Surge Teamwork: Op UNIFIER Works with Op ORBITAL in Dnipro

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By Captain Felix Odartey-Wellington, Joint Task Force-Ukraine Public Affairs Officer

DNIPRO, UKRAINE. “When we heard a team of French-Canadians were coming to support us in training, we didn’t know what to think,” Lieutenant Hugo Hunter of Operation ORBITAL says jokingly at his base in Dnipro on June 21, 2019.

In May 2019, when demand more than tripled for the British Army’s Operation ORBITAL training program for Ukrainian military at Dnipro, less than a three-hour drive from the Donbass conflict zone, the British team knew who to call: the Canadians. And Lieutenant Hunter says the Canadian surge team deployed in response didn’t disappoint.

Sergeant Phillippe Bernier of 12e Régiment blindé du Canada leads the team that includes Master Corporal Nicolas Boily, Corporal Patrick Paradis and Corporal Jonathan Michel, all of 3e Battalion, Royal 22e Régiment.  “We all have experience in overseas combat and training missions including deployments to Afghanistan and Poland,” he notes of his team.

The team is part of Operation UNIFIER. This is the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) training mission supporting the Security Forces of Ukraine in collaboration with other international partners, including the United Kingdom.

In Dnipro, the Canadians are instructing under a British operation to a Ukrainian personnel from different military elements. This is happening hundreds of kilometers away from the Canadian headquarters in Starychi. Throw in instructing with foreign weapons, the challenge of navigating thick Québécois and Cockney accents, and the need for French-Canadian soldiers to instruct in English, translated to Ukrainian, and you will have a good idea of the dynamics of the unique partnership between the Op ORBITAL and Op UNIFIER teams.

“Being close to the Donbass and seeing battle-hardened soldiers as our students, we have an even stronger sense of purpose,” observes Sergeant Bernier. “We are CAF ambassadors so for us it is also about rapport-building.”

The rapport-building has worked. One of the Ukrainian students, Senior Sergeant Oleksandr says “We find a kindred spirit in the Canadians. Just their bearing shows that they are professionals with combat experience. What they teach is very practical and for those of us who know combat, we know it is relevant. We speak the same language as warriors.”

Lieutenant Hunter is similarly full of praise for the Canadians. “It was great to have the extra support,” he says, “and even better to have the Canadians because of the similarities in tactics and even jokes. It was just like having extra British troops. And the level of their instructional capability is of a high standard.”

“It helps that the Canadians are proficient with some of the weapon systems used in Ukraine,” Lieutenant Hunter notes. “And we learned from each other: I’ve improved my French and they’ve improved their English.”

This resonates with Sergeant Bernier and his team. “Working with Op ORBITAL broadens our scope and the British are very welcoming,” he says. “We will welcome more teamwork opportunities with Op ORBITAL.”

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