LCol Michel-Henri St-Louis, commanding
officer of the 1 R22eR Battle Group,
stands on parade under his regimental
flag after delivering his address to the
troops during the parade marking the
transfer of Panjwai District to LCol
Steve Miller and the 3rd Battalion,
21st U.S. Infantry Regiment.
Ma’sum Ghar, Afghanistan — In only eight months, with 130 deliberate operations that led to the discovery of 300 caches and 250 improvised explosive devices, more than 3,000 patrols, eight schools opened with some 2,000 students, 30 kilometres of road built to link the west to the east and the north to the south … and all of that with lowest civilian losses : the record of the 1st Battalion Royal 22e Régiment Battle Group reads as a testimonial of the exploits of our brave soldiers who, through their own exceptional ability to conduct counter-insurgency operations, have changed the face of Panjwai District for all time.
On 5 July 2011, at Forward Operating Base Ma’sum Ghar, the ceremonial transfer of the 1 R22eR Battle Group’s zone of operations to the 3rd Battalion, 21st U.S. Infantry Regiment marked the end of a chapter, not only of the history of the Canadian Forces, but also of the lives of those who shaped the tale.
The following accounts convey the thoughts and emotions experienced by our leaders during this ceremony, a turning point in both their lives and their careers.
When the participants in the ceremony addressed the troops, CWO Gravel expressed his satisfation in taking nearly all his men and women home to their families. In his view, although it is tragic that three of our soldiers lost their lives, it is equally significant that so many are going home safe and sound, due to the determination with which the members of the battle group held their ground, all the way to the end of the mission.
“We did what we came here to do,” he asserted.
First and foremost, it was the courage of the battle group’s soldiers on the ground that impressed him: “Going out every day to shake hands with people who could just as easily be enemies as friends … It didn’t matter, they went out just the same. That takes a lot of courage.”
Personally, he takes pride in having contributed to the training of a team of 1,400 men and women from a wide range of backgrounds who, together, succeeded in making progress. The RSM offered this thought:
“Today, we have a tendency to underestimate the importance of esprit de corps — team spirit. The training schedule is so packed during the pre-deployment period that we must not lose our grasp of basic things such as the importance of building a solid team early in the process.”
This mission has completely preoccupied the Deputy Commander of the 1 R22eR Battle Group since November 2007, when he learned that the job was his. “I began thinking about the training plan in 2008. Night and day, every thought or idea that passed through my mind had something to do with Afghanistan.”
In January 2009, he presented the Commanding Officer with the pre-deployment training plan, which would become the road map for most of the next two years. Consequently, 5 July at Ma’sum Ghar was the very end of the undertaking that filled three years of his life.
Standing before an American platoon, he was filled with feelings of accomplishment, but also a certain nostalgia as he passed the last hours of some 20 years of service as an infantry officer in a battalion. Without shedding a tear, he nevertheless choked up during the ceremony, seeing his infantry career pass before his eyes like a movie.
“In the Chinook, I looked at the CO and said to myself, It’s over, and it went by too fast. Deputy Commander of a battle group — that’s the best job, because you have a finger in every pie. I was involved in all the plans, all the files, and I had the privilege of commanding troops in combat for nearly a month. It’s every infantry officer’s dream come true, and I will be forever in the CO’s debt for that.”
LCol Dufault will leave the 1st Battalion, Royal 22e Régiment to contribute to the instiution as an instructor at the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario. “That will be my chance to pay it forward,” he said.
Standing before his troops for the last time, the maestro of the last battle group of the Canadian combat mission in Afghanistan took a trip through time: back 25 years, to the very first days of his military career when he was just a teenager.
Master Warrant Officer Laurent St-Louis belonged to the régiment de Châteauguay, now known as the 4th Battalion, Royal 22e Régiment. He had fought bravely with the Royal 22e Régiment during the Second World War. His grandson Michel-Henri was born more than 20 years after the war, and even then he never doubted that the youngster would figure not only in the Regiment’s own annals but also in the history of the Canadian Forces of the 21st Century.
When Michel-Henri enrolled in the Collège militaire royal in1987, Grandpapa Laurent vowed that someday, he would salute his grandson. Alas, only a year before Michel-Henri’s graduation, Laurent St-Louis died, his dream never realized. This was a formative event for the Commanding Officer, and it resurfaced today.
Passionately, he devoted himself body and soul to this last combat mission in Afghanistan. At its end, the man who was once that young cadet recalled his grandfather’s wish. With damp eyes, LCol St-Laurent summed up his assessment of his accomplishments: “I believe he would have been proud of me.”
These men shouldered the burden of the high expectations of a national grown skeptical about a complex and sometimes incomprehensible conflict. The tightly knit team that the 1 R22eR Battle Group became over time enabled them to accomplish a monumental task: giving Canada a positive legacy from the mission in Afghanistan.
With a warrior spirit coloured with humanity, clear vision and a motivated team, we have delivered well beyond our original objectives: Fight, convince and build.
Je me souviens!