Serving as a family

Members of the North Saskatchewan Regiment advance on an enemy during a training exercise at an armoury open house on September 30, 2017. (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

Ramsey Bellisle lives to serve his community.

The long-time paramedic has been a part of Prince Albert for years. But what many may not know is he also serves his country as a member of the army reserves.

Chief Warrant Officer Bellisle has been with the North Saskatchewan Regiment, a light infantry reserve unit based in Prince Albert and Saskatoon, for 24 years. During that time he’s met his wife, made lifelong friendships and served two tours of duty overseas. For Bellisle, it’s all about service.

“I joined the military because I wanted to serve my country,” Bellisle said. “I thought about it on a national level. Since high school, I have served my community as a paramedic, municipally and provincially, and nationally as a soldier.”

Bellisle had multiple opportunities to transfer over to the regular force, but he’s happy to stay in the reserves.

“This is my regiment, this is my family,” he said. “I met my wife here, my son is now in the regiment, and I’ve got a lot of brothers and sisters in the regiment. They’re not my blood brothers, but we’re all family.”
The North Saskatchewan Regiment, which trains out of the Prince Albert armoury, was one of dozens of units from across the country that opened their doors to the public for an open house Saturday. The event was meant to show people what other community members can do, in an effort to recruit more to join their cause.

The local unit had their weaponry and a vehicle on display, as well as other gear. They also held demonstrations of their training. Using blanks, they navigated through obstacles as they closed on an enemy combatant.

That’s just one of the ways the group trains twice a week.

A member of the North Saskatchewan Regiment throws a mock grenade at an enemy encampment during a training exercise on September 30, 2017. (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

“All of our soldiers are trained to operate these firearms and operate these support weapons in the conduct of their duties,” said company commander Capt. Kurt Luchia, pointing to the demonstration table where the firearms were lined up. There was a C9 light machine gun, the section support weapon, the C7A2 service rifle as well as one with an M203 grenade launcher attachment. On the far right side of the table was the Carl Gustav, an anti-armour weapon that looks like a bazooka but fires like a rifle. On the floor nearby was other equipment, including gas masks and other personal equipment. The unit was also sampling some of their freeze-dried meals, which surprisingly tasted like the real thing.

“Typically, as a light infantry unit, we do our work on our feet, and we do that in courses and training abroad,” Luchia explained.

It’s a misconception that reservists don’t deploy. Several members of the North Saskatchewan Regiment in Prince Albert have been on missions.

“We just had five soldiers deployed to British Columbia for the forest fires,” Luchia said. “Five soldiers, straight from Prince Albert, getting to help other Canadians.”

One of those soldiers was Cpl. Kevin Tourond. He’s been with the unit for six years, but the wildfire mission was his first deployment.

“It was a new experience for me,” he said. “It was my first domestic deployment. Hopefully not my last.”

Tourond was in B.C. for just over two weeks, clearing hot spots and helping pack up hoses. Other members of the team were pulling sprinklers off the line and monitoring water pumps.

Tourond said it was “surreal” being in the aftermath of a wildfire like that.

“It was very different training that what I’d done before. It was a totally new experience,” he said.

“What I got from it was keep an eye on your fire and be vigilant all the time.”

As the soldiers of the North Saskatchewan Regiment train for anything, they become one big family. That’s a key part of being part of the regiment, Bellisle explained.

“We are taught very early that company and unit or regiment means family. That’s one of the main things we’ve embraced with everyone who has come into the company,” he said.

“We’ve deployed together, we’ve done some very challenging things together on exercises and operations at home and abroad. Having each other together has been what’s able to get everyone through it.”

Bellisle knew the regiment had his back when he went to Bosnia to augment the Princess Patricia ‘s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) second battalion in 1997, and then again with the PPCLI in Afghanistan as a part of the provincial reconstruction team from Sept. 2009 until May 2010.

“It’s like you didn’t leave,” Bellisle said. “We were still receiving information, care packages and emailing back and forth. It’s easier to deploy because I know I have guys back home checking in and making sure my kids are okay.”

One of the other things the regiment does to support its own is shovel driveways of deployed members in the winter, so they don’t have to worry about how the family is going to handle a big dump of snow.

We did it for other people when they deployed. You’re just looking after the guys,” Bellisle said.

The family affair can at times be literal. Along with his son, another member’s child has also gone on to join the army.

“I’m extremely proud that my son’s come through here. Here’s grown up seeing it,” he said.

“Knowing I joined the military when I was their age and now, 25 years later they are coming in behind us, it’s a proud moment.”