PEI

COVID-19 moves military training exercises to P.E.I.

Military officers are completing their last training exercise on P.E.I. this week instead of New Brunswick because of COVID-19.

The 6-week training course wraps up in Prince County this week

The P.E.I. Regiment is in its final week of training soldiers to do things like drive military vehicles. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC)

Military officers are completing their training exercises on P.E.I. this week instead of New Brunswick because of COVID-19.

The six-week training course is for reservists and usually takes place in Gagetown, N.B., at the military base. But this year, COVID-19 has moved the training to the Island near Summerside.

The P.E.I. Regiment of the Canadian Armed Forces is in its final week of training soldiers to do things like drive military vehicles and shoot using machine guns.

Maj. Jean-Paul Pendergast with the regiment says this is a win-win situation.

'It's a bit of an adjustment for sure, but the one thing we are good at in the military is following direction,' says Maj. Jean-Paul Pendergast. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC)

"We're able to continue training, despite the pandemic, and for a lot of staff and students we're able to conduct this training close to home," said Pendergast. 

Avoiding large numbers

"There's a reluctance to bring large numbers of people together into Gagetown or large training bases like that because of the pandemic right now," Pendergast said. 

The regiment has not only adjusted to training at Slemon Park but there are new health guidelines in place as well. 

Drill halls are used as classrooms because they have more space, soldiers have been sleeping outside so they aren't too close to each other and anyone in a training vehicle must wear a mask. 

Adjustments are 'second nature'

It's all part of the process of slowly resuming training by the Canadian Army Reserve in Atlantic Canada. 

Pendergast said some of the adjustments, like wearing personal protective equipment, come as second nature to the team. 

"We're accustomed to wearing hearing protection when we're firing on the range. We're accustomed to wearing helmets ... flak vests. So this is just something else that we've added," he said.

Eventually, soldiers in training, like Pte. Nathan Curley, could end up helping with everything from natural disasters to the current pandemic.  (Jessica Doria Brown/CBC)

Pte. Nathan Curley has been with the P.E.I. Regiment for the last two years. He said training on the Island has been a great experience. 

"It has been different, I like it. I'm able to see my family in the evenings," Curley said. 

"[Usually] I would maybe only see them on the weekends depending on how the training schedule worked out." 

'Qualify for military role'

When they're finished this training, the soldiers will be qualified to work within the Canadian Forces in the primary reserve, and could end up helping with everything from natural disasters to the current pandemic. 

"We all need help sometimes and if you can take a turn and help somebody else out, it's a good feeling," said Curley.

By the end of the week, 11 soldiers will have completed the training. According to Pendergast, this is the most Island soldiers that have trained in one summer for over a decade. 

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from Jessica Doria Brown

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