Operation UNIFIER in Ukraine: ‘a woven tapestry of international partners’

Article / August 3, 2017 / Project number: 17-0216

By Steven Fouchard, Army Public Affairs

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Starychi, Ukraine — Operation UNIFIER (Op UNIFIER) is Canada’s contribution to a multinational effort that is building and improving military capacity in Ukraine. The Canadian Army (CA)’s Major Chris Hartwick, a member of 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, arrived in Ukraine this past March to take charge of a training company that is enhancing their Ukrainian counterparts’ skills in areas ranging from sharpshooting to reconnaissance.

In the following interview, Maj Hartwick discusses his team’s transition from trainers to mentors and the “woven tapestry of international partners” they are working in.

How long will you be deployed in total? Describe your role in Op UNIFIER.

I deployed for Op UNIFIER along with the rest of the Task Force [TF] in early March 2017 and our tour will be just under seven months in duration. Joint Task Force Ukraine [JTF-U] is comprised of seven separate lines of effort [LoE].

I am the Officer Commanding LoE 1 which is the element that deals with small team training. The soldiers and instructors in my company are responsible for training a Ukrainian Infantry company in a myriad of tactical skills with the aim of enhancing their survivability and lethality on the battlefield. We are also responsible for training close reconnaissance soldiers, sharpshooters, combat engineers and artillery.

What are some of the greatest challenges you face? Have there been any especially memorable or rewarding experiences so far you’d like to share?

One of the greatest challenges is the transition we are currently undergoing from instructors to mentors. The Ukrainian Armed Forces [UAF] have their own cadre of instructors called Combat Training Center [CTC] instructors, who are the ones that we will eventually be passing the torch to. They all have previous experience and are well-versed in their craft.

However, unlike us, the UAF does not have a standardized training structure. So, many of their instructors have never undergone training on how to teach a class or run a firing range. Only UAF officers are authorized to run live ranges here, which presents some limitations when running multiple training activities at the same time. In Canada we exercise a strict set of safety guidelines when planning and conducting training and the UAF functions differently.

We must first teach and mentor them in the ways of delivering the prerequisite weapons training, then instruct them in ways of planning a safe range, and finally mentor them through the process of conducting the range. Some might ask why we are imposing our safety standards on them, but this is actually something the UAF has requested of us. They wish to adopt more NATO-like safety standards and their leaders strive to learn as much from Canada and the U.S. as possible in this regard.

The training cycle, which completed in early July 2017, was approximately 80% CTC lead, with the remainder being covered by partner nations. Progression is present, but like most major changes, it takes time and patience to achieve. Seeing a tangible difference in the CTC instructors, and in the skills of the UAF soldiers that we train has been quite the uplifting experience.

Are you working closely with any American or British personnel? If so, how has that experience been?

LoE 1 is like a woven tapestry of international partners. My company is part of Canada’s JTF-U, but is actually the third training company in the U.S.-led training battalion. Within this training battalion are U.S., Lithuanian, Polish and Ukrainian instructors.

Our working relationships with these other partner nations are strong and effective. We currently run an exchange with the other U.S. training companies where we will attach instructors to them and they will attach instructors to my company for the duration of a 10-week training cycle.

LoE 1 is also unique in the sense that we include Lithuanian and Polish instructors to assist with sharpshooter and reconnaissance training. Our Canadian instructors are also often sought after by the British TF which runs short courses in various locations across the Ukraine. They will request our instructors to assist with delivering reconnaissance, urban operations, and leadership courses.

Communication is another hurdle we jump over each day while training, and to do so, LoE 1 employs Ukrainian, Canadian and Danish military translators to get the job done. The experience of working with these other partner nations has been memorable and an excellent learning opportunity for me and all of my instructors.

As Canadian soldiers we continue to perform well and show great versatility and knowledge, which has made us a very valuable partner in this NATO contribution.

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