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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Guard unit joins Canada training

1041st part of multinational ‘coalition experience’

Sgt. Danielle Brenner preps her truck before lining up for convoy Thursday at Fairchild Air Force Base’s National Guard training center. (Jesse Tinsley)

The first of two convoys from the Washington National Guard’s Spokane-based 1041st Transportation Company rolled into Canada over the weekend for an international training exercise designed to help improve overall North American military readiness.

A second is scheduled to leave Spokane on Wednesday, joining Canadian, British and other U.S. forces participating in Exercise Maple Resolve northeast of Calgary, Alberta. It’s described as one of the most complex training operations ever organized by the Canadian Armed Forces.

“They’re looking for a coalition experience,” said Capt. Marco Brettmann, commander of the 1041st, who left Spokane on Friday with the first truck convoy headed north. “They want a multinational exercise.”

Canadian and U.S. forces have been fighting alongside each other for years in Afghanistan, but Maple Resolve illustrates the expanding levels of military cooperation on the domestic front as well.

Last year, for example, the two nations reaffirmed a 2008 agreement that extends cooperation beyond basic perimeter defense to include rapid military assistance during civil strife caused by natural disasters such as floods and earthquakes as well as manmade catastrophes such as terrorist attacks.

“There’s no question the military relationship has been evolving,” said political scientist Donald K. Alper, director of both the Center for Canadian-American Studies and the Border Policy Research Institute at Western Washington University in Bellingham. “The military units and the command structures have been integrated for years … under common defense agreements, but recently we’ve seen the development of civil assistance plans that could be why we’re seeing the facilitation of National Guard and regular military units from both nations working together.”

Alper noted that U.S. and Canadian authorities worked closely on a range of security issues surrounding the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver, B.C., and that the expanding nature of the joint defense posture can be traced to the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C.

The joint exercise in Alberta gives soldiers and commanders from both nations experience operating within the culture and organizational structure of the other.

“This is a great opportunity for the Canadian army to strengthen our interoperability and combat effectiveness,” Lt. Gen. Peter Devlin, commander of the Canadian Army, said in prepared remarks. More than 3,000 military personnel are participating in the exercise, which combines air and ground units.

By the end of this week, about 75 members of the 1041st and nearly 40 of its heavy trucks will be in Alberta. This will be the first international trip for the 1041st since being reactivated in 2006, but other Guard units have been sent over the border for joint training exercises recently.

“The Washington National Guard has a global reach,” said Capt. Joseph Siemendel, the Guard’s public affairs officer at Camp Murray. “We routinely send citizen-soldiers to assist active duty efforts in Korea, Japan, and the Philippines as well as numerous parts of Europe.”