Exercise NIHILO SAPPER
Army engineers “close the loop” around Warren Lake during annual training exercise
The Canadian Armed Forces’ 4 Engineer Support Regiment (4 ESR) are in their element when things do not go according to plan.
From Nov. 5 to Nov. 20, 4 ESR’S 42nd Horizontal Construction Squadron built a 33m suspension bridge over a tributary located at the western end of Warren Lake in Cape Breton Highlands National Park. The build was one of five community projects completed throughout Cape Breton in November as part of the regiment’s annual construction engineering exercise known as Ex Nihilo Sapper. The objective is to meet a community need while providing essential ongoing training for the regiment.
Under Squadron Commander Major Heather Reibin’s leadership, their goal was to “close the loop” on the hiking trail around Cape Breton Highlands’ largest lake by Nov. 20. Despite one major snag, the deed got done.
“We needed this…but we got this,” said Reibin at the bridge site, using outstretched arms to illustrate the gap between the initial bridge construction plan, and what eventually unfolded.
Under ideal circumstances, with all materials on hand, the squadron would have prepped components as they built the bridge. However, the bolts needed to secure the bridge tower to its footing didn’t arrive until Nov. 16, compressing construction time from ten days to five.
Still, not a moment was wasted. Troops meticulously prepped all existing supplies, calling in material technicians from other 4 ESR squadrons to custom cut cables and modify connection points.
“In every task we do, we are challenged to find solutions,” said Site Commander and civil engineer Lt. William Dumais, pointing out the meticulously pre-assembled bridge components ready to be bolted together.
“Problem-solving is key. Missing bolts meant having to put extra work into calculations to make sure the prep was correct,” said Reibin. She added that the setback allowed for cross-training opportunities and knowledge-sharing between newer and more experienced troops.
4 ESR is the Armed Forces’ High Readiness Unit. The regiment has 423 personnel spread across four squadrons. Personnel are deployed on short notice in response to crises at home and abroad. Beyond ongoing training, the Ex Nihilo Sapper exercise serves as a tactical exercise by simulating an environment where there is an enemy threat. Site entrances at all projects are guarded by armed troops, light-armoured vehicles and razor wire.
Hikers crossing the new suspension bridge will see little evidence (save, boot prints) of the cooperation that put it in place. Warren Lake will return to stillness from the constant traversing of small military transport boats carrying construction materials. The Broad Cove Campground will bear no trace of the fully-equipped Forward Operating Base (FOB) constructed in 24 hours on Nov. 5 to accommodate the troops. The kitchen, command office, accommodations, light-armoured vehicles, guns and razor wire perimeter - all gone.
For 4 ESR, it’s back to Gagetown to debrief, see family and friends and be ever-ready for the next deployment.
(Top): It took only 24 hours for 4 ESR’S 42 Horizontal Construction Squadron to construct their Forwarding Operating Base (FOB) at Broad Cove Campground outside Ingonish. The base was equipped with kitchen, accommodations and command office. (Bottom, left): Cpl. Andrew Loughery, Sapper Drew Parker and Cpl. Nick Montgomery guarding the FOB entrance. (Bottom, centre): All construction materials were transported by boat across Warren Lake in small patrol boats. (Bottom, right) Bridge Commander Sgt. Nathan Miller oversees engineers testing the sag of a bridge cable.