by Andrew McLaughlin
Like many soldiers in his unit, Private Edmond Wang is both a university student and a member of the Canadian Army Reserve. Wang, of Waterloo Region’s Royal Highland Fusiliers of Canada (RHFC), is in his second year at the University of Waterloo (UW), studying accounting and finance. He recently joined the infantry regiment based in Kitchener and Cambridge, and his seven months of experience in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) was highlighted by a recently-completed mortar course during Exercise ARROWHEAD SHIELD, in Grayling, Michigan.
The RHFC is a Primary Reserve light infantry regiment of the Canadian Army, as well as an infantry sub-unit of 31 Canadian Brigade Group (CBG), headquartered in London, Ontario.
The RHFC was designated a primary tactical responsibility, otherwise known as a “Mission Task” of specializing in mortar use directly from the Commander of the Canadian Army.
This is something new for today’s Army Reserve, as the mortar system was phased out of the reserves decades ago. “As one of the newest trained Privates at RHFC, I was interested in fulfilling the task which was handed to our unit; that of becoming a mortar platoon member,” Wang explained.
“As a mortar crew member, my primary job is to make sure that my fellow infantry soldiers receive intimate and specific support – and to make sure that fellow Canadian troops can rely on us to use the mortar system on the enemy, whenever needed.”
The mortar course was demanding and, at times, quite complex, according to Wang and UW student. Though it concluded during Ex ARROWHEAD SHIELD – where the soldiers tested their knowledge and skills on a live-fire range – the exciting and fun part of the course came after plenty of hard work.
Lengthy and intense training over the course of many months was held at Canadian Forces Base Petawawa, near Ottawa, and at one of RHFC’s local bases, the Cambridge Armoury.
The reservists were supported by their Regular Force counterparts: specialist mentors from the 2nd Regiment, Royal Canadian Horse Artillery (2RCHA), a unit with a long and proud history of employing what is sometimes referred to as the “King of Battle,” the artillery. RHFC, along with their 4RCHA, mentors successfully trained 51 graduates on mortar operations and the unit reached its Initial Operational Capability on Sept. 1, 2018. Wang recalls that, “while on the mortar course, I thought that the weapons drills, along with all of the tests using the weapon’s optics were the hardest parts.”
The mathematics involved are complicated, even for an accounting and finance major, he says. “Converting from angles and bearings quickly – all while knowing that if you make an error, friendly troops could die due to your mistakes – was a major mental challenge that we all had to overcome.”
ARROWHEAD SHIELD was a 31 CBG exercise led by 31 Territorial Battalion Group (TBG) and commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Mark Poland and many of his soldiers from the RHFC of Waterloo Region.
The TBG’s 500 soldiers were activated for this major exercise and their capabilities were put to the test there.
These capabilities included combined arms operations with sub-units including infantry, armoury, artillery, engineering, combat service support, and signals elements. “I liked learning how the mortar system can be used as a support weapon within the structure of the Canadian Army, and how we can affect the battle,” Wang said with a smile. “It was interesting for me to learn about both the infantry and the artillery aspects of this unique weapons system, and using the mortar system was one of the coolest moments in my military career, so far.”
Given that Wang has only been in the Army Reserve for seven months, he will have plenty more moments to consider.
“I have been to many bases across Ontario as well as Camp Grayling in Michigan, and learned many valuable skills along my way. I think I made a great choice joining the Army,” he said. “It can be a lot of work, but where else can I get paid to blow stuff up?”
The Army Reserve is hiring across Canada, including in Kitchener and Waterloo. “If you’re a student, looking to earn some extra money while learning more and experiencing some new things, give it a shot,” Wang said. “I’m glad I did.”