Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Soldiers doing the riskiest jobs in war on water

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RM of PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE -- The first Canadian soldiers to help fight a Manitoba flood since 1997 hit the muddy banks of the Assiniboine River beneath a steady drizzle and overcast skies Monday.

About 100 members of Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry shored up the south bank of the Assiniboine near Provincial Road 430 northeast of Portage la Prairie while between 40 and 50 reservists with the 26th Field Regiment began working on dikes in Brandon.

An additional 350 soldiers will be deployed along the Assiniboine River by Thursday and 300 more are standing by in Edmonton, said Lt.-Col. Shane Schreiber, commanding officer of the PPCLI's Second Battalion and the Canadian military's immediate-reaction unit in Western Canada.

Most of the soldiers are from CFB Shilo and are proud to be deployed on Canadian soil, Schreiber said.

"Much of what we do is out of sight and out of mind," he told reporters near the Portage Diversion control structure. "Unfortunately, (when they are seen) it has to be in situations like this."

Premier Greg Selinger said the province called in the military to work in slippery riverside conditions too dangerous for volunteers. The military is working under the direction of the province, which is trucking sandbags from Winnipeg to distribution points at Elie, Brandon and elsewhere.

The army has already reconnoitred areas expected to pose logistical problems, Schreiber said. It has trucks, helicopters and inflatable boats, unofficially known as "attack Zodiacs," at its disposal to get personnel and equipment into tricky areas.

On Monday, the troops at PR 430 northeast of Portage la Prairie loaded sandbags onto rubber-tracked utility vehicles called Morookas, which were driven on top of the dike to soft spots that required reinforcement.

The military will also be used to shore up the banks of the Portage Diversion, which is expected to transfer more water to Lake Manitoba than the diversion was designed to carry.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 10, 2011 A3

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