The June 11 Freedom of the City event for the Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians) is part celebration and part homecoming for the unit, which has spent much of the past five years in Afghanistan.
The regiment will have its cavalry unit on full display, but the modern day unit is more about heavy armour than horses.
According to unit adjutant Capt. Sandy Cooper, while the horse troupe is one of the most recognizable parts of the group, the soldiers today ride Leopard 2 tanks into battle.
The unit is comprised of two Leopard 2 tank squadrons, a reconnaissance unit that uses other armoured vehicles to help detect enemies in the field and a support element that helps keep everything running.
“They are the guys who make sure the tanks are running and that food, fuel and bullets are making it to the front to where the guys are fighting.”
The June 11 parade will include those support elements, which will be part of the 100 foot-soldiers marching in the event.
The group’s reconnaissance units were among the first to go to Afghanistan with Canadian troops in 2002 and played other roles, but since 2006 the tanks have been constant fixtures of the war.
Cooper said following a battle in 2006, Canadian commanders realized they needed tank capability to deal with insurgents who dug into positions and hid in makeshift bunkers.
He said the tanks are the heaviest piece of equipment in the Canadian arsenal, weighing in at 68 metric tons, so they are also protected from improvised explosive devices that have plagued the country.
“You can imagine with a vehicle that much bigger and heavier, you have a lot more armour protection.”
Canada had been moving away from using tanks, but Cooper said when the military called, the Strathconas were ready.
“The Strathconas at the time were the only unit in Canada with the tank capability because we were getting rid of it,” he said. “On six weeks notice we went from having no tank capability in Afghanistan to deploying 17 tanks.”
At the time the unit was divided into three tank squadrons, Cooper said, because they were the only unit in Canada with tanks. At any time one unit was either in Afghanistan, just returned or gearing up to go.
“That is eight consecutive tank squadrons back to back to back that were deployed from our regiment in Edmonton, so virtually no other regiment in the military has had that kind of operational burden placed on it.”
Since 2006, that has meant some members have been away a lot.
“We have soldiers in the regiment who have done four combat deployments to Afghanistan.”
Cooper said that, while there are a handful of soldiers away and a few are expected to deploy as part of the upcoming training mission, most of the regiment is home.
“We do have almost every soldier in our regiment in Canada for the first time in a very long time, so this is a perfect time to get together and receive such a great honour from the city of St. Albert.”
The event begins at the Cenotaph on Saturday, June 11 where Mayor Nolan Crouse will grant the Freedom of the City honour upon the regiment, which will march and drive past in their vehicles.
The regiment expects to have 14 tanks on hand as well as 14 Coyote armoured vehicles, historic vehicles and other equipment. The regiment’s famed mounted troop will also be there.
After taking a parade route to Riel Park, the regiment will be on hand to greet the public, where there will also be band performances and free hot dogs courtesy of the St. Albert Gazette.