By Jensen, Randy on April 16, 2020.
Major Nick Barber, commanding officer of the 20th Independent Field Battery based in Lethbridge, says it’s a challenge for his soldiers to maintain operational readiness in the face of the COVID-19 crisis.
“We have a large group of about 90 soldiers here whom at least 60 of which parade on a regular basis,” he says. “We enjoy doing this training; so the fact they can no longer come in and they have to stay home – like everyone else, they have had to put their lives on hold for the time being.”
The soldiers are self-isolating to maintain their health and staying on alert should new orders arrive from Ottawa activating the unit to pitch in to help maintain public order and safety as the current pandemic continues, says Barber.
“We have given some direction to them to do what they can to maintain their physical fitness,” he says. “There are some online courses they can do to keep working on their professional development. And we have been doing weekly check-ins with the soldiers to make sure their mental health is good and to pass on any information we get from higher up.”
Last week federal defence minister Harjit Sajjan announced he was putting 24,000 soldiers on emergency readiness notice across the country in response to the COVID-19 crisis. So far, confirms Barber, no such orders have arrived in Lethbridge. He says the biggest impact of the current outbreak on his unit to date has been the cancellation of all scheduled training in April, and the postponement of the unit’s ever-popular annual Vimy Dinner.
“We had our exercise ‘Unified Gunner 2,’ which was slated to take place in Wainwright cancelled,” he says. “That was a live-fire artillery exercise. We had put a few months’ effort into planning for that. As well we also had our Vimy Dinner, which is a formal, mess dinner, we had that slated for April 18, but with COVID we have had to delay that. It is currently postponed with a tentative (reschedule) date of June 13.”
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