Operation Paintfall

We came. We saw. We splattered.

The rural roads outside of Cochrane, Alberta were a buzz early in the morning on Saturday, the 22nd of September, as over half-a-dozen “wannabe” soldiers, plus some former and currently active members of the armed forces, barreled towards the battlefield in an assortment of vehicles.  These valiant men and women owed allegiance to the elite University of Calgary organization known as the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies and this Saturday would feature them doing battle.  Normally a unit of unparalleled determination and skill, CMSS was forced by a lack of competitive spirit from the History and Political Science departments to initiate a “blue on blue” engagement for the duration of the paintball matches.  Read on to discover how the students, young and old, showcased skills learned in the classroom pertaining to the strategic and operational levels of war and how they were applied at the tactical level as a means of thwarting the delusions of grandeur expressed by their fellow classmates.

The combatants arrived at CTF paintball and were tasked with signing various declarations of war to appease the warlords who managed the battlefields.

Warrior Steph.

The soldiers, sailors, and airmen of CMSS then made a trip to the armoury to acquire their kit and weapons.  Some opted for a weapons upgrade for they felt it would give them a decided “edge” in a firefight over those who used the standard-issue paintball gun.  After acquiring ammunition and being instructed in both safety and destruction, teams were selected along with the first battlefield, a forested and tire-infested location of roughly two-hundred metres in length.

Round 1, Capture the Flag:

With war cries from the opposing sides, the battle began.  Stomping could be heard through the trees, tire walls, and obstacles as both teams sought superior fire positions overlooking the enemy bases.  After what seemed like an eternity of pitched battle, two soldiers from Team Yellow used the right flank to swing around the enemy base towards the flag.

Tim Choi – man of action.

The two enemy combatants holed-up in the base were dispatched by one member of Team Yellow while the other kept watch outside and planned their escape route.  With flag in hand, the two began their swift return to base along the seemingly-empty right flank. Roughly halfway through their sprint, however, the two were engaged by a former member of the Canadian Forces who displayed exceptional skill.  While the flag-bearer became a casualty of war, his teammate maintained his position until reinforcements arrived. After almost ten minutes of intermittent fire, the flag was brought back to Team Yellow’s base for the victory.

Round 2, Castle Keep:

Round 2 pitted Team Old School against Team New School, with PhDs, alumni, and honourary Old School members waging war against the MSS students. The wooded battleground was exchanged for open terrain, with each team having a clear view of the other side’s wooden castle. While flags were the objective, the terrain meant that fire and maneuver tactics were the only efficient way of reaching the castle walls.  Team Old School, claiming the nearer base, caught their opponents off guard by engaging before Team New School could discuss tactics.  These precious few seconds prevented the greenhorns from positioning themselves at an effective distance from their own castle, thus allowing the veterans to seize the tactical initiative, which they never relinquished.

Brock and Maria engaging the enemy.

Though Team New School’s defence was spirited, the two remaining combatants were unable to prevent the numerically-superior Old Schoolers from breaching the castle walls and reaching the inner sanctum to seize the flag.

Round 3, Castle Keep v2.0:

The day’s engagement saw the unchanged teams do battle on the same course. This time, the adversary’s castle was the objective. Rather than capturing the flag, teams sought to plant their own flag in the other’s castle. In addition, all ammunition was to be expended on the battlefield.  With both teams establishing strong starting positions, the battle quickly became an ammunition-conserving exercise.

During the ensuing stalemate, events on the veteran side took an unfortunate turn as the undisputed leader sustained an injury and had to be taken away by the combat medics.  Charges of cowardice were later dropped as it became apparent that he stepped in a punji trap – carefully disguised as a gopher hole – and did not, in fact, discharge his own weapon into his foot.  Because of his injury, the Generalissimo was unable to attend a Catalina Wine Mixer scheduled for that evening.  Despite losing their commanding officer, Team Old School’s remaining soldiers rallied together to lob their flag into the rookies’ inner sanctum and secure the victory.

Postwar debriefing.


The Centre for Military and Strategic Studies’ day of paintball would not have been possible without the generous financial assistance of the University of Calgary’s Alumni Association, whose support is greatly appreciated.

MSS student Bill Carruthers took on the task of organizing this event and he deserves special thanks for taking time out of his busy schedule to put on a fantastic CMSS paintball excursion.

MSS student Boris Trnavskis provided post-match snacks and drinks to the sixteen combatants.  Thanks Boris!

PhD student Patrick Ulrich braved enemy fire to deliver these fantastic photos. Thank you Patrick!

Finally, a big thank you to all of the drivers who took as many occupants as they possibly could for the trek from Calgary to Cochrane.

Editing credit: an anonymous member of Team Yellow.

— Brock Reumkens, MSS Candidate


RCN Conducts Historic Trip To Churchill, Manitoba

Last August the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) achieved a major milestone in northern operations. Under the auspices of Canada Command’s annual Operation Nanook, HMCS ST. JOHN’S conducted a port visit in Churchill Manitoba. For the most part, this occasion was overshadowed by a public display of Joint Task Force 2, Canada’s premiere, and much secretive, special forces unit. Nonetheless, a naval presence at Churchill is a significant feat in protecting Canadian northern interests that must be recognized.

The Fo’c’sle of HMCS St. John’s. Port of Churchill in the background.

The visit of ST. JOHN’S marks the first time that a patrol frigate, a naval vessel better known for protecting Canada’s international interests off the coasts of Libya and Somalia, has ever visited the remote community. In fact, the last time a major Canadian warship ever visited Churchill is believed to have been by HMCS PROTECTEUR in 1974.

To mark the uniqueness of the occasion, and the historical contribution that sailors from the prairies have made towards the RCN, ST. JOHN’S held a small ceremony to paint the bullring green. Painting the nose of a ship is a longstanding naval tradition to mark specific maritime achievements, such as the crossing the equator or the Arctic Circle. By painting the bullring in Churchill, the sailors of ST. JOHN’S have created a new tradition for the RCN. Green was thought best to represent the prairies, although the decision process was rumoured to been hijacked by a group of Rough Rider fans.

Author painting the bullring of HMCS St. John’s

The notion of a Canadian warship visiting a prairie province will strike most as odd. It is often overlooked that Manitoba is in fact a maritime province, despite transit being ice locked for the majority of the year. Within this context a naval presence in Churchill holds greater geopolitical significance. On a map, Churchill loosely represents the geographic centre of Canada. Its port facilities export a sizable amount of Canadian grain to foreign markets. With Arctic ice receding this facility is expected to become more strategically and economically significant to Canadian interests. By visiting Churchill the RCN has demonstrated it presently has the capacity to protect Canada’s domestic interests in Hudson Bay during the period of seasonal transit. Furthermore, the fact the RCN has decided to visit Churchill preemptively, or before any maritime incidence drew its presence into the region, should be applauded.

Since 2002 the RCN has consistently expanded its presence in the North. It is certainly true that future ice strengthened warships will no doubt expand the navy’s northern reach.  However, Canada’s northern naval presence has been pushed to the seasonal limit of the icepack with Arctic operations being treated with utmost seriousness. It is not uncommon to find sailors on their third, or even fourth, Operation Nanook.  In August alone, close to one-quarter of the east coast’s readily available fleet was deployed on northern operations.  As the Canadian Arctic transit season prolongs, and international polar shipping increases, the navy finds itself  “Ready, Aye, Ready”.

HMCS St. John’s Sea King “Black Horse” passes iceberg estimated to be 140 metres tall.