The Year 2013 Marked the 30th Anniversary of The Queen’s Own as a “Para-Tasked” Regiment

Please Note: This article was written by Captain Scott Moody, Officer Commanding the QOR of C Parachute Company for the 2013 issue of “The Rifleman”, Journal of the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada. Photos taken by Major Sandi Banerjee, Captain Chris Potter, Master Corporal Dan Pop and Paul Lantz.

parachutes from aircraft

In 2013 The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada celebrated 30 years of its designation as a “para-tasked” regiment. The initiative to award a parachute tasking can be traced back to the formation of the Central Militia Area Special Unit (CMASU), whose role was to be a reserve army unit that would have the potential to become an airborne one. This was an idea developed and vigorously encouraged by LCol Peter Fairclough CD, a Queen’s Own Rifles officer who had previously served in the British Army’s Special Air Service (SAS) in Malaysia.[1] LCol Fairclough’s proposal was derived from British and American Airborne and Special Operations Forces reserve units which had proven to be capable of supporting full-time counterparts. What followed is described by Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada Captain Scott Moody, who has worn paratrooper’s “jump wings” since 1992. A veteran of more than 100 parachute descents, he is also a fully-qualified jumpmaster and commands the regiment’s Para Company.

Central Militia Area Special Unit

The CMASU paraded at the Staff College in Toronto. Because it was a new unit it had several problems, a principal one being that it drew the best soldiers from many regiments, which often resulted in support from higher levels being provided only reluctantly, if at all. The solution was to have the CMASU reduced to company strength and have it bolster one of the Toronto-based units, with The Queen’s Own eventually getting the nod over The Toronto Scottish. Since a number of the original CMASU cadre had come from The Queen’s Own, then Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Bill Wilson, CD, warmly greeted the return of his riflemen. He was delighted with the addition of this significant element to his regiment and showed his strong support by providing the unit with the flexibility to maintain its training schedule and customs. The CMASU was designated as The Queen’s Own’s 60th Company and Lieutenant Colonel Peter Fairclough decided to become Major Fairclough to enable him to stay with his troops.                                                                                                                                                            

Airborne9

That the CMASU was stood down did not stop the desire to have reservists involved in supporting parachute operations in Canada. The idea of such a unit was significantly enhanced when The Canadian Airborne Regiment (Cdn AB Regt) offered to augment its numbers by inviting The Queen’s Own to provide a fully-formed section. The invitation was eagerly accepted, resulting in an eight-man rifle section serving with a company of 2 (Airborne) Commando, under the command of Major Ike Kennedy. During this time they took part in Exercise Georgian Strike 2 at CFB Borden, Meaford and Petawawa, and were later commended for their capabilities. These eight riflemen were former CMASU soldiers and their accomplishment served to forward the concept of reserve support to the Canadian Airborne Regiment. At the conclusion of the exercise they were present at the ceremony held to mark the formation of 3 (Airborne) Commando, which would be commanded by the same Maj Kennedy, who had become a staunch supporter of The Queen’s Own receiving a parachute tasking.                                                                                                       

Preparing to jump!
Preparing to jump!

Within higher headquarters Major General Reginald Lewis championed the tasking and  vision became reality in 1982 when nine Queen’s Own soldiers were sent on the Basic Parachutist Course at the Canadian Airborne Centre (CABC) in Edmonton, Alberta, an unprecedented event. Prior to this, reservists had been given the chance to take the course only rarely, and as a “reward” for one accomplishment or another. All nine were successful graduates, among them being three future Regimental Sergeant Majors for The Queen’s Own Rifles in CWO (now Captain) John Wilmot, CWO Scott Patterson and CWO Shaun Kelly. Another graduate was LCol Robert Zeidler, who later became the regiment’s commanding officer. Additionally, BGen Don Pryer and LCols Bob Campbell, Steve Brand, Tony Welsh, John Fotheringham, Martin Delaney and Peter St. Denis, named commanding officer in 2102, were qualified as parachutists before taking command.        

Airborne8

Augmenting the Canadian Airborne Regiment                         

On 23 January, 1983, the concept became official with the issuance of Operations Order 2/83 which gave The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada the mission to provide a 27-man platoon to augment the Canadian Airborne Regiment. The Queen’s Own were given 18 months to form the platoon by qualifying paratroopers and providing them with the opportunity to gain experience with the airborne soldiers. In August, 1983, 24 members of The Queen’s Own, led by then Lt Tony Welsh, attended the Airborne Indoctrination Course (AIC) where they earned the right to wear a maroon beret, bearing the cap Badge of The Queen’s Own Rifles.    

Airborne10In September, 1984, parachute tasking within the Canadian Forces burgeoned when Quebec-based Le Régiment du Saguenay and The Loyal Edmonton Regiment in Alberta were each also tasked to provide a platoon to support  the airborne regiment.        

The relationship between the regiments and airborne developed quickly and positively and by 1985 an operational assessment established the fact the reserve force jump platoons were now considered to be fully manned and trained. Due to the successes, the British Columbia-based Royal Westminster Regiment was awarded a 27-man jump platoon and The Queen’s Own and the Saguenays each were granted a second one, bringing the total to six reserve airborne platoons and a company HQ, which had been established by The Queen’s Own. The reserves could now form the fourth platoon in each commando, with the remaining three platoons and company HQ forming the basis of a fourth commando contingent.               

Airborne1That the Queen’s Own took great pride in their tasking was evidenced by the enthusiasm exhibited in their participation on airborne courses, exercises and operational deployments. Future Queen’s Own Rifles commanding officer, then 2/Lt John Fotheringham did a six-month posting with 3 Commando and in 1992, when the Canadian Airborne Regiment deployed to Somalia, it took with it six members of The Queen’s Own, thus forming the largest contribution from a reserve unit on the operation.                      

Riflemen were not only qualifying as paratroopers they also started acquiring more experience in parachuting and other skill sets related to airborne operations. They had the opportunity to take courses through CABC or with the CAR such as DZ/LZ controller (Drop Zone/Landing Zone), packer/rigger, basic mountain operations, and aerial delivery. They also were presented with the chance to participate in foreign exchanges and TALEXs (Tactical Airlift Exercises). These opportunities allowed some of them to gain enough experience to start taking more advanced courses. In 1989 Sgt Chris Thompson became the first Queen’s Own Rifles NCO to qualify as jumpmaster and in 1993 WO Donovan O’Halloran became the first to qualify as parachute instructor. These individual accomplishments helped solidify the formation of The Queen’s Own as an airborne qualified- and-ready unit.                                 

Airborne2

In 1994, with budget pressures being applied at National Defence Headquarters, a little more than ten years after its introduction it was announced that, with the exception of The Queen’s Own Rifles, all militia units would forfeit their parachute taskings. While this was a crushing blow to those regiments, and justifiable cause for future concern at battalion HQ at Moss Park Armoury, The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada, once again, was the only reserve unit in Canada whose members had the chance to continue to train to become paratroopers and to become part of the regiment’s airborne cadre.                                                   

Within the year, however, the Canadian airborne community became the focus of  much public attention and unrelenting harsh criticism, largely misdirected, following the death of a Somali youth at the hands of two members of The Canadian Airborne Regiment. A government enquiry into the matter ensued, military trials were held and the regiment was ordered disbanded. The outrage within the military at this draconian decision was unbridled but “orders is orders” and at CFB Petawawa, on 5 March, 1995  a cold and windy day  The Canadian Airborne Regiment paraded for the last time. The Queen’s Own Rifles maintained its relationship with the regiment to the end, with its paratroopers participating in a final jump and attending its last parade, where The Queen’s Own’s Regimental Band and Bugles would play. The sombre event included a church parade, a ceremony of Laying up of Colours in the Canadian Airborne Forces Museum, followed by final dismissal on Nicklin Parade Square. It was a bitter irony that the parade square had been named in honour of LCol Jeff Nicklin, a former commanding office of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, which had been in the D-Day assault. Nicklin had been killed in action in Germany in 1945. Meanwhile in Ottawa the Chief of the Defence Staff ordered that the regiment be struck from the order of battle of the Canadian Forces with effect that date, in accordance with Ministerial Order 95003.

Airborne5                                                                                                New Canadian Parachute Centre (CPC)

In June 1996, The Queen’s Own was tasked by Land Force Command (LFC) to provide 66 parachutists in support of the new Canadian Parachute Centre (CPC) that was relocated to CFB Trenton in Ontario. The Queen’s Own quickly developed a strong and important relationship with CPC, now the Canadian Land Advanced Warfare Centre (CFLAWC), one which has evolved over the years. Initially the regiment provided jumpers for CPC’s task of supporting Tactical Airlift Training Exercises (TATEX) for RCAF 8 Wing, Trenton. These allowed CC-130 helicopter crews to be qualified and to maintain efficiency in personnel and equipment drops. The exercises would take place several times a year for ten days and as time progressed Queen’s Own jumpers played increasingly larger roles by providing DZ control teams, jumpmasters and aerial delivery-qualified personnel to rig equipment for airdrops.

Airborne3A further evolution of the relationship with CPC was the regiment providing instructors and support staff for courses. These responsibilities gradually increased in scope and frequency with Queen’s Own Rifles airborne riflemen teaching on aerial delivery, helicopter operation, DZ/LZ and advanced mountain operations. Proving their ability as instructors, Queen’s Own Rifles NCOs were soon being offered permanent instructor positions at CFLAWC.

Following disbandment of the Canadian Airborne Regiment, three parachute companies were formed in the 3rd Battalion of the three regular force infantry regiments – Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, Royal Canadian Regiment and Royal 22nd Regiment. The Queen’s Own quickly established and maintained a close relationship with 3 RCR Para Coy. Riflemen quickly began participating on exercises with the company on a regular basis and as the relationship developed Queen’s Own Rifles jumpmasters would support 3 RCR Para Coy parachute operations. In the past, Queen’s Own airborne-qualified personnel augmented 3 RCR in Ft. Bragg, North Carolina on a joint operation exercise with U.S. troops as well as at the U.S. Marine Corps Weapons and Tactics Course in Yuma, Arizona.                       

Airborne4The relationship to 3 RCR has also transferred well to support on expeditionary operations.  During OP PALLADIUM ROTO 3 and 8 to Bosnia-Herzegovina many members of the The Queen’s Own augmented 3 RCR Para Coy. When 3 RCR deployed to Afghanistan other personnel augmented the company during OP ATHENA in Kabul. An excellent example of the strength of this relationship occurred in 2008 when 25 members of The Queen’s Own’s airborne company deployed on OP ATHENA, Roto 6, in support of the 3 RCR Battle Group, which was the largest Queen’s Own Rifles contingent to deploy to a battle theatre since the days of the 1st and 2nd battalions of the Canadian Army’s regular force.

Planning and Executing its Own Exercises           

Moving on following disbandment of The Canadian Airborne Regiment, The Queen’s Own found itself more and more involved in planning and executing its own exercises, a  challenging task indeed. The training model for the reserves has changed frequently over the past 30 years, moving from individual unit training to collective training on weekends. Due to this, most exercises take place independent of regular unit training, increasing the level of commitment required from the airborne riflemen. During special events, such as summer concentrations, the regiment was often given the chance to jump into the Ex but the force employment was limited.  This changed dramatically when The Queen’s Own was given the opportunity to lead a composite airborne reconnaissance platoon during the two-week-long summer concentration in 2003. The platoon was composed of 20 Queen’s Own riflemen and 20 pathfinders from the German Army in an exercise that was highlighted by tactical parachute and rappel inserts. At the following summer’s concentration, the regiment led an airborne company made of 60 paratroopers from The Queen’s Own and 30 jump-qualified from other Land Force Central Area LFCA reserve units in a variety of para-oriented tasks.

March 4, 2004 - QOR 60th Company troops await pickup by a Royal Canadian Air Force CH-146 Griffon from 400 Squadron at Fort Drum, New York.
March 4, 2004 – QOR 60th Company troops await pickup by a Royal Canadian Air Force CH-146 Griffon from 400 Squadron at Fort Drum, New York.                          

In 2013, its 30th anniversary year, The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada’s parachute company exists as a shadow company within the unit, drawing its jumpers from the two rifle companies, 60th and Buffs, as well as Victoria company, which provides combat service support. The jumpers participate in annual parachute refresher training and physical training testing. New parachutists are also provided with internally-run indoctrination training to help them transition from parachutist to paratrooper. Training continues on weekends and jumpers have, on average, six opportunities to jump a year, weather and equipment availability always permitting. However, there is a renewed interest in having the Queen’s Own jumpers employed to support collective exercises, with a prime example of this being the platoon jumping, in well below zero weather, into a DZ on a frozen river to secure the airfield in Moosonee during area-level Exercise Trillium Response early in 2013.

The capability of The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada to provide a self-sustaining parachute company is well established after 30 years.  In its ranks as the 30th anniversary year began the regiment has six parachute instructors, eight jumpmasters and a large pool of DZ controllers and aerial delivery specialists. Because of this capability, the regiment was able to take on a basic parachute course for primary reservists from LFCA during the summer of 2012. This resulted in members of The Queen’s Own Rifles planning and executing the first ever basic parachutist course staffed only by reservists and for reservists.  The end result was 40 reservists becoming jump-qualified and the secondary effect of improved retention and motivation for these members. 

In his role as jumpmaster, Capt Scott Moody, Officer Commanding 60th Company, adjusts the equipment of Sgt Matt Kohler prior to a training session.
In his role as jumpmaster, Capt Scott Moody, Officer Commanding 60th Company, adjusts the equipment of Sgt Matt Kohler prior to a training session.

Over the past 30 years of its parachute tasking The Queen’s Owen Rifles has continued to evolve. Changes have taken place in the areas of structure and function of airborne forces and reserve employment in Canada during this time. However, the inherent resilience of the Riflemen has permitted them to adapt to these changes and build capacity. 

AIRBORNE

[1] From 1963 to 1966, Britain successfully waged a secret war to keep the Federation of Malaya free from domination by President Sukarno's Indonesia and by Chinese Communists. At the forefront of the campaign was the British Army`s elite Special Air Service, whose essence is secrecy and whose tools are bold initiative, surprise, and skill.

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