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WO Gary Wittebolle, RCA.

In the desert, on the border between Ethiopia and Eritrea, it's 40 [degrees] C and a long way from WO Wittebolle's home on the foothills of Alberta. A carpenter and assembler by trade, his civilian job in Lethbridge of preparing pre-fabricated structural components for house construction is a far away memory as he is currently serving with the Canadian Contingent of the United Nation's mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE).

Approached in mid-January 2001 by the BK (Battle Captain) of his unit, 18 Air Defence Regiment, WO Wittebolle didn't need much time to decide if he wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to serve his country and partake in what could be an adventure. Quickly gaining the support of his longtime girlfriend, Gina, and of his employer, he made ready for a short notice deployment to Africa.

Located in Lethbridge, Alberta, 18 AD Regt is one of three total force air defence units with the others stationed in Petawawa and Valcartier. Having a total unit strength of almost one hundred soldiers, the reservists outnumber the regulars by two to one. The unit is divided into three troops: Support Troop provides the normal support found in any unit, "C" Troop is the training troop, and "A" Troop is the fighting troop composed of two sections, each equipped with six Javelin shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missile systems.

As Troop Sergeant Major for the aptly named "Fighting Troop," WO Wittebolle had to hand over responsibilities for the administration of his 12 Javelin systems and the training and administration of his 30 soldiers quickly. The Canadian contingent had already deployed to theater and, due to various circumstances, had not been able to fill a vital position in the National Support Element (NSE).

A message went out on the Army tasking computer system with the immediate requirement of filling the position of Logistics Operations WO. The Adjutant of the regiment, Captain Mark Murphy, realized that "In the unit we had a very experienced, very good warrant officer who was easily up to the task, but was he available?"

Upon accepting the tasking, WO Wittebolle departed to Kingston to take pre-deployment training at the Army's Peace Support Training Center. The two weeks of training included a weapons refresher, first aid, mine awareness, and learning the rules of engagement (ROE). He also received intelligence briefings on the operational situation as well as historical and cultural briefings on the peoples of Ethiopia and Eritrea. As WO Wittebolle was unable to partake in the unit pre-deployment training prior to the departure of the company group from 2nd Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment, the Kingston training session proved to be essential.

Overseas deployment taskings are not unusual for 18 AD Regt. "In the past year alone, the regiment has deployed 19 soldiers to Bosnia with different rotations for SFOR (NATO's Stabilization Force), ten of whom were Reservists," stated Captain Murphy. "The local businesses support the Militia out here and hold the soldier's job until he comes home."

"The trip over here was a two-day odyssey," laughed Wittebolle over the phone as he described his deployment. "From Trenton in Ontario to Brize-Norton in England, then to Germany, and finally Eritrea. I arrived on 21 February at 0300 hours local time, but to me it was still 8 P.M. the night before. Then it was off to Camp Groesbeek which is run by the Dutch. The Canadian company group is working as part of the Dutch battalion here. Our Log Ops Center is located in the camp."

Originally hailing from Winnipeg, 37-year-old Wittebolle has been with 18 AD since 1995. The regiment conducts solid training year-round, but the true test of "bird gunner" is firing the hundred thousand-dollar missile that the unit gets to fire as part of its main weapons once a year. "Traditionally, the Commanding Officer and Regimental Sergeant Major are reservists," stated the Adjutant, "but our CO, Lieutenant Colonel Bill Scheurkogel, is retiring and our new CO will be Major Pierre Lepine, a regular, until a reservist is ready to take the slot again.

"I wanted to do something new, have an adventure, get an opportunity to see other cultures," said Wittebolle. "I mean, Africa! I would probably never get to come here if not for the Army, and I am employed at my rank level in a job I am trained to do. As the Log Ops WO, I am responsible for dealing with the logistic support requests in the Log Ops Center for the company group [that is] doing the actual patrolling and observation for the mission here. I also coordinate the activities and duty roster of the center."

18 AD Regt is a part of 41 Canadian Brigade Group headquartered in Calgary, which in turn belongs to Land Force Western Area in Edmonton. "We have a good retention rate in the regiment," said Captain Murphy. "The morale is as good as it is, I think, because we try to keep the training interesting. We give the troops the chance to serve on the type of mission WO Wittebolle is on, and we have the support of the local community."

When asked if he would recommend a tour of duty overseas, Wittebolle replied," Any reservist given the opportunity should hop on board and take the chance."
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Author:Michitsch, Howard
Publication:Esprit de Corps
Date:Mar 1, 2001
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