WAR GAMES: SD&G Highlanders sharpen tactical skills

By Adam Brazeau 
CORNWALL, Ontario – On an otherwise serene path at Guindon Park, a man attempting to smuggle heavy artillery through a military checkpoint used a knife to take a young soldier hostage.

The simulated scenario was based on a real life experience instructor Jean-Andre Boucher faced while fighting in Afghanistan during his 24 years in the Canadian Armed Forces.

With a background in “hard cases,” the 42-year-old Montreal resident portrayed a war criminal connected to the Taliban, he encountered as a commander on his first tour.

“Soldiers must have cold blood and not demonstrate that they’re nervous,” said Boucher.

“Coming home safe from a mission means always being ready because your enemy’s behaviour can change in a matter of seconds.”

It was all part of Exercise Hollywood Raven: a weekend-long army training hosted by the SD&G Highlanders in and around the city from May 1-3 – mostly in the vicinity of the Cornwall Armoury.

At the makeshift vehicle checkpoint barricaded with barbwire and a spike strip, a small group of young soldiers had their skills tested.

A van with a twenty-something male in the passenger seat and a grisly-looking man at the wheel were eager to make an exit.

Boucher is in full character. His thick Russian accent makes it difficult for the trainees to understand him. At first the tone is civil, until the war criminal is asked for proper identification. After refusing the request, guns were drawn and orders to exit the vehicle were shouted with increasing intensity.

“Our role here is to support local law enforcement by trying to intercept contraband weapons and terrorists being smuggled into Canada,” said Capt. J.R. (Jim) Devine, SD&G Highlanders operations officer.

As the young man is escorted to a tent off to the side in the wooded-area, Boucher takes one of the servicemen by the helmet and threatens to take his life, while holding a prop blade to his neck.

“There are a lot of threat cues that the enemy as a human being will display – nervousness or over-confidence,” said Boucher.

After a few missed attempts, the soldiers were able to gain control of the situation and tackle the instructor to the dirt.

Boucher revealed that his character had paid the passenger $500 to use his van and never mentioned the guns packed in his luggage.

“This sort of thing happens all the time,” said Devine.

Whenever an increased military presence is required on national soil or abroad, the SD&G Highlanders provide auxiliary security forces.

Devine said the training provided a rare glimpse into the life-and-death decisions made on the battlefield.

“We paused a couple of times to force them to get the big picture and come away with decisions in split seconds, but overall the guys did great,” boasted Boucher.

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