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Alberta Flood - June 2013

In response to massive flooding in Calgary and throughout southern Alberta, 41 Canadian Brigade Group was authorized to deploy Task Force SILVERTIP to conduct domestic operations in support of disaster relief efforts. On the afternoon of Friday, 21 June 2013, soldiers of The Calgary Highlanders began to muster at Area Support Unit Calgary, on the site of the former Currie Barracks. By midnight, 77 Highlanders had been mustered.

In all, the Task Force came to number 540 reservists, of which approximately 125 were Calgary Highlanders, or just about 25%. Other units in the Task Force included 41 Combat Engineer Regiment, The King's Own Calgary Regiment, The South Alberta Light Horse, The Loyal Edmonton Regiment (4 PPCLI) and 41 Service Battalion.

The Task Force operated independently as a formation under the command of 1 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group, the regular force formation based in Edmonton. This independent task force was responsible for military domestic operations throughout the entire Calgary region, working directly with the Calgary Emergency Management Agency as part of Operation LENTUS.

In addition to providing soldiers for the relief effort, the leadership of the Task Force Headquarters drew heavily from The Calgary Highlanders. Commanding Officer Lieutenant-Colonel Michael Owens directed the headquarters, along with the Deputy Commanding Officer (Major Kyle Clapperton), Regimental Sergeant Major (Chief Warrant Officer Robert Besse) and Operations Officer (Captain Andrew Beauchamp).

The scale of both the disaster, and the operation, is unprecedented in Alberta's history. The flooding is the second most expensive weather-related event in Canadian history (only exceeded by the cost of the eastern Canada ice storms in 1998). It is believed, subject to verification by the Regimental Museum and Archives, that this is the largest peacetime deployment of the regiment in its 103-year history.


Canadian Press photo of Stampede Park submerged by the June 2013 flood. Over two dozen local states of emergency were declared
throughout southern Alberta, extending from communities in the Rocky Mountains as far as the Saskatchewan border. Three persons
lost their lives and 75,000 Calgarians were at least temporarily forced to evacuate their homes.

On Friday, 21 June 2013, Task Force SILVERTIP was mobilized, consisting in the main of soldiers from 41 Canadian Brigade Group, in response to severe flooding in a number of communities in southern Alberta. By 2400hrs on 21-22 June, over 75 soldiers from The Calgary Highlanders had mustered at Area Support Unit Calgary, on the former Currie Barracks/Canadian Forces Base Calgary site, ready to deploy on operational tasks in conjunction with the Calgary Emergency Management Agency (CEMA). 

"B" Company, commanded by Major Ryan Palmer of The Calgary Highlanders, included mission elements from several units, with 1 and 2 Platoons coming from The Calgary Highlanders. On Saturday, 22 June, 1 Platoon deployed to the neighbourhood of Inglewood, along the Bow River, to assist CEMA in enforcing a mandatory evacuation order. The platoon received not only national but international media attention for its efforts in securing a river bank threatening homes. Photos of the platoon's efforts in moving sandbags have appeared locally on the cover of the Calgary Sun, and in print and online versions of the Calgary Herald and Metro News, and online in such venues as the CNN website.

Mewata Armouries, home station of The Calgary Highlanders, located just a block south of the Bow River, was thankfully spared from the flooding. This photo was taken on Friday, 21 June 2013. Much of the downtown core was closed off to traffic, and residents and workers were told to stay away for several days, so that buildings could be inspected, and flooded areas cleaned up once flood waters receded.

Company Sergeant Major G. Fedoruk gives the troops of "B" Company, Task Force SILVERTIP, a safety and media briefing on the morning of Saturday 22 June 2013.

Platoon Warrant Officer J. Moreau musters 1 Platoon of "B" Company in anticipation of the day's activities. It was to be a long and eventful day for the platoon.

Colonel Roy Boehli, Commander of 41 Canadian Brigade Group, looks on with great pleasure at the results of the call to stand up Task Force SILVERTIP. With very short notice the brigade assembled 500 soldiers equipped to serve indefinitely on domestic operations. At far left Corporal Nguyen of the Calgary Highlanders chats with the commander; at far right is Corporal G. Harder. Behind the commander is Chief Warrant Officer M. Woods of The King's Own Calgary Regiment, formerly of The Calgary Highlanders. The soldier beside Corporal Nguyen  travelled from a communications squadron in B.C. to assist with the floods.

No. 1 Platoon got rolling on its tasks in mid-afternoon on Saturday. There was no apparent need to issue maps - "there's an app for that."

 

The first order of business was to go door to door in Inglewood and ensure the safety of citizens in the neighbourhood, and verify compliance with the mandatory evacuation order.

 

Domestic operations provided unique challenges: a common question was "how do you give a Sitrep in which no one is shooting at anyone?" Nonetheless, the soldiers recognized that the civil population - indeed, some of the soldiers themselves - had just undergone a very traumatic event.

Lieutenant S. Fletcher, commanding 1 Platoon, puts his media training to the test. Global News asks a few questions about the deployment; earlier, Lieutenant Fletcher had escorted a Reuters photographer through the flood-affected area of Inglewood.

The troops of 1 Platoon move onto their second major task; shifting a truckload of sandbags into the bucket of a front-end loader for transport to the river bank. Photographer Gavin John from the Calgary Sun can be seen at left capturing the action.

The Calgary Sun, one of Calgary's four major newspapers, published one the photos of 1 Platoon shifting sandbags on the cover of its Sunday edition the next day.

Cable News Network (CNN) also published a photo of the sandbag activity on its international website.

Once the sandbags had been moved to the water's edge, they had to be put into the water. Up to 100 feet of river bank had been torn away by the raging waters of the Bow River. The extent of the damage can be seen by comparing to the Google street view below, taken from approximately the same location. Note the curb in both images. Also note the height of the water in relation to the bridge in the distance.

Photo via GoogleMaps street view.

Another before and after view; upper image by GoogleMaps street view, lower image courtesy of Lieutenant S. Fletcher. This was the area that 1 Platoon assisted City of Calgary engineers with their wok in stabilizing the river bank. Note the missing river bank at left, torn away by the raging flood waters.

Another view of the bike path in Inglewood; the flood waters have ripped away hundreds of cubic metres of river bank. Houses in distance are the endangered houses in the images above. Photo courtesy of Lieutenant S. Fletcher.

The unstable river bank posed a danger to the troops, and it was decided to load the sandbags into the bucket of an excavator and drop them into the river, in an attempt to slow the current of the river and stop the erosion of the bank. All work was done under the supervision of City of Calgary engineers, who also operated heavy equipment to place Jersey barriers in the water. At last report, the efforts were successful in stopping the erosion, though residents were unable to return to the houses along this street by the time the engineers and soldiers finished their work.

The proximity of the houses to the street can be ascertained by this shot. Reveille had been at 0600hrs (6:00 a.m.) and the setting sun indicates here that the time is after 2100 (9:00 p.m.)

The trucks were once again mustered on the morning of Sunday, 23 June, under blue skies. Weather over the weekend was warm and fine, a welcome relief from the rain that helped precipitate the floods in the first place.

Call Sign II-IX, the company commander's chariot, waits patiently at the head of the column.

The new mission for 1 Platoon: man the reception centre at the Inglewood Community Centre and give residents the happy news that they can return to their homes. Here, Lieutenant J. Hill and Lieutenant S. Fletcher talk with locals, who apparently live "thataway".

Corporal M. Chambers talks to residents of Inglewood as they pull ruined belongings from their flooded house.

A section of 1 Platoon was detached to help staff the reception centre in Ramsay.

Sunday was another long day, and reception centres were staffed until after last light, the Inglewood centre closing at 23:00hrs (11:00 p.m.). Four soldiers of 1 Platoon went on a patrol just before dark to assess power outages north of 17th Avenue, and a sense of Calgarians resilience made itself felt. This family, sitting among clusters of ruined furniture, has decided to make the best of a bad situation and make a party of eating the food going bad in their powerless refrigerator. They generously offered their high quality cheese to the patrol.

The soldiers on duty were met with great generosity throughout the event, with gifts of everything from home-made sandwiches to premium coffee, pizza and other refreshments.

This blog on the website of the Calgary Herald, Calgary's second major newspaper, is evidence of the excellent relationship the soldiers of the Calgary Highlanders established with the citizens of Inglewood during their brief contacts with them over the first weekend of the deployment.

The work of 1 Platoon in Inglewood continued to be an item of interest throughout the country; this photo of Calgary Highlanders knocking on doors in Inglewood appeared in an online edition of a Windsor, Ontario newspaper on June 24, 2013.

Perhaps Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi sums up the best (video courtesy LCol (ret'd) Michael Vernon):

 


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