MEDICINE HAT, Alta. - Canada's sunniest city, Medicine Hat, will stand in this spring for dusty, dangerous Kandahar as a new battle group of troops trains for duty in Afghanistan.
The community of 61,000 is going to allow more than 800 soldiers to practise convoys and patrols on its streets as well as how to respond to simulated roadside bomb explosions.
Some troops will act as Taliban insurgents as the units get experience on what it is like to operate in a busy urban setting, Col. Andre Corbould, commander of 1 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group, said Tuesday.
"We are going to make it as realistic as we possibly can," Corbould said. "We want to have them respond to incidents within the city like they will do in Afghanistan."
Most of the troops involved in the training will be serving with the Provincial Reconstruction Team based in Kandahar City.
Columns of LAV IIIs and other armoured vehicles will weave their way through Medicine Hat traffic starting later this month and into May, he said.
Troops will practise setting up security cordons. There will also be medical evacuations of simulated injured soldiers and civilians. Some of the troops will also practise setting up make shift classrooms and delivering other humanitarian aid.
Soldiers will also learn what it is like to perform their different tasks under the eyes of the public. The streets of Kandahar City are often filled with bustling crowds.
Canadian troops heading to Afghanistan have conducted similar training on isolated bases and in other communities before, but on a smaller scale.
Medicine Hat Mayor Norm Boucher said he is happy to allow the soldiers to use the city as a training ground.
Boucher, a former RCMP officer who served on peacekeeping missions in Bosnia and Kosovo, said he likes the idea of people in the city seeing first-hand the military doing the jobs they will perform in Kandahar.
"We owe it to them to ask, 'what do you do?'," he said. "I think it is about time that citizens see exactly how the military contributes. Where does the money go? We are going to see part of that here."
The troops that will train in Medicine Hat are part of a larger force of more than 3,000 soldiers who are taking part in live-fire exercises at nearby Canadian Forces Base Suffield.
The battle group that is to leave for Afghanistan in September includes infantry, armour, combat engineers and medics from Edmonton as well as an artillery unit from Shilo, Man., and reconnaissance troops from Petawawa, Ont.
-By John Cotter in Edmonton