Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Battle on

Soldiers from the Prairies, northern Ontario test their mettle in Headingley

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It wasn't armed combat, but the competition was still fierce Saturday at a military training event just outside Winnipeg.

Ten teams of soldiers from the Prairie provinces and northern Ontario gathered at the St. Charles Range in Headingley on a cold mid-March day to test their mettle.

The T. Eaton Cup military skills competition consisted of nine phases, all different from previous years, all unknown to the participants.

Lt.-Col. Dave Fraser, organizer of the competition, said all the phases imitate combat.

"It's just like in combat," said Fraser. "You go left, you go right, whichever, but you have to live with what you get. And you never know what you're going to get in combat."

The nine phases included a snowshoe race in which a soldier has to run 100 metres to hammer in a stake, a six-kilometre march with full gear and rifle, shooting on the range, a rope bridge, a sandbag pile-up, a current-events quiz, mine detection, a blacked-out room clearing, and finally, an obstacle course.

All of the phases test the physical, mental and teamwork of actual combat, said Fraser.

"We have them on a snowshoe race that gets their breathing faster, then send them to the range," said Fraser. "Just like in combat, your breathing is fast, so they have to learn to control their breathing for the shooting."

The event was supposed to host three reserve units from the United States. However, their plane had mechanical troubles and they couldn't attend.

Fraser said the American competitors were disappointed. "They came very close to winning last year. They wanted to do better this year."

It was Lt. Matt Johnson's first time at the event. Johnson, from the 17th Field Ambulance Unit based in Winnipeg, said the snowshoe race was fun because it wasn't easy running in the shoes.

"A lot of guys were tripping and falling, it was fun," said Johnson. "But I think we did pretty good."

Johnson said his unit were the underdogs because they are medics and there was no first-aid obstacle.

"I don't think anyone expects us to do well," said Johnson. "There are a lot of combat arms (units), and then there are the medics. But we're here to show them what we're made of... last time we won was in 1977, so it's time."

Master Cpl. Tommy Fuczyla, of the Fort Garry Horse Armoured Reconnaissance Unit, said there is competition between the Winnipeg units. "A little bit between the engineers and the Fort Garry Horse because they are based out of our building," said Fuczyla. "So we're trying to beat their time."

Cpl. Aleksandar Tikka's unit, the Lake Superior Scottish Regiment based in Thunder Bay, won the competition last year. Early Saturday, they beat an opposing team's rope bridge time by three minutes. This year they came with a "three-T" strategy.

"Just listen to our team leader, team work, and team cohesion," said Tikka.

But Tikka's regiment was unsuccessful in capturing the top spot. Winnipeg's 38 Brigade's Artillery Unit hoisted the cup. The Scottish regiment came second with the Saskatchewan Dragoons and the Royal Regina Rifles tied for third.

Fraser said the competition is set up to build comradeship because the units never know when they're going to have to work together in combat.

"So you don't need to worry about your left flank because that regiment, those people that you worked with all those years ago, are there and they're going to make sure that that side of your position is protected."

steph.crosier@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 17, 2013 A4

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