Corporal Brett David was born in Quesnel. He’s on deployment helping protect a NATO air base in Romania. (Canadian Forces Photo by Sailor First Class (S1) Zach Barr)

Corporal Brett David was born in Quesnel. He’s on deployment helping protect a NATO air base in Romania. (Canadian Forces Photo by Sailor First Class (S1) Zach Barr)

Quesnel-born combat engineer spending holidays in Romania

Cpl. Brett David is working on the ground during Operation Reassurance

Cpl. Brett David has to pause while speaking to allow a passing fighter jet to take off.

David is part of Canada’s air task force in Operation Reassurance in Romania. The Royal Canadian Air Force is working in a NATO operation to help police and control the skies in the eastern European nation.

In September, two Canadian CF-18 Hornets based in Romania were sent into the air to intercept a Russian fighter jet (an SU-27 Flanker) flying in the Black Sea near Romanian air space.

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David is there helping secure the planes and technology on the ground, as part of a group he called the Auxiliary Security Force (ASF). The ASF on David’s base is made up of Military Police (MP) and about 10 combat engineers.

“The main priority is keeping eyes that aren’t supposed to be on our equipment away from our buildings and support equipment, and the overall security of the airfield and task force as a whole,” he said.

Keeping a military base safe in eastern Europe in 2020 isn’t about running off Russian jets, but instead ensuring prying eyes can’t peer into the Canadian Armed Forces.

“The cyber threat is the biggest part of it all,” David said. “It’s not a physical presence. You really have to check yourself and other people. We all slip up sometimes, so there’s constant buddy reminders ‘don’t do that, don’t do this,’ or ‘lock your computer.’ It’s kind of governing ourselves, and that’s what the MPs are here for.”

Romania’s COVID-19 cases have spiked since late October. The country of 19 million people has had more than 500,000 cases and nearly 14,000 deaths. David said the base can operate in isolation, with amenities like a convenience store, library and gym, but he’s missed the travel aspect of military service.

“[The pandemic] hasn’t changed much of our day-to-day interactions; it’s just going with the flow with what’s going on around us in the local area,” he said. “Day-to-day job, mission-specific, everything is going much more smoothly than I thought it would with COVID-19. Everyone here is doing a good job of adapting.”

David also praised the work of Canadian commanders, who have been able to co-ordinate rules and regulations with their American partners who also use the base.

“We work really closely with [the Americans], and I think our higher-ups do a really good job of communicating with them and setting the standard for what everyone needs to be doing,” he said. “If we’re not all the same, we’re going to be running into some problems there. They’re in and out a lot. They use this base as a staging area to go other places; we stay here.”

David joined the Canadian Reserve Force while in high school and worked his way up to a full-time position with the army. The posting in Romania is his first tour and his first holiday away from family in Canada. David said he’s been able to rely on family support in Canada and military support to keep his spirits up.

“You build those support structures as you go along throughout the tour. You start to meet people who have been on this exact same tour before and other tours and have ‘been there done that,’” he said. “We do a bunch of pre-deployment training … We go over with a strong baseline of support systems. Couple that with a strong family and meeting people over here; you’re pretty equipped to deal with any challenges that pop up.”

David was born in Quesnel, and his father worked at Quesnel Secondary School.

“[I remember] going to Robert’s Roost and begging my mom to go to Barkerville every friggin’ day for a walk,” he said.

While physically away from family for the holidays, being deployed on an active airbase has its benefits for David.

“I’ll be working alone in the morning, the sun will be coming up, and then a jet will be taking off, and it’ll be the coolest thing you’ve ever seen in your life,” he said as the roar of an afterburner came over the phone. “It’s surreal at some points.”

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