'Battening down the hatches': Military gets a lesson in battling P.E.I. weather

Islanders got a glimpse of what it takes to operate a Canadian Armed Forces base Saturday.

'The troops are really learning when they're challenged'

Islanders were invited to the camp in Slemon Park see how the soldiers live and work at the base. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

Islanders had the chance to get a glimpse of what it takes to operate a Canadian Armed Forces base Saturday.

A group of military engineers have set up camp in Slemon Park, P.E.I., this month.

The troops are on the Island to complete construction and renovation projects and to undergo technical training. It will provide them with the skills they need to construct and maintain military camps while deployed.

The public was invited to see how the soldiers live and work at the base and learn what it takes to keep operations running smoothly.

'We had everyone from our most junior private right up to our commanding officer with hands-on tools, battening down the hatches,' said Capt. Jamie Tobin. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

Capt. Jamie Tobin, a public affairs officer with the armed forces, said the training prepares the troops to adapt to any type of environment. The Island's unpredictable weather has presented opportunities to learn. 

"The troops are really learning when they're challenged and the weather that's been presented on Prince Edward Island has really presented our soldiers with a great deal of challenge," Tobin said.

Battling the elements

He said after the severe rain and windstorms last week, the troops had to act quickly to secure their camp.

In some cases it meant digging trenches to drain floodwater away from shelters.  Tents and other structures had to be secured to avoid wind damage. 

Tobin says his bunk was one of those affected by the flooding at the Slemon Park camp. (Submitted by Jamie Tobin)

"We had everyone from our most junior private right up to our commanding officer with hands-on tools, battening down the hatches," Tobin said.

For Sapper Samantha Beks, who is participating in the exercise for the first time, reacting to the weather has been a lesson in teamwork. 

Sapper Samantha Beks says responding to last week's severe wind and rain storms taught her the importance of working as a team to tackle unexpected weather events. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

"It's been a really interesting experience," said Beks. "We have had some severe weather but we overcame that as a team."

Capt. Joshua Rumbolt said training in severe weather conditions teaches troops how to adapt to any situation or environment. 

"The army never deploys when it's nice and sunny," Rumbolt said. "It really tests our ability to work in conditions that are not ideal and it tests our engineers to further develop their planning."

Capt. Joshua Rumbolt said training in severe weather conditions teaches troops how to adapt to any situation or environment. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

Tobin said soldiers also explore different ways to protect their camp from the elements, including using machinery and structures to block high winds and protect tents and housing.

"Really, it's a wonderful opportunity," Tobin said. "The weather only adds to that challenge and it actually pleases the senior staff to see how these individuals respond to situations they have been presented."

Community projects managing weather 

Tobin said the excessive rain and high winds have also created challenges for the various construction projects troops are working on across the province.

Those projects include renovating Summerside's Boys and Girls Club, to building a wheelchair-accessible walkway at Montague's Royal Canadian Legion, to constructing a new bridge on Lennox Island. 

"Wet conditions and ground saturation are significant planning factors, so they really have to capitalize on times when it's dry and warm to make sure the ground is suitable to work with," Tobin said. 

But Tobin said all projects will be completed while the troops are on the Island and he expects them to meet their deadline of Nov. 23.

"Despite the fact that we've dealt with weather, those troops will work around the clock when they have the right conditions to do so to make sure that the job is complete," he added.

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Brittany Spencer

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Brittany Spencer is a multi-platform journalist with CBC P.E.I. Email: brittany.spencer@cbc.ca