One month into my posting as Base Chaplain of CFB Suffield, I’m starting to get a feel for this interesting and diverse place located, as a British Ministry of Defence news piece puts it, amidst the “endless barren prairieland” of SW Alberta. W

I’m getting to know the 100+ Canadian Forces personnel who run the base and its huge training ranges, and who support our lodger units, including the Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC) staff and British Army Training Unit Suffield (BATUS).
Can’t say much about DRDC, because it’s all cutting edge, high tech, and secure. As one of its number told me, “don’t believe half the stuff you hear about us, Padre”. Hah. If I was told they have the crashed UFO and alien bodies in one of their facilities, I’d believe it.

The Canadians have a good sense of humour, and do a tricky job of balancing the needs of the British and our own armies to train with the environmental impact of their training, given its effects on land and on several endangered species. There are also resource management needs, given that industry has many natural gas wells and projects going around the base. Sometimes the local animals strike back and get the upper hand, as I noticed from this display outside our signals section last week.

The Brits are an interesting bunch. The BATUS staff who are stationed in Canada for several years, running the excercises for the British army units sent over here, outnumber us Canucks. They wear their hair longer than Canadian or US troops do, and their rank badges are different. The other day I saluted a chap wearing a large crown, and when he rolled his eyes and waved dismissively at me, I realized he was a Warrant Officer. Right. UK majors wear small crowns. Got it. Not embarrassed, really. BATUS wives and kids play in the parish hall outside my office most mornings and sound like they stepped out of Coronation Street. The wives are apparently enthusiastic and vicious ice hockey players.

BATUS can be generous hosts when they aren’t busy with exercises. Recently they hosted an evening called Beating the Retreat, featuring the music of the Heavy Cavalry Band and an excellent curry dinner. Unfortunately bad weather prevented the band from demonstrating their marching outside, but they did a fine job inside. I was personally delighted that they played “Show me the way to Amarillo”, which I suppose after the viral video some years back has now become a UK army anthem.

British armour ready to serve as a backdrop for the Heavy Cavalry Band, before the weather turned bad.

I haven’t had a chance to get “out on the prairie” as the Brits say to see an excercise in progress, but I’m hopeful. Here’s what one of the current Prairie Thunder EXs look like, in this picture from the UK MOD press service.

Soldiers from 1st Battalion The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment, part of 20th Armoured Brigade, taking part in Exercise Prairie Thunder in Canada
[Picture: Cpl James Williams, Crown Copyright/MOD 2010]

A British writeup on the recent Prairie Thunder exercise can be found here.

Gophers, weather, and culture shock permitting, I’ll have more to say about life in Suffield in future posts.