Base Gagetown soldiers help Solomon Islands with ongoing explosives concerns
Published Sunday, October 30, 2016 6:43PM ADT
A small group of soldiers from Base Gagetown spent the the month of September almost 9,000 kilometres away, joining other nations in helping the people of the Solomon Islands who have been dealing with an explosive problem that spans decades.
For years, the 500,000 people who call the Solomon Islands home have had to deal with dangerous relics from another time.
"It's not laid perfectly on top of the ground. It's, you know, a farmer was tilling his field by hand, hit something metal, dug it up, picked it up and put it at the base of the tree and it turns out it's almost a two-foot long piece of explosive ordnance," said Sgt. Mark Ridgeley of the 5th Canadian Division Support Base Gagetown.
Sgt. Ridgeley says the explosive devises can still be found there today.
“It could be something as small as a 5.5 millimetre round, to a hand grenade, to a large artillery round that's about as large as your thigh," he said.
After Pearl Harbour, the Americans retaliated on Japan and the islands were caught in the cross fire. There was heavy fighting at sea, on land, and from the air. The islands remain littered with unexploded shells, mines and grenades.
Sgt. Ridgeley and Cpt. Eric Hawn saw it first-hand.
"We'll start getting phone calls, we'll start getting not so much flag downs, but they'll tell us to stop and say, hey, my son found something over here, can you take a look? And we'll go and it will be six hand grenades," said Sgt. Ridgeley.
They call it operation render safe. Sgt. Ridgeley and Cpt. Hawn were two of six Gagetown soldiers who spent a month on the islands, along with 200 others from five different nations, helping dispose of the explosive leftovers from the war.
And they found plenty.
"As a task force, and that includes Australia, New Zealand, the Brits and Canada, we found close to 3,000 pieces of ordnance, which weighs in excess of 18 tonnes," said Cpt. Hawn.
The two say the operation took their skills to another level. The soldiers would show locals photos of what the ordnance looks like, and the locals would immediately be able to point out where they'd seen one.
Cpt. Hawn says there was a trust that grew between the two nations.
"It's amazing to see your subordinates and how proud they are to wear that flag in an environment like that where, they're in the community and the community really enjoys them being there,” said Cpt. Hawn
"It's amazing,” said Sgt. Ridgeley. “It's effectively what I've trained for my entire year. To actually be the guy on the ground, to be the individual who makes the call, I now have actual experience."
With files from CTV Atlantic’s Laura Brown.