May 19, 2017 –
WAINWRIGHT, Canada -- Trees and tall grass wave along the rolling hills as the wind sent a chill across the prairie. The clouds periodically gave way, allowing the sun to shine some warmth on the Canadian soldiers training at Camp Wainwright, Alberta, Canada.
Military vehicles move along the dusty tank trail en route to Todan, a fictional town in the war games of Maple Resolve 17, the Canadian Army’s premiere brigade-level validation exercise running May 14-29 at Camp Wainwright.
An abrupt stop of a light-armored vehicle is seemingly well timed with a lull in the noise of the blustering wind. In that moment of silence as the vehicles engine winds down, came a blood-curdling scream.
The vehicle commander called for support from the team. Soldiers hurriedly climbed to the top hatch of the Light Armored Vehicle to find a disturbing scene, which few people are prepared for.
Inside the hatch, they found a bloodied soldier with a broken jaw, the bone protruding through the skin. Members of the 2nd Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group out of Canadian Forces Base Petawawa, just encountered their next training opportunity.
An actor simulating a casualty replaced one of their crewmembers. From this point, the crew was evaluated on their abilities to assess the situation and evacuate their injured brother on the fly.
“We’re going to swap him out with one of the Canadian Forces that are training to train their medics to see how they would approach one of their own guys being injured rather than a villager,” said Lisbeth Maidment, a field director with Allied Container Systems, Inc.
During the scenario, Maidment is tasked with ensuring the safety of the actors, as well as keeping the scenario on track to ensure the units are getting the desired training value.
“I think it adds to the reality,” added Maidment. “I think when you can do training and it’s your buddy that’s pretending to be injured, you kind of laugh your way through it. With our guys, they’re well trained and they stay in character. So, you literally have someone screaming, pulling you by the hand and asking for your help. If they stay in character, it’s more realistic to how that scenario would play out as far as what they would have to deal with and keep dealing with.”
For the last 11 years, and upwards of 55 sessions, ACS constructs the training area villages and employs approximately 97 actors in the field at any given time to participate in the training exercise. The actors fulfill many roles, including villagers, military personnel, political, religious figures and interpreters.
To further enhance the experience and increased realism for the training, ACS provides complete characters for the scenarios by use a vast movie set-like wardrobe department and a highly skilled special effects make-up team.
That is where the prop and prosthetics expertise of the team made up of special effects coordinator Stacy Wegner (“The Revenant,” and “Power Rangers”), Jenni MacDonald (TV’s “Fargo” and “The Magicians”) and newcomer, Yvonne Cox, who was featured as a contestant on season 10 of TV’s “Face Off,” bring a level of skill often only seen in Hollywood.
For an exercise of this size, the team uses approximately 50-60 individual prosthetics, ranging from shrapnel, gun shot wounds and burns. On rare occasions, they will incorporate larger pieces, such as amputations and full-sized dead bodies in various methods of demise.
“I think it adds a little bit extra sensitivity by having more active realism,” said Wegner. “The actors that we have the wounds applied to, a lot of them have trained in acting school, so they know how to play the part. A lot of them have been here for the last 11 years with us, so they are very good at what they do.”
Wegner said the hardest thing to do is keeping the props unique. While he believes the soldiers are always happy with the result, one of his goals for each session is to continue evolving and improving.
The make-up for each training segment is different and the needs of the mission can range from the simple to the fantastic.
In one mission, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Sostenes Rocha, a psychological operations specialist with the 318th Psychological Operations Unit from St. Louis, Missouri, was made up into a character created for the exercise. Rocha is one of the 650 U.S. Army Soldiers supporting Maple Resolve 17, sharpening individual skill sets while enhancing overall unit readiness.
“We were creating a character called, ‘The Commander,’ and he is the overall figurehead of the training opposing forces,” said Rocha. “Basically, we were doing sound bites and creating a persona on the internet so he can speak and give guidance to his people in-game to play against the allied forces.”
Rocha believes this extreme attention to detail not only benefits the soldiers interacting with the actors, but also helps his unit’s readiness for upcoming real-world missions.
“This gives us ideas of how to plan for these kind of situations before they happen,” explains Rocha. “If something like this comes up in the real world, we will have already experienced it, and we will know how to counter it.”
The focus on realism in this sort of mission is something that Wegner said was highly beneficial in moving forward with his career. The knowledge he obtained from working with the military by doing a lot of prop making helped increase his skills needed for “The Revenant.”
“For the double amputee that we did, we had to do a prosthetic on his right leg where he was missing the lower limb completely and a partial amputation on his right arm,” Wegner said proudly as he shows off his craftsmanship. “Approximately, six years ago, we did a life cast of his actual amputated right shoulder, so that we could mold a custom piece that would fit him quite well. We use pieces from that mold for him every session.”
The prosthetic rigged in such a way that the actor is able to operate the bloodlines to adjust the level of bleeding at the appropriate time during the scenario to move the story along, truly testing the aptitude of the medevac teams.
“Rather than doing a film, it feels like you’re doing a lot more good when working on a project like this,” said Wegner. “If we can provide additional help to the training with what we do, that means a lot. That’s the most valuable aspect for me, being able to contribute to the armed forces.”