By Jules Xavier, Shilo Stag newspaper
Shilo, Manitoba — It was a hive of activity on a muggy Monday morning at the Kapyong Barracks on July 9, 2019 as about 130 soldiers began their six-month deployment on Operation REASSURANCE, with hockey gear and fishing rods packed along with their usual soldier gear.
Members of 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (2 PPCLI) saw their bags and battle boxes checked at Kapyong Barracks at Canadian Forces Base Shilo, then loaded onto a convoy of military trucks. The convoy headed for 17 Wing Winnipeg where the gear was flown first to Canadian Forces Base Trenton and on to Latvia.
Hockey, Canada’s game is a mandated part of Latvian mission
Among the baggage were numerous hockey bags, plus an assortment of hockey sticks and retractable fishing rods.
No, there's not a second mission overseas for 2 PPCLI hockey players. Instead, it's part of the mission, according to 2 PPCLI Commanding Officer Lieutenant-Colonel Mike Reekie.
"It's a mandated part of our mission task to play hockey while we're over there," he explained during media briefings. "Hockey is part of our cultural exchange with Latvia. Playing hockey is something our two countries have in common.
"That's why this is a unique mission — Latvia is not dissimilar to Canada. It's not a Third World country. It's a lot like British Columbia or the East coast with beaches on the coastline. We're not roughing it [on this mission]."
Compared to his previous deployments to Bosnia, Afghanistan twice, or Iraq, LCol Reekie said there's still work to be done on this mission, but hockey will be part of the cultural exchange between Canadian and Latvian military members. Plus there's a chance to play against, or with, the Latvian national team.
"I'm excited for this opportunity to be part of this mission," he said. "We're able to integrate with other countries [involved]. We're one battle group, but with nine different flags involved."
While LCol Reekie did not pack any hockey gear himself, he expects to see some playing time when he's not working.
"I'll borrow some gear if I have to in order to play," he said, smiling.
Fishing on agenda in Latvia during down time from work
Chief Warrant Officer William King, Regimental Sergeant Major of 2 PPCLI, was among those deployed. Along with his pace stick, he packed a fishing rod and tackle.
When he's not working alongside his fellow soldiers, including those from eight other countries also deployed to Latvia, CWO King said he expects to drop a fishing line in a nearby river, lake or perhaps the Baltic Sea, which is 10 kilometres away, to land supper on a plate accompanied by French fries.
The veteran soldier admits he is not tech-savvy when it comes to Skype and using other social media platforms. He plans to write letters home the old-fashioned way to keep in touch with his wife and family back in Canada.
Canada’s role in Latvia not peacekeeping or combat – but stability
There will be more than 1,000 NATO troops working together on this mission, with Canadian Forces Base Shilo's soldiers becoming part of the Latvian Mechanized Infantry Brigade.
With the Latvia mission spearheaded by Canada, 2 PPCLI is one of four multinational battalion-size battle groups deployed as part of the eastern portion of the NATO alliance in Poland, Estonia as well as Latvia.
According to the official NATO website, these groups led by Canada, Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom are combat-ready forces which have been deployed in a show of strength, demonstrating the transatlantic bond.
LCol Reekie pointed out this current mission is not a combat operation, nor is it a peacekeeping role as the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) did for many years in Cyprus.
"It's a stability operation … it's a reinforcing operation," he said.