soldiers in the compound, giving out water and food and administering first aid for minor injuries.

Other UN troops left the site as the explosions intensified and the entire peninsula was sealed off. But the Canadians stayed.

Capt. Kaustinen had grabbed an American captain, the only officer he could find, and made him his liaison. Since the Canadians didn't have access to the radio frequencies used by the Americans, Capt. Kaustinen needed the officer to find out what was happening inside the U.S. base.

At Dr. Fung's makeshift hospital, medical supplies were being rapidly used up as the number of wounded increased. The only other supplies available were in the American compound. One of Capt. Kaustinen's men volunteered to go with an American soldier to the U.S. compound to retrieve desperately needed supplies. Three times, as the explosions continued, the corporal wheeled a big truck into the American sector, each time bringing out bandages and dressings.

As the black cloud hung over the area, U.S. medical helicopters from Kuwait City circled the base looking for a landing place where the wounded could be loaded. But the Americans and Canadians inside the compound were trapped.

The only road was too close to the burning ammunition dump. The camp was also surrounded by a four-metre-high cinder-block wall that had been designed to keep intruders out. That day it was keeping the wounded in.

Sgt.-Maj. Poile and Capt. Kaustinen knew if the injured Americans didn't receive more advanced medical treatment immediately some would die. As Capt. Kaustinen surveyed the situation, one of his men offered to take a forklift and smash through the wall.

"Go for it," Capt. Kaustinen replied.

Clad in a helmet and flak jacket, the private rammed the forklift into the wall and within a few minutes it gave way. Other engineers removed the debris, opening a corridor to a safe piece of desert cleared of mines.

Capt. Kaustinen's men carried out the wounded Americans on stretchers.

The most severely injured were loaded on to the choppers and flown to al-Sabah hospital in Kuwait City, where medical teams were already on alert.

Still not knowing exactly what was happening in the U.S. compound, Capt. Kaustinen told Capt. Gord Ramsey to take a radio operator and climb up on a nearby building overlooking the American base. Capt. Ramsey, known for his dry wit, asked: "Would you like the damage estimate in Canadian or U.S. dollars?"

Explosions continued sporadically for another four hours, but the gravest danger was over. The Canadians continued to care for the American soldiers, passing out the equivalent of 30 days' worth of water rations and 10 days' supply of food in an afternoon.

Concerned that unexploded bombs from the ammunitions dump may have been hurled into the Canadian compound, Capt. Kaustinen ordered his troops to begin a sweep of their area. Although they didn't find anything, two days later a British soldier in a nearby compound lost two toes when he stepped on a small explosive.

Ironically, as things were returning to normal, word came down that United Nations officials were upset the Canadians had smashed a hole in the cinder-block wall. UN property had been damaged and the Canadians were ordered to rebuild the wall before nightfall.

Capt. Kaustinen told his troops to dismantle some of the plywood mess tables in the makeshift operating room.

"We took a bunch of the mess tables -- the ones that weren't covered with too much blood -- and built a new wall where the hole was," he says.

As news reports trickled out of the area, the focus was on the damage caused by the blast. Fifty American and six British soldiers had been injured, according to reports.

Fourteen Abrams tanks and eight howitzers worth almost $2 million each had been destroyed. Another 35 to 40 vehicles had been wrecked.

Two weeks after the incident, three American soldiers cleaning up ammunition scattered by the blast were killed when one of the bombs accidentally detonated.

Canadian military officials in Ottawa and the Canadian ambassador in Kuwait assured reporters there were no serious Canadian injuries in the blast. Nothing was mentioned about the bravery and quick reaction of the men and women of 1 Combat Engineer Regiment.

Several months later, the regiment received a letter from U.S. army Brig.-Gen. David Benton thanking the engineers for their efforts. The Canadians, the general wrote, went far beyond the call of duty, often at risk to their own lives.

"These brave Canadians exhibited the very best soldierly attributes as they helped members of the regiment who were injured or trying to escape from the blast area," Brig.-Gen. Benton wrote. "On behalf of the Commanders of the United States Task Force Victory and the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, I offer our sincere thanks. The conduct of your forces is a credit to their discipline, to their training and to their professionalism. It is our distinct honour to have again served alongside our fellow North American comrades-in-arms."

Two and a half years later, Fred Kaustinen, then a major based just outside Montreal, opened a letter from Department of National Defence headquarters in Ottawa. Inside was a gold pin covered with three maple leafs. It was a Chief of the Defence Staff commendation, a rare honour. But Capt. Kaustinen was puzzled about the award given for his actions the day of the ammunition dump explosion. Although the engineering regiment as a whole had received a Chief of Defence Staff commendation for its work in Kuwait, there appeared to be little interest in specifically honouring soldiers for their deeds on July 11, 1991.

Several months later, Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. John de Chastelain officially presented Capt. Kaustinen with the commendation in a small ceremony at army headquarters outside Montreal. The press wasn't invited.

The commendation reads: "(Capt. Kaustinen's) decisive and controlled response to the chaotic conditions created by the ammunition depot accident brought recognition to the Canadian Forces and provided a clear indication of his qualities of leadership and courage."

Two days after he received the commendation, Capt. Kaustinen was on a plane to Cambodia to defuse land-mines for the next six months.

No one knows why the bravery of the engineering regiment wasn't recognized publicly by the Defence Department. Even though military headquarters in Ottawa had details of the incident as it was happening, some former soldiers believe the events of that day simply fell through the cracks.

Others, such as Esprit de Corps military magazine editor Scott Taylor, who uncovered the story of the ammunition dump incident while researching his new book, Tested Mettle: Canadian Peacekeepers at War, believe senior Canadian military officials deliberately suppressed the brave actions of 1 Combat Engineer Regiment to spare the Americans embarrassment.

"The Americans were portraying their Gulf War deployment as a total victory," explains Mr. Taylor. "But there's nothing victorious about having one of your bases almost wiped off the map. It doesn't look good that the Americans panicked. ... There was no way DND would embarrass their allies so Canadian soldiers could get their due recognition."

But Lt.-Col. Rejean Duchesneau, a spokesman for the Canadian Defence Department, says there was no attempt to hide the bravery of the regiment. Although it is difficult seven years later to determine why certain details were not released, he did note that there were no Canadian military public affairs officials or journalists in Kuwait at the time.

Lt.-Col. Duchesneau also suggests that, based on the information he has been able to gather, the incident was not all that unusual for the engineers.

"This is no big deal," he says. "This sounds dramatic but stuff like this was happening over there all the time.

"(Canadian engineers) were busy de-mining the country and they were having explosions and fires every single day."

But Sgt.-Maj. Poile says the incident was unusual and there was nothing during the unit's tour that compares with it. The size of the explosion, the destruction it caused to such a large U.S. unit and the courage of Canadian soldiers puts the incident among the most spectacular events of his 37 years in the military.

"Our people that day put themselves at considerable risk doing things they would never have normally been called on to do," says Sgt.-Maj. Poile, who retired in 1994 with a reputation as a soldier who spent much of his time with his troops in the field.

There are Americans today who owe their lives to the bravery of Canadian soldiers, he adds.

But Sgt.-Maj. Poile shrugs off the failure to make the incident public as typical of the Canadian Forces. "We never blow our own horn and it's a damn shame," he says with resignation.

Capt. Kaustinen, a 20-year military veteran, doesn't know why headquarters didn't make more of the outstanding work of Canadian soldiers that day. He says all the members of the regiment in the compound performed with outstanding bravery. But he shies away from the label of hero.

"We did our job," he says. "The Americans had come to us for help. I'm sure they would have done the same if we had been in trouble."
 
 

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