In which I blog about my miniature wargaming and whatever else takes my interest!

In which I blog about my miniature wargaming and whatever else takes my interest!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

What I Did On My Summer Holidays

I spent 10 glorious and fun filled days at sunny and exotic CFB Borden playing Army complete with heat, dust, rain, drizzle, ration packs, mosquitoes and black flies. Fortunately my buddy took along his Smartphone and shared his pictures with me. They should all be clickable to 'enbiggen'.

I had wanted to take my LETC (Land Element Training Course) at the end of the summer, but they loaded me on this one and work was OK with me going, so off I went. I'm glad I did too. I knew half the course already from my previous two courses and I think I'm better off for reconnecting with them rather than missing the chance. My previous courses were on weekends but this was a straight 10 day bash full of navigation and field craft.

To be honest I was a bit intimidated. I was worried my back and neck would undo me and that I just wouldn't be able to keep up. But it wasn't the RCR Battle School so there were no 10 km ruck marches. And to be honest, on my course was a grandmother with a really bad back and another fellow with some seriously bad knees. They toughed it out, so I told myself to suck it up and keep going.

The first half of the course was all in class theory and we were quartered in the commodious modular tentage at CSTC ("Cadet Summer Training Center") Blackdown. It had been raining the day we arrived and there were damp spots in the tents and the electricity didn't work. They smelled of damp, mildew and many summers worth of smelly  13 year olds. I missed the old wooden fire trap H-huts we used at Camp Ipperwash when I was a young cadet. In the middle of each company lines was a big cement building with the toilets, showers, sinks and laundry plus company offices. One had to put on a robe and sandals to go to the bathroom but the facilities, once you got to them, were unarguably superior to what I had to use when I was a cadet. So I didn't miss Ipperwash quite as much any more. The food had also improved, although a breakfast sausage did break one of my course mate's dentures!

So we settled in for 4 days of knot tying, map and compass, GPS navigation, principles of trekking, radio procedures and how to pack your gear preparing for our 4 days in the bush putting all of this to practical use. While there we got to see someone else training. Here's the OPP Riot Squad taking turns throwing sticks at each other:
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So on an overcast day with scattered showers off we set with rather heavy rucksacks into the sandy pinewoods of the Blackdown ranges to put our knowledge to use.
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Colleague with his ruck
We geocached our way to the bivouac site. Geocaching is being promoted by the Army Cadets as a fun way to confirm GPS navigation skills. We then had to learn some of the basics like; how to make a hoochie with shelter halves and how to eat an MRE. All basic Green Star stuff (that's a first year cadet to those who have never seen one before), but there are a few CIC officers who weren't in cadets when they were younger so never got a chance to learn this stuff. Of course one of my friends had spent 11 years in the Permanent Force so he's pretty much figured how to eat an MRE (i.e. a ration pack; "Meal Ready to Eat" or "Meal Rejected by Ethiopian" if you're feeling cynical). I've eaten a few myself but even so I manged to learn a few tricks to make them more palatable, like putting your "Wheat Bread Snack" in the pot to warm up before opening the pouch. It can be very unsettling to get Chicken Pesto Pasta for breakfast, but if you want to get the sausage patty and hash browns arrive promptly when cook shouts that the rations are heated. Although the oatmeal isn't totally horrible even though most pass it over.
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A 'hoochie'
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more of the bivouac site
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My syndicate, that's my hooch on the right and my tent mate gazing smokily at the camera
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The modular tent that was our classroom, mess hall and post for night time radio watch if the weather was bad.
While we were bivouacking I heard one of my colleagues comment "You know, this is a lot of fun without the cadets." To which someone else replied "Yeah. It's called 'camping'." But I get their point; with a group of adults who could all keep their kit organized, pick up after themselves and act responsibly it was a fun time. Throw in a bunch of 13 year olds and it becomes a lot of work to keep the site tidy and the kids clean and safe.
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Another colleague models the Cadpat while pondering the bivouac. He's a decorated veteran of Cyprus and had been deployed to Norway with 1RCR back in the 80s. He thought we had too much useless stuff in our rucks.
On two nights we got a break from the MREs and very nice dinners were brought out to us in 'hay boxes' (big thermos boxes that the trays for the steam tables could slide into). The quality of food was so good I thought we were getting it from the Officer's Mess but it was prepared by the same mess we'd been eating at while in garrison.

Naturally there was lots of good natured jocularity, a few shenanigans and singing along with the music from people's smartphones. The in-joke of the course was referencing German Sparkle Party by The Something Experience.
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I think they were singing along to "Georgie Girl"
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Even the ropes we used to practice our knots and lashings could be put to comic effect
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"Team Princess" the other half of my syndicate, a pair of very smart and capable young ladies who were excellent neighbours.
Just as I was getting used to sleeping in the hoochie we then had to strike camp, move across the road and build another bivouac site using improvised shelters. That certainly helped practice the lashings part of our training. It rained that night, and although I dreaded it, it was a good test. My lean to only leaked a little bit and nothing important got wet, although between worrying about the rain and a shift on radio watch meant I only got about 2 hours sleep.
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Some of the girls and their lean to.
I passed all my PPCs ('Practical Performance Check' i.e. a test) easily. Actually knots and lashings gave me the biggest worry. Before this course I couldn't tell a bowline from a fisherman's and now I even know when they're supposed to be used. The Navigation and Radio Procedure PPC was a dawdle. I kept getting easy legs of the course so it would've been hard work to get lost and I didn't draw a blank when having to make use of my phonetic alphabet.

I said to my Syndicate Commander during my mid course interview that I was "having a blast and felt like a cadet again." This course brought back all the things I loved about being in cadets. We also had a seminar about the new and expanded Expedition Training Program with Cadets, which is a Good Thing in my opinion. You want kids with self esteem? Teach them how to live in improvised shelters, read a map, do a trek and maybe climb a mountain, then you'll have kids with good self esteem.

We then finished up with a 5 km hike disguised as a route recce to prepare for taking a group of cadets on the same route. Look for hazards, look for points of interest, what age group would you take on this route etc. etc. I took the opportunity to play with the GPS some more. That gave me my first and last blister of the week.

Once back in garrison we got to clean up and have an end of course social and steak barbecue. The Blackdown Officer's Mess (closed up in the off season) was opened up for our use so we could drink some beer and play some crud.
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Playing crud. Brent is demonstrating the important part of the game
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End of course. Cleaned  up and ready to go home.
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All smiles now.
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The other half of "Team Manley" and nominated the 'Sexiest Beret in NATO'

I think I learned as much from my course mates as I did from the instructors. The friend on the right could be very dignified and correct, modelling the stereotypical 'officer and gentlemen' one minute and then burst into a silly song to cheer us all up the next. The friend on the left had soldiered all over the world in his Reg Force days and was always able to steer me back on track (usually with some well placed sarcasm, but we all came to appreciate his sarcastic wit) when I was getting distracted by stupid things that didn't matter.
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Two guys I learned a lot from.
So there you have my summer holidays. I relearned some things I'd forgotten, learned some new stuff, reconnected with old friends and made new ones. The blisters and mosquito bites have healed up and now I wish I could do it again.


  1. Good stuff, and you got paid for it! How awesome is that? Well done. As a garrison bound desk jockey, I would give a lot to spend a week in hoochies.

  2. How come you had MRE? didn't they have any Canadian rations?