Black Press reporter Kendra Wong at the Bay Street Armoury where she participated in Experience the Canadian Armed Forces which featured fitness testing including dragging and running with 20 kilogram sandbags. (Arnold Lim/Black Press)

What is it like to be part of the Canadian Armed Forces?

Try military rations, combat gear and simulated shooting range on Saturday

Standing at a military checkpoint along a dirt road armed with a C7A2 assault rifle, all seems calm.

A man stands in the nearby bushes casually bumping his first in the air as another couple and a white vehicle drive by. Then suddenly things take a turn for the worse.

The man in the bushes starts to advance towards the three Canadian Armed Forces officers, which includes myself. Almost out of nowhere, six or seven people emerge on the path walking towards us, chanting.

The chanting grows louder, as they draw closer, throwing their fists violently into the air. I take the safety off my rifle. We don’t know what they’re saying, but know it does not bode well for us.

My heart starts pounding and my palms begin to sweat. My eyes dart from one person to the next. Dozens of questions enter my mind: Are they enemies? Are they armed?

Then, one of the protesters throws something towards us. We fire our weapons, but it’s too late. There’s a flash of light across the screen and the scenario is over.

That scenario is one of four offered this week at the Bay Street Armoury in Victoria as part of the Experience the Canadian Armed Forces interactive event, which aims to give the public a feel for what it’s like to begin a career as a solider, sailor or aviator.

“People wonder what we eat, what weapons we use, what a fitness test looks like and they have no idea. We describe it to them or look at the YouTube videos, they need to see it, they need it [to be] hands on,” said Sgt. Gareth Elias, adding they hope more women will come out and give it a try.

“People automatically assume there are soldiers, sailors and pilots – air force, army and navy. There’s so many different jobs in all those organizations. We have over 100 jobs in the Canadian Armed Forces as a whole … essentially we have a uniformed version of most civilian occupations.”

But based on Thursday’s experience, in which members of the media participated, it’s not easy. Fitness, motivation and a drive to succeed are the types of people the armed forces are looking for, added Sgt. David Coull.

Members of the armed forces are required to pass four fitness tests.

The first includes a shuttle run, running 80 metres with breaks every 10 metres to dive to the ground, meant to simulate advancing towards an enemy position. The second is the sandbag lift, which requires participants to lift the 44-pound bags 30 times up to their waist or shoulder, depending on one’s height. The next is the intermittent loaded shuttle, in which participants must pick up a sandbag, carry it for 20 metres, drop it at the start line and run around a second time. That must be done five times.

The final – and most challenging – is the sandbag drag, where participants must drag 220 pounds for 20 metres without stopping to simulate dragging a casualty.

Once participants have worked up an appetite, they can try military rations. The rations, which come in a brown box and are the equivalent of 3,000 calories, take about five to 10 minutes to cook in a pressure cooker. Breakfast options, which can also be eaten cold, include beans and wieners, breakfast sausages, and hash browns, followed by a dessert of strawberry apple sauce or peaches and cream, which are “like money” in the military said Coull.

Up next, participants can strap on combat gear, including water, a gas mask and first-aid kit, and helmet and test out their shooting skills. Participants learn how to load an assault rifle and take aim at moving targets in a simulated shooting range.

Finally, participants can see what artillery simulations look like.

Sgt. Matt Spears joined the military when he was 17 years old after finding a pamphlet at his high school in Ladysmith and hasn’t looked back since.

“For me, it’s the camaraderie. It’s the training. I essentially have the amount of training to be close to a masters degree in indirect fire support,” he said. “Once you put the green on, you’re a part of the family. You know your buddies are there no matter what.”

Experience the Canadian Armed Forces takes place on Saturday, Nov. 18 at the Bay Street Armoury (713 Bay St.) from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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Black Press reporter Kendra Wong at the Bay Street Armoury where she participated in Experience the Canadian Armed Forces which featured fitness testing including dragging and running with 20 kilogram sandbags. (Arnold Lim/Black Press)

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