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Total Force

June 2, 2009  By Mike Minnich

"Total Force” was a buzzword that came into currency in the 1980s to define the concept of Reservists being much more closely integrated into the day-to-day operations of the Regular-Force military than had been the case previously. A need to maximize cost-effectiveness spelled the end of the “two solitudes, us-and-them” mentality that had permeated both Reserve and Regular Force thinking for decades.

"Total Force” was a buzzword that came into currency in the 1980s to
define the concept of Reservists being much more closely integrated
into the day-to-day operations of the Regular-Force military than had
been the case previously. A need to maximize cost-effectiveness spelled
the end of the “two solitudes, us-and-them” mentality that had
permeated both Reserve and Regular Force thinking for decades.

The 400 Tactical Helicopter Squadron operates seven CH-146 Griffon utility/tactical-transport helicopters (UTTH), which are basically militarized Bell 412s.

Located at sprawling CFB Borden, outside the town of the same name in
southern Ontario about 90 kilometres north of Toronto, 400 Tactical
Helicopter Squadron today comprises about 100 Reservists (20 of them
currently on “B Class” full-time employment contracts, while the rest
are traditional “A Class” weekend-duty part-timers) and 90 Reg Force
members who operate seven CH-146 Griffon utility/tactical-transport
(UTTH) helicopters, which are basically militarized Bell 412s.
Reporting to 1 Wing in Kingston – which controls all
tactical-helicopter units in Canada – it’s an outfit whose activities
span a wide and exciting range of duty…and represent Total Force in

“We have about 35 Regular and Reserve squadron members over in
Afghanistan as I speak (early March 2009), wrapping up a six-month tour
of duty that saw most of them comprising about half of the Tactical
Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (TUAV) Flight at Kandahar Airfield, while six
other technicians have been working as maintainers on the Chinook
medium-lift helicopters that Canada recently acquired,” Lt.-Col. Doug
Moodie, a full-time Reservist who’s been squadron commanding officer
since July 2007, begins.


“Prepping for that commitment was a key focus of our activities for the
past 18 months or so, but it certainly wasn’t our only tasking,” he
goes on. “In the summer of 2007 we did our recurring duty of flying
three Griffons north to CFS Alert on Ellesmere Island in the High
Arctic (Op Hurricane) to help with annual refurbishment of power
supplies and other requirements up there; in spring 2008 we deployed to
CFB Wainwright, Alta., to provide tac-hel assets for EX Maple Guardian,
which is the confirmation exercise for each Army battle group heading
to Afghanistan; each fall we provide airlift to the RCMP for Operation
Sabot, which is the marijuana-eradication program across southern
Ontario; and in February of 2009 we deployed to Vancouver and other
locations in British Columbia for training related to our assignment as
part of a huge Canadian Forces support operation for the 2010 Winter
Olympics – Operation Podium.”

Aircraft systems tech Master Cpl. Doug Pilon has been recommended for a “commissioning from the ranks” to continue his career as an Aerospace Engineering Officer.
Capt. Rob Ames has flown Griffons on assignments as diverse as a NATO peacekeeping tour in Bosnia and transporting the late Pope John-Paul II when he visited Toronto.
Lt.-Col. Doug Moodie is a full-time Reservist and has been squadron commanding officer since July 2007.
Sgt. Mike Hiltz, one of 10 flight engineers at 400 Squadron, expects he’ll be tapped for a tour of duty in Afghanistan within the next two years, either on Chinooks or Griffons.  
An Air Reservist since 1983, Master Cpl. Michelle Miskey oversees processing new Reserve members into the unit.


Off to Afghanistan
Lt.-Col. Moodie notes that the unit’s traditional strength of seven
Griffons is now down to six…and there’s a pretty interesting reason for

“Prior to late 2008, the Air Force’s support to Canadian Joint Task
Force Afghanistan mainly consisted of airlifting personnel and
equipment into an airbase in the Persian Gulf by CC-150 Airbus and C-17
long-range jet transports, where the cargo was typically re-loaded into
CC-130 Hercules turboprop tactical airlifters and flown north to
Kandahar Airfield (KAF), plus a UAV tactical surveillance unit there.
However, now we have six Chinook medium/heavy-lift helicopters based at
KAF, and the newly created Air Wing also needed eight modified Griffons
for the armed escort role, so one of our aircraft was selected –
subsequently equipped with fast-firing door machine-guns and other
combat-support systems – and is over there right now,” he reports. “I
think we’ll get it back after 2011, but that’s yet to be determined.”

Moodie also notes that more 400 Sqn personnel are headed into
Afghanistan, with three flight engineers in the process of qualifying
on Chinooks, as well as two pilots who just completed conversion
training. While it might seem odd that experienced Griffon aircrew are
being retrained onto the much larger Chinook, the answer is simple:
Canada hasn’t operated Chinooks since about 1994, so all personnel for
that unit need to come from some other fleet, while there are many more
Griffon-qualified aircrew and technicians available for the CH-146s
over there.

In another development, for many years a civilian-registered leased
Bell 206 helicopter was operated by 400 (similar to a couple of other
tac-hel units across Canada) to provide rotary-wing conversion training
for Reg Force (or recently retired Reg Force) pilots who were joining
the unit but had previously flown fixed-wing, and also for
non-prior-service civilian commercial helicopter pilots (500
rotary-wing hours minimum) who could join the Air Reserve and earn
their wings through a specialized course called HELICOP. All these 206s
have now gone off-lease, so that activity is currently at a standstill.

“I hear that they’re working on an alternative method to achieve this,”
he says, “and I’m hoping it gets implemented this year. We already have
three ex-Reg Force pilots awaiting that training.”

Over in the A Flight offices, a pilot who’s a new Air Reservist but
vastly experienced on Griffons sat down with me to provide a
cockpit-eye perspective of flying with Canada’s senior Air Force
squadron (400 Sqn – then known as No. 10 Army Cooperation Squadron –
was stood-up in Toronto in October 1932, as part of the RCAF Auxiliary;
ironically, its main function again today could be described as “Army

“I just joined 400 as a Reservist this past November, but had served a
three-year tour here at the start of the decade, when I was in the Reg
Force,” Capt. Rob Ames explains. “I wrapped up a 22-year Reg Force
career in Edmonton in 2006, and then flew helicopters in civvie life
for three years – first in an oil-field-support capacity in Alberta,
then with Canadian Helicopters Ltd., as one of their contracted pilots
to Ornge, the Ontario air-ambulance service. That last job put us in
Sudbury, which didn’t have much appeal for my wife, so I investigated
getting into the Air Reserve, and found a ready opportunity here.”

Ames learned to fly as a civilian at the Borden Flying Club at age 16
when his career-soldier father was posted here. After a short stint in
the Militia at London, Ont., Ames was accepted for military college,
graduating from Royal Military College of Canada, Kingston, Ont., in
1988. He’d already completed several phases of pilot training at that
point and, after flying Tutor jets at Moose Jaw, Sask., he received his
wings in December 1989. His ultimate goal had always been helicopters,
and his first operational posting saw him flying CH-136 Kiowas (a
military variant of the Bell 206) in Edmonton.

Extensive Experience

“I flew Kiowas for several years until that fleet was retired in the
mid-1990s, and then cross-trained onto CH-135 Twin Hueys…and then
they shortly retired that fleet, too, when the Forces consolidated all
tac-hel assets with the Griffon,” he recalls with smile. He currently
has 1,100 hours logged on the CH-146 (out of a total of 5,100 hours
rotary-wing time), and has flown Griffons on assignments as diverse as
a NATO peacekeeping tour in Bosnia and transporting the late Pope
John-Paul II when he visited Toronto.

“In a typical week here on B-Class, I’ll generally have at least a
couple training flights with other pilots – either day or night – and,
since I’m one of four instrument check pilots in the squadron, I’ll
often be doing a ‘ticket ride’ on somebody,” he notes. “Also, there
regularly are test flights, as aircraft come out of maintenance, and
there can be a variety of outside taskings, such as working with an
Army Reserve unit on a local exercise, or picking up senior personnel
in Ottawa to fly them to Meaford, and so forth.

“You have your slack weeks, and you have your busy weeks,” he sums up.
“In a really busy month I might log upwards of 50 hours – like when we
flew out to B.C. for the Olympics-related training – and some months 10
hours. I have to say that my Reg-Force tour here with 400 Squadron a
few years ago was my favourite posting of my whole career, so it’s
great to be back.”

Griffons fly with two pilots and a flight engineer, and 22-year CF
veteran Sgt. Mike Hiltz, 40, is one of 10 F/Es (including one
Reservist) handling the latter duties at the squadron.
“I started off in the Air Force as an instrument-electronics tech, and
remustered to flight engineer in 2002,” he explains. “In April 2002, I
came to 400 Squadron as my first F/E posting, and have been here ever
since. We’ve been working pretty hard here, and I’ve logged 1,700 hours
on Griffons so far.”

The flight engineer’s job is a multifaceted one that backstops the
pilots in a number of areas. It starts with the pre-flight inspection,
visually checking key components of the aircraft to ensure that
everything looks flight-worthy, as well as consulting all maintenance
logbooks to ensure that all necessary activities have been accomplished.

Safety Focus

“That walkaround can take about an hour,” Hiltz notes, “and then I’ll
typically go to the ops briefing and report that aircraft as
mission-ready. The pilots do their own inspections just prior to
strapping-in and engine start, of course, and I’m there to back them
up, ensuring all outside access panels are secured, external locks and
covers are removed, and so forth. While in flight, I monitor fuel
consumption, among other things, and, if we have passengers on board,
I’m the guy who makes sure they’re strapped-in properly, know their
emergency-egress drills, and so forth.”

As the Griffon approaches touchdown at the end of a flight, the F/E
will typically be hunched in an open side door, secured by a “monkey
harness” and nylon safety line to a cleat in the floor, and will look
down to confirm the distance remaining to touchdown, giving ongoing
updates over the intercom to the pilots. If the landing is out in rough
terrain, it’s also vital that he help spot any sharp branches, large
rocks or other impediments that the aircraft might be settling onto.

Flight engineers also work closely with the ground technicians. For
example, the inspections of the tail-rotor and main-rotor blades for
corrosion or other problems are typically handled by the ground crew
when at base, but by the F/E when the aircraft is temporarily deployed
in the field.

Sgt. Hiltz expects he’ll be tapped for a tour of duty in Afghanistan
within the next two years, either on Chinooks or Griffons. If it’s
Griffons, he’ll have an added duty that is unique to that combat

“The CH-146s are over there primarily in the armed escort role, and for
that purpose have been armed with two door machine-guns,” he notes. “As
I understand it, one gun is being manned by a combat-arms soldier from
the Army, but the other is the responsibility of the aircraft’s flight
engineer. We F/Es here in Canada have been training for that role, and
I’ve been to several ‘gun camps’ where we practise air-to-ground
gunnery with a 7.62-millimetre C6 machine-gun mounted on a pintle
that’s braced to both the outside fuselage and the helicopter’s skid.”

Back on the hangar floor, aircraft systems tech Master Cpl. Doug Pilon,
41, describes the circuitous route that brought him to 400 Squadron:

“I’m from Halifax, started off in the Militia there in 1984 as an admin
clerk, and did a mix of A-Class and B-Class duty while I was gong to
university,” he begins. “Then in 1993 I switched to the Naval Reserve
there, also in administration. One day I decided I wanted a change,
something that would address both my love of science and of solving
problems…and being an aviation technician in the Regular Air Force
looked like a good way to go.”

Enrolling in January 1998, his post-trades-training career has seen him
exclusively work on Griffons: first at Gagetown, N.B. (which included a
one-month assignment to Bosnia), and then, since July 2007, here at 400
Squadron. He likes both the challenges of the job and the somewhat
unusual aspect of interacting with A-Class Reservists.

“Those part-time techs are really motivated,” he observes. “We depend
on them quite a bit, and a lot of the time things that we didn’t have a
chance to get to during the normal duty week have been wrapped up by
them when we come in again Monday morning. Many of them do it for the
love of it more than the money…we have one Reservist who drives here
from Ottawa every-other weekend!”

Detective Work

Pilon has always been fascinated by police-detective work, and sees a
structural similarity between solving a crime and solving a mechanical
snag on a helicopter.

“Pretty much on a weekly basis, you’ll encounter some snag that really
requires you to think,” he explains. “Like a policeman, you kind of
have to line up your ‘suspects’ as far as the possible causes of the
snag, then pick your best suspect and investigate that first. Sometimes
you’re wrong, but experience can make your intuition pretty solid.

“Just yesterday, I was balancing a main rotor, and would put a weight
exactly where the computer program told me to…and it made the problem
worse! I did another adjustment, followed the computer’s guidance…and
it got worse still,” he reports. “So I told myself to STOP, and just
rethink everything. I went back to the aircraft, rotated the head, and,
sure enough, the interrupter was 180 degrees on the opposite side. The
sensor had been installed wrong, so the information I was getting was
exactly the opposite of what I needed!”

Master Cpl. Pilon’s love of mechanical detective work may be getting a
boost in the near future: he’s been recommended for a “commissioning
from the ranks” (CFR), and upon acceptance and then completion of the
necessary training, he’d be continuing his career as an Aerospace
Engineering Officer.

The author’s final stop at 400 Squadron was in the recruiting office,
where Master Cpl. Michelle Miskey oversees processing new Reserve
members into the unit. She’s been an Air Reservist since 1983, on a mix
of A- and B-Class service.

“For a non-prior-service person who walks in off the street and is
interested in the Air Reserve, we generally find out about them from
the nearby Canadian Forces Recruiting Centre in Barrie,” she explains.
“The CFRC will put them in contact with me, and I explain the basics of
how the Air Reserve operates, and what jobs are currently available at
400 Squadron. If the individual is still interested, their aptitude
tests, physical fitness tests, medical and interview are all handled by
the Recruiting Centre. The file then comes to me for processing, and I
send it off to 1 Canadian Air Division in Winnipeg, where it’s reviewed
and a decision about offering the person a terms-of-service agreement
is made.”

Master Cpl. Miskey does some proactive recruiting – often in
conjunction with the CFRC, as at a recent booth at the National Women’s
Show in Toronto – but there’s enough “self-generated” local interest by
potential recruits that this isn’t a major requirement. In 2008, she
processed two non-prior-service enrolments, five transfers-in from
retiring members of the Regular Force, eight transfers from the
Supplementary Reserve (basically a database of retired/released CF
members – Regular or Reserve), and two incoming transfers of
already-enrolled Reservists from other Air Reserve units.

“We have a number of A-Class openings currently, in a variety of trades
ranging from pilot and flight engineer to vehicle tech, supply tech,
aviation systems tech and cook, so I’d be happy to hear from any
interested individuals,” she notes. Her e-mail address is:

400 Squadron is one of just three “Reserve-heavy” Total Force flying
units in the Air Force currently (the other two are a similar
helicopter unit in Montreal, and a squadron in Winnipeg operating
Dash-8 flying classrooms for airborne systems specialists). The rest of
the Air Reserve consists of a great number of individuals working –
full or part time – within Reg Force aviation units across Canada in a
wide variety of specialties.

What they all have in common is a love of aviation and a desire to
serve Canada – and that’s a good combination for times like these.

Mike Minnich is a Toronto-based freelance writer who has served both as
a Regular in the U.S. Air Force and as a 26-year Reservist in the
Canadian Air Reserve.


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