The Rocky Mountain Rangers will again stand at attention in Prince George.
The city's original and only military company to be based in B.C.'s northern capital has been defunct since the 1960s. It has been the subject of highly publicized revival lobbying for decades. This weekend there came a surprise announcement from 39 Canadian Brigade Group Headquarters that somewhere in the back rooms of the Ministry of National Defense, the plans were alive.
"As part of an Army Reserve expansion project, the new unit, which is a detachment of the famous Rocky Mountain Rangers, is planned for [Prince George] as early as September this year," said Lt.-Col. John Feller, the Commanding Officer of the Rocky Mountain Rangers which are based in Kamloops. "We've been in discussions with the city for some time now about the feasibility of standing up a reserve army unit in Prince George. We're very encouraged by the community's support for an army reserve unit in this region, and we look forward to having new soldiers from Prince George become part of the Rangers."
Twelve cadet troops call the Rocky Mountain Rangers their parent organization, one of them being the army cadets of Prince George. Major Rick Lewis, area officer for cadet instructors cadre, said this was a day long in coming, and there were times when he felt the dream of one day having a reserves unit here was definitely off the national defense radar screen, but his confidence was that the announcement would not be made without the utmost diligence in the research and commitment to the new unit.
"It is a very pleasant step forward for the community, and what can be offered to people here aged 17 to 60, in the roles of soldiers and support. It is a huge addition to the community to have this fired back up again," Lewis told The Citizen. "We see it as a huge support to all of the corps - we have sea, land and air cadets working together in Prince George - and we see it as a possible line of progression. After cadets, they could still serve their country, continue in uniform, while still maintaining their education or their careers in other fields."
A reserve unit is for part-time soldiers. Anyone can sign up and balance the duties and training of the Canadian Forces with a regular career or education program.
Lewis said the plan was to start with a platoon (30 soldiers plus support team) on the parade square and work towards a full company (120 soldiers plus support team). Where that parade square would be was the next hurdle. Lewis said several buildings were being considered for the platoon's permanent headquarters, but no final decisions had been made.
"That infrastructure has to be in place before recruiting starts, but the idea is to have a platoon parading around the end of summer but that is not for sure, a lot has to happen yet," Lewis said. "But the process is in motion. It will all unfold stage by stage and there will soon be a visible presence of uniformed personnel than in the past."
Lewis said all mayors dating back to at least Elmer Mercier have been outspoken advocates for restoring a reserve unit in this city. He is not sure why now was the time that the federal government, via the Canadian Forces hierarchy involved, chose now to say yes.
"We are pleased that the Rocky Mountain Rangers are returning to our community," said Mayor Dan Rogers upon hearing the news. "On behalf of the City of Prince George, we will welcome the army reserve with open arms."
"Our recruiting activities will increase in Prince George over the next while," continued Feller, "and we'll be looking to recruit men and women of age that are interested in serving Canada part-time in a number of infantry positions with the Rangers."
The current Rocky Mountain Rangers reserve unit has supplied soldiers to campaigns dating back to the Boer War. In recent times they have served in Afghanistan, fighting the Kelowna forest fires, and with security of the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Lewis said the lobby effort to win a return of the Rocky Mountain Rangers was championed by local advocate Sheldon Clare, and members of the combined cadet corps, the Royal Canadian Legion and the Peacekeepers Association.