5 Wing Goose Bay flying high after years of uncertainty

With a new mission and more money from the federal government, the days of wondering whether the air base at Goose Bay has a future seem to be over.

Base now a bulwalk for North American defence and harsh-environment training

Lt.-Col. Andrew Wedgewood, left, with Labrador MP Yvonne Jones and Happy Valley-Goose Bay Mayor Wally Andersen during a recent meeting of the Combined Councils of Labrador, is the wing commander at 5 Wing Goose Bay in Labrador. He is (Terry Roberts/CBC)

With a new mission and an increase in investment by the federal government, the days of wondering whether the air base at Goose Bay has a future seem to be over.

"It looks like the base is going to be a fixture for years and years to come," Happy Valley-Goose Bay Mayor Wally Andersen said following a recent meeting of the Combined Councils of Labrador.

Nearly 500 personnel

Andersen's comments followed a very upbeat presentation by the commander of 5 Wing Goose Bay, Lt.-Col. Andrew Wedgewood, on Feb. 10.

The base has a twofold mission: defence and training allied forces to operate in harsh weather. (CBC)

Wedgewood told the story of a sprawling military facility that operated without any defined purpose for many years following the end of low-level flight training but that all changed four years ago.

Nothing speaks with more clarity than the almighty dollar.- Lt.-Col. Andrew Wedgewood

5 Wing now has two primary missions: defence of North America and hosting Canadian and allied militaries for harsh- environment training.

"We are constantly preparing ourselves for a contingency where the Norad (North American Aerospace Defence Command) mission will be invoked. We're talking about a near-peer aggressor coming from the north type of scenario. It doesn't take a lot figure out where that aggression would come from," he said, referring to the ongoing tension between the NATO alliance and Russia.

"The training piece is more what occupies us from day to day."

Some 600 members of the Royal 22nd Regiment from Quebec carry out a winter warfare training exercise at 5 Wing Goose Bay in 2017. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

With that new mission has come stability for the roughly 500 personnel working on the base, increased activity and growing investment by the federal government.

"Nothing speaks with more clarity than the almighty dollar," Wedgewood told municipal and Indigenous leaders.

"If you take a look at the infrastructure spending trend at 5 Wing Goose Bay since 2013, the money has started to come back to the base."

A training destination

Indeed it has. A graph presented by Wedgewood showed investment growing from a low of about $2 million five years ago to a high of about $28 million last year.

And there's been a notable uptick in activity, with between 30 and 40 military exercises every year, including some very large ones.

This graph shows how infrastructure spending has increased at 5 Wing Goose Bay over the past five years. (Courtesy 5 Wing Goose Bay)

Last year some 600 members of the Royal 22nd Regiment from Quebec, the famed Van Doos, came to 5 Wing for a winter warfare training exercise.

Wedgewood said 2018 will also be busy, with militaries from Canada, Germany and the United States expected to use the base.

"We may even have some Canadian tactical aviation exercises happening in preparation for an operational rotation into Iraq," he said.

Dampening fears

The base has a massive footprint in central Labrador, with roughly 233 buildings.

Some buildings have been removed in recent years, generating fear in the community that it was a troubling sign for the base's future.

About 270 Canadian soldiers and a handful of American soldiers train in Happy Valley-Goose Bay in 2015. (CBC)

Wedgewood said that's not the case.

"I want to speak to that and hopefully provide some assurance," he said.

"We have done some divestment over the last few years, but there's very good reasons for it."

Divestment has happened, but the investment is there as well. That's a very clear message that I want people to  understand.- Lt.-Col. Andrew Wedgewood

The commander said the base is adjusting to meet its new mission, and removing buildings that are no longer safe or needed.

"Divestment has happened, but the investment is there as well. That's a very clear message that I want people to understand."

That's a welcome message for people like Labrador MP Yvonne Jones.

"5 Wing is not only critical to Happy Valley-Goose Bay, and to the Canadian Air Force, it's also critical to us in Labrador. And we've enjoyed a tremendous working relationship with them over the years," Jones said.