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CONR deputy to command Canadian contingent in international march event

  • Published
  • By Mary McHale
  • CONR Public Affairs
Here, as deputy commander of the Continental United States North American Aerospace Defense Region, he helps lead the organization's domestic air-defense efforts.

But soon, BGen. Alain Pelletier is going to find himself in a much different leadership role much further away -- in the Netherlands. There, he will assume a new but temporary role as the Joint Task Force Nijmegen commander. In that role, he will lead a 14-team Canadian Armed Forces contingent participating in the International Four Day Marches Nijmegen. During this event, which attracts upwards of a million visitors from around the world, uniformed participants don rucksacks of more than 10kg, (22 pounds) and trek almost 40 km (25 miles) each day. It's an annual march that started in 1909 and moved to Nijmegen in 1916, where it remains today.

Some of the 172 Canadian marchers will include members of several Canadian Army regiments who are marking the Regiment's 100-year anniversaries as well as a few distinguished marchers such as Parliamentary members."Commanding JTF Nijmegen is an honor and a privilege," Pelletier said. "During the deployment, the Nijmegen contingent will take the opportunity to commemorate the enormous sacrifices made by two generations of Canadians as we mark the centennial of the First World War and the 75th anniversary of the Second World War."

The deputy commander said he started his training regimen in December and alternates between short marches - from his home to the Killey Center and back at the end of the duty day, about 6.5 km (3.8 miles) to longer marches of 30 km (approx. 18 mi.) or 40 Km (approx. 25 mi.) As of June 30 he has logged 1140 km (over 700 mi.)

Since part of his training regimen is marching back and forth from his on-base home each day in full gear, he said drivers often stop and offer him a ride.

"So far, I have had no less than 31 ride offers, all of them very surprised to hear me say, 'No thanks, I'm working out."

He said while maintaining his training regimen is critical to getting ready for the event as the distances and heat can take their toll, time management has proved most challenging.
"To march 20 km (approx. 10 mi.) takes about three and a half hours while it's almost eight hours for 40 km (25 mi.). You need to account for a few brakes in order to properly care for your feet otherwise pain will become part of your feelings!"

But he credits the enduring support he's received from his wife, Solange, Lt. Gen. William Etter, CONR- 1 st AF (Air Forces Northern) Commander and LGen Alain Parent, Deputy Commander, NORAD, for his success so far. "Even though you may be working out alone, you're not alone on the journey" he said.

March participants begin the first day at 6:30 a.m., the second at 5:30 a.m. and the last two at 4:30 a.m and 3:30 respectively. When they return, Pelletier said they rest, take care of their feet and prepare for formal protocol events in the evening that usually wind up at about 10 p.m.

He said he is looking forward to enjoying the camaraderie and friendship that exists between Canada and the Netherlands and marching with the other Canadians and getting to better know them. In addition, he will have the opportunity to connect to the past, visiting various gravesites and monuments during a number of commemoration ceremonies. Pelletier said the contingent will stop for traditional ceremonies in France, Belgium and the Netherlands. As if marching the equivalent of a marathon every day, four days in a row wasn't enough, the event culminates with a 5 km (3 mi.) victory march where onlookers shower participants with Gladioli. It's a tradition symbolizing force and victory stemming from Roman times when gladiators were showered with the same upon their triumphant return.

Awards for the event include Cross for the Four Day Marches, award for successfully completing the march according to regulations, the Group Medal of the Four Day Marches and the Orderly Medal of the Four Day Marches.

Pelletier, also the Canadian Armed Forces Running Patron, said physical and mental health have always been a priority for him. A CAF Patron's role is to foster, promote and develop their sport at the regional and national level within the Canadian Armed Forces. Introduced to long-distance running in 1995, he took on his first half-marathon in 2002 and completed a road cycling challenge in 2010. After that, he explained he was ready for another adventure and felt Nijmegen was it. He had previously attempted to participate in 2011 but a deployment interrupted those plans.

But the JTF commander will not only be marching and attending memorial commemorations during his trip. He and the Canadian contingent will also be raising funds for "The Soldier On" charity. Created in 2006, the program provides opportunities for CAF members to overcome their illnesses or injuries through participation in recreational, sporting and other physically challenging activities. He said he and the contingent have set a monetary goal of $28,000.