Canadian Army Combat Engineers helping ‘bridge the gap’ in Ukraine

November 25, 2019 - Defense Stories

Under the , banner of Operation UNIFIER, Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) personnel have been sharing their expertise in the name of building capacity within the Security Forces of Ukraine since 2015.

Op UNIFIER is a large, multinational effort that also includes Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, the United States, Denmark and Sweden.

There is one component of that CAF contribution, a team of Canadian Army (CA) Combat Engineers from Quebec City-based 5 Combat Engineer Regiment (5 CER), that is small in size but having a large impact.

These 17 soldiers have helped develop and are now instructing their Ukrainian counterparts in a course dubbed “Sapper Level 1” – Sapper being an informal shorthand name for Combat Engineer. It includes instruction on dealing with land mines – a necessity in a country where, according to the UN, 600,000 people live in areas with “extreme levels of mine contamination.”

The course, as 5 CER’s Master Corporal Daniel Lefebvre explains in the following interview, is also designed to align Ukraine’s military practices with the standards of NATO and bring it a step closer to membership.

And, MCpl Lefebvre notes, the experience is proving to be nothing less than “inspiring.”

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Q1: Describe the Sapper Level 1 course.

The Sapper level 1 course has been developed through collaboration between the Canadian instructors and our Ukrainian counterparts. It is designed to bridge the gap between the current Ukrainian Sapper course and the standards needed to work with NATO.

A lot of the course material derives from the original Ukrainian Sapper course. However, they have adopted a lot of our methods and training. The course is intended to be taught by both Ukrainian and Canadian instructors. This allows us to better integrate our training methods within theirs as well as allowing them to maintain their own standards.

Q2: Who else in on the 5 CER instruction team?

There is a total of 17 members who are Engineers as well as one Signaler and one Medic.

Most of the team is comprised of members who have specialized training such as Improvised Explosive Device Disposal (IEDD) or Conventional Munition Disposal (CMD) training.

Q3: What specific role do you have in the training?

My role is to work in conjunction with my Ukrainian counterparts in order to prepare the course and create courseware. We are here to act as peers to our Ukrainian counterparts. We work together to plan the course schedule and develop lesson plans.

During the course itself, I present lessons in conjunction with the Ukrainian instructors. This method allows them to learn from our methods as well as allowing us to observe and understand their methods.

Q4: Who is your audience?

The candidates came from all ranks from basic soldier all the way to full colonels. We have been able to work with Ukrainians from all different organizations, including members the National Guard of Ukraine and the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

Members on the course come from many different trades, since here the Combat Engineer trade is separated into different qualifications.

Q5: What aspects of the course would you say are most relevant for the situation in Ukraine?

I would say the courses on mine and improvised explosive device warfare. We Canadians have a lot of experience with these topics due to our past experiences in other theatres.

The Ukrainians have shown a lot of interest and it has been inspiring for us to be able to transmit our knowledge to them. It is satisfying for us to know that we are able to help them better cope with the challenges they face.

Q6: Describe the experience of being in Ukraine.

Ukraine is a beautiful country and the people are welcoming. The weather here is more temperate than back home and we have had a really nice summer. The food here is great and the cost of living is lower.

There are many reasons that the experience here has been motivating and enriching for all members of our group.

Q7: What are the best and most challenging parts?

The most challenging part would be the fact that we have to work through interpreters. Simple tasks and conversations become far more complex and time-consuming, especially due to the fact that many people on our team are native French speakers and our interpreters speak English and Ukrainian.

I would say the best part would be the relationships we have built and the people we have met. Being able to interact with the Ukrainians in and outside a classroom setting has been a great experience for all of us.

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