Lt.-Col. Daniel Bobbitt, the officer killed yesterday when a light-armoured vehicle overturned during a training exercise at Garrison Wainwright in Alberta, is being remembered as a devoted father and dedicated professional by his fellow soldiers.
The commanding officer of the 2nd Regiment Royal Canadian Horse Artillery based in Petawawa, Ont., died Wednesday when an LAV III rolled over during Exercise Maple Resolve 2014. Four others were injured in the incident at Wainwright, about 200 kilometres southeast of Edmonton.
"As a person he's just a great, humble guy," said Brig.-Gen. Omer Lavoie, confirming authority for the exercise.
"Great sense of humour and never took himself too seriously, and I think that for soldiers, especially, that's really what they appreciated and remember him for."
Two of the soldiers injured in the rollover were flown to a hospital in Edmonton, where they were in fair condition. The other two were treated at the base and released.
Lavoie said that the rollover is still under investigation, but that the vehicle was travelling over rough terrain at the time.
"I guess it's described as undulating and hilly and has sort of small ravines. The LAV was in the vicinity of that type of terrain where it happened."
Lavoie said that Bobbitt was acting as an artillery adviser to the commander of the brigade at the time of the rollover.
"Simply put, we train as we fight.… So the exercise puts our soldiers through various scenarios that we may encounter if and when we are asked to go into high readiness."
Lavioe said he was unsure where Bobbitt was situated aboard the LAV.
Maple Resolve training continues
Training exercises were suspended after the death, but resumed Thursday morning.
"We wanted to show respect to Lt.-Col Dan Bobbitt," said Lavoie. "A ceremony was held in the field by the brigade last night. a very dignified and respectful ceremony, and then we continued on with the exercise today."
Lavoie said the military has not taken any extra precautions following the accident, but stressed that it already has strict safety procedures for training with armoured vehicles.
He said the Canadian Forces are "a small family" and that Bobbitt's death has shocked his fellow soldiers, but that they are committed to continuing the training.
"To say that we're not all saddened by this event is certainly not the case," he said. "At the same time, my experience … is that as sad as these events are, in a small way they actually go to strengthen the resolve of the soldiers to continue on with and to accomplish the mission at hand, which in this case is to finish off the exercise."
Bobbitt was also remembered on Thursday at Garrison Petawawa.
"The shock of the loss of their leader was palpable. It could be felt. It was devastating," said Maj. Jennifer Causey. "And rightfully so. Lt.-Col. Bobbitt was the leader we all aspired to be. He was humble, compassionate, personable, firm but fair and a war-tested commander."
CBC national reporter James Cudmore speaks with CBC's Mark Connolly about the incident
The LAV III is an eight-wheeled military vehicle with a cannon and machine-gun mounted on its turret.
“They’re a bit top heavy as a result of that turret and that cannon, and they’re a bit tippy,” said CBC's James Cudmore.
“All you need is a bad road and an incline, some mud or rain, and you can see one of these vehicles tipping over.”
Cudmore said fatalities caused by rollovers – during training and in field – aren't common, but there have been some instances.
In 2007, a 27-year-old corporal was killed in a vehicle rollover at Wainwright.
In 2008, two soldiers died in a rollover in Afghanistan; several months later, a third soldier died in a rollover during a military exercise at Garrison Petawawa, Ont., Bobbitt’s home base.
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Officers from the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service, a high-level police unit, have been deployed to Garrison Wainwright to look into the accident.
Bobbitt was at Garrison Wainwright as part of Exercise Maple Resolve, a training exercise used to prepare troops for large-scale operations, such as those used in Afghanistan.
“This is featuring all the different bits and pieces of a brigade at war,” said Cudmore, “So you’ve got artillery guys, you’ve got tankers and infantry, you’ve got air force elements, everybody working together.”
In total, about 4,500 Canadian military personnel, joined by 500 others from the United States and United Kingdom, are involved in the exercise, which includes tactical moves, deliberate attacks, mobile defence and assistance to non-governmental organizations.
Exercise Maple Resolve is scheduled to continue through to June 1.
Condolences offered after lifetime of service
Bobbitt’s military career began in Nova Scotia, where he enlisted as a soldier in the reserves in 1988. He later transferred to the regular forces where he became an officer, later serving as the senior instructor, field artillery, at the Royal Canadian Artillery School.
The father of three had 23 years of military experience, including two tours of duty in Bosnia and also in Afghanistan.
In 1997, he was the military liaison officer to the City of Winnipeg during the Red River floods.
In a statement, Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered his condolences.
“I was deeply saddened to hear about the tragic accident today in Wainwright, Alta., that took the life of Lt-Col. Daniel Bobbitt and injured other Canadian Armed Forces members," he said.
"This accident is a painful reminder of how Canadian Armed Forces members put their lives on the line every day in the defence of Canada, whether it be in theatre or training here at home."
"The Canadian army cares deeply for each and every member," said Lt.-Gen. Marquis Hainse, commander of the Canadian army.
"It goes without saying that we take every death seriously and as such we will explore all facets of these situations to try and learn from them while also providing the best support to the army family whenever a death does occur."