The 272 Street command post near 40 Avenue is not your typical Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) base.
It contains Reserve Construction Engineering Flight 192 (192 CEF), a part-time group of soldiers who come from engineering-related trades, capable of supporting the Royal Canadian Air Force in deployed operations.
Whether as electricians, carpenters, plumbers, generator and fuel and environmental technicians, as well as financial clerks and mobile support units – they complete community projects as a form of training for tasks overseas.
As a 192 CEF soldier “you really have to be prepared for anything,” explained Master Warrant Officer Edward Hebb, who works in unit as a construction site coordinator and supervisor.
Recently, the group held a grand opening ceremony of four Maple Bay cabins at Cultus Lake Provincial Park, which were built in partnership with BC Parks in order to make camping more cost- and wheelchair-accessible for Lower Mainland families.
The group also just completed renovations on an old bathroom for the Abbotsford International Airshow, which takes place in early August, and whom they work for as hazmat response workers every year.
Ultimately, “our mandate here is to recruit, train and deploy. We’re always hiring and always looking to bring in new people,” said officer commanding of the unit Lt. Eric Dodd.
In January 2019, one of the unit’s soldiers Master Corporal Daniel Burkowksy, received a Canadian Peacekeeping Service Medal from Canadian Joint Operations Commander Lt.-Gen. Michael Rouleau for his work in Mali.
“Those from ages 16 to 57 can join us,” Dodd explained, though for postings overseas one has to be a legal adult.
The troupe’s oldest member, 61-year-old Sgt Rene Pelletier, transferred to the unit after the closure of Chilliwack’s reserve CAF base (which included a trades school) in 1997.
Pelletier has served in Canadian defence units from the Air Forces, Navy and Army. He works with a wealth of knowledge as lead plumbing and heating specialist on team projects, Dodd expounded.
Pelletier was also one of the first members of Aldergrove’s 192 CEF unit, in 1998.
As the only reserve engineering flight in Western Canada, the unit sends many of its soldiers for specialized training to a CAF base in Gagetown, New Brunswick.
“We moved here in 2013 from the Abbotsford International Airport. I feel like we are a very unknown commodity in Aldergrove,” admitted Dodd.
The Royal Canadian Engineers motto – “ubique,” meaning everywhere in Latin, refers to its deployment of members internationally to countries including Latvia, Romania, Ukraine, Kuwait, Iraq and Mali since 2017.
“Some of these guys sacrifice a lot. They leave their families for months at a time, multiple times. We want the community to know the sacrifices people within this community are taking for their country,” Dodd emphasized.
Most of the soldiers have wives and children in Metro Vancouver including Mission, Chilliwack and Abbotsford.
One even cohabitates with a significant other as far west as downtown Vancouver, and commutes every day to the base.
When members are deployed on a mission, the call comes quick.
Everything is dropped to equip the soldier with necessary skills and training for the task, Dodd said. This includes providing extensively for their families back at home.
While walking through the base’s in-house woodshop, Dodd explained that if even a chair or table breaks and the family needs something new – “we will make it for them here.”
“That’s one of the most assuring things about being called to a mission,” Pelletier added.
“It’s knowing that you’re family will be taken care of and provided for no matter what,” by soldiers who serve as a united front, and act as family, he said.
Pelletier remembers when a staff member took money from her own bank account to pay a young wife’s rent while her husband was overseas.
During the war in Afghanistan in 2008, the unit made major contributions to the Canadian mission.
For such, 192 CEF received a commendation from the then Canadian chief of defense staff General Walter Natynczyk, and received the Task Force-Kandahar pennant for their work designing and constructing aviation infrastructure for unmanned aerial vehicles at Kandahar Airfield.
They hung the flag for a year, as protocal, after they returned to their Aldergrove base.
Pelletier and MWO Blane Reynolds – who’s in charge of troop morale, discipline and general welfare of the unit – both returned from the posting, which first began as a few projects and turned into over 18 tasks in the span of a month.
It even included the expansion of a hospital.
“It was once this village that years later turned into tens of thousands” at Kandahar Airfield, said Reynolds.
The infrastructural footprint grew from one generator and tents to new electrical lines and permanent housing structures, Hebb elaborated.
Due to his many years of service, Reynolds finds it difficult to remember the full details of exactly all that happened on each foreign mission.
“It’s really a whirlwind,” Reynolds said, “so much is happening,” and tasks constantly change based on orders from Canadian Parliament.
The CAF’s continuous need for specialized tradesmen equates to a high level of deployment of 192 CEF soldiers from the Aldergrove base.
“If they need an electrician and they see one of our guys is qualified for the posting, they’ll call them out within the next few weeks,” Dodd offered.
The troupe is also trained and available in case of a large-scale natural disaters in the area, for instance a massive flood or earthquake, finished Dodd.
Pelletier’s 30-year-old son Mathieu is now the newest recruit on the unit, and is visibly eager to serve just like his father.