It often seems that our military institutions are shrouded in secrecy. However, on November 30, 2018, the Canadian Forces eagerly welcomed us to the Peace Support Training Centre (PSTC) at CFB Kingston. While I have had the opportunity to visit military bases and engage with military personnel before, this experience was particularly eye-opening and left me with a heightened appreciation for the work being done by the Canadian Armed Forces.

Canadian annual military spending is approximately $20 billion, representing just 1.3% of our GDP and 1.2% of the global military spending (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute). As such, there is no expectation that Canada will boast the fastest fighter planes, the most capable tanks, or the largest number of personnel. Rather, there seems to have been a pragmatic and calculated decision to focus a portion of our limited military spending where Canada can have the greatest impact: peace support training.

Our first session at the PSTC introduced us to Trauma Hal, an incredibly realistic and technologically-advanced human dummy used for hands-on training of combat first aid. Trauma Hal’s chest moves with respiration, his pupils can dilate in response to light, his tongue can swell from shock, and he even has a pulse. All controlled from a tablet, he is loaded with sensors for immediate feedback when practicing simulated first aid. We had the opportunity to try performing CPR compressions and graphs monitored whether our compressions were deep enough and fast enough. In more complex scenarios, Trauma Hal can be attached to appendages with gunshot wounds or trauma from mine explosions and programmed to respond to the student’s actions, including bleeding out if a tourniquet is not correctly applied. Needless to say, I was extremely impressed with Trauma Hal and the modern technology available to support student learning at the centre.

After sitting amongst military personnel from throughout the base in the Routledge Dining Hall at lunch, we returned to the PSTC to learn about the threat of mines and other explosive devices. A collection of inert models in all shapes and sizes covered two tables to illustrate the wide variety of applications for explosive devices in modern warfare and the difficulty of detection. In fact, the Master Corporal leading the presentation suggested that crawling along the ground with a long stick for prodding remains one of the best methods. To prepare soldiers for deployment to regions with explosive threats, the Canadian Forces create simulated minefields, complete with explosions. Equipped with safety goggles and hearing protection, we went outside and watched some ‘practice mines’ being set-off. By stepping on a pin buried under leaves, for example, a pressurized carbon dioxide cartridge was punctured causing a startling “BOOM” and sending a plume of grey powder billowing above. It was a simple tool, yet extremely important to save lives.

While obviously serving as a training centre for Canadian Forces personnel, the PSTC also provides training to Global Affairs Canada staff being deployed to hazardous environments and welcomes military personnel from allied forces all around the world. For example, the Canadian Forces recently supported the Lebanese Armed Forces in designing and facilitating civil-military cooperation training. While the mission only involved a few Canadian Forces personnel in Lebanon over the period of a few months, the impact is long-lasting. It has forged stronger ties between the Canadian and Lebanese forces and has empowered the Lebanese Armed Forces with knowledge that can be passed on. The United States may have given Lebanon armoured vehicles with a much larger price tag, but Canada’s contribution strategically capitalizes on our strengths in training and further strengthens military and diplomatic relationships.

While Canada may not be as actively involved in UN peacekeeping missions, our trip to the PSTC demonstrated to me that the philosophy remains important to the Canadian Armed Forces and guides some of the important work they do. Everyone we encountered at the PSTC was extremely willing to share their experiences with us and I am thankful to have had the opportunity to learn from them.