Baltic Assignment Complete: Army Reservist returns home

MCpl Kathryn Holmberg greets her mother, Linda, in the Nanaimo airport following her flight from Latvia. Holmberg spent seven months in the Baltic Nation with the Canadian-led enhanced Forward Presence Battlegroup Latvia. Photo by Capt Jeff Manney, 39 Signal Regiment

MCpl Kathryn Holmberg greets her mother, Linda, in the Nanaimo airport following her flight from Latvia. Holmberg spent seven months in the Baltic Nation with the Canadian-led enhanced Forward Presence Battlegroup Latvia. Photo by Capt Jeff Manney, 39 Signal Regiment

Capt Jeff Manney, 39 Signal Regiment PAO ~

An international effort to demonstrate collective resolve in Eastern Europe took on a very personal, local flavour with the return of an Army Reservist to Nanaimo two weeks ago.

Victoria-based Master Cpl Kathryn Holmberg, a member of 39 Signal Regiment, ended a seven-month deployment to Latvia in the arms of her mother.

“She was sobbing, kissing me, telling me loves me, that she missed me.  Having me far away was very hard for her. She thinks Victoria is too far,” said the soldier.

MCpl Holmberg, a Reservist since 2011, was in the first rotation of Canadian Armed Forces members deployed to the Canadian-led NATO enhanced Forward Presence Battlegroup Latvia. She was one of many Reservists supporting the bulk of the Canadian contingent, comprised primarily of Regular Force troops from the Edmonton-based 1st Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry.

The Battlegroup, along with similar formations in Estonia, Lithuania and Poland, set itself up in a hurry near Riga, Latvia’s capital, last summer. The deployments came amid NATO concerns about Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its support to rebels in eastern Ukraine.

For MCpl Holmberg, a clerk managing soldiers’ pay in the Battlegroup’s orderly room, that urgency translated into 12-hour working days, six, sometimes seven days per week. 

“There was just so much work to be done,” she recalls. “I’d tell myself, if I go home at the end of the day having done the best I could, then I’d be happy.”

An abundance of caution, which eased over time, limited soldiers’ movements off base.  That meant MCpl Holmberg saw as many Spaniards, Albanians, Italians, Poles, Slovaks and Slovenians – NATO colleagues working under Canada’s leadership – as she did Latvians.

“They didn’t want anybody getting hurt so they kept a pretty tight lid on us,” she says.  “I think it will be different in the future, though. Latvia is a modern European country. They need our help, so the people were friendly and interested in what we were doing.”

The grueling work schedule and constant time on base meant privacy was at a premium for MCpl Holmberg and her fellow soldiers.  Living with eight to 10 co-workers, she says bathroom and shower stalls were the only place to get a little alone time.

But that lack of privacy provided the most unexpected benefit of the deployment.    

“Now I’ve got so many connections all over Edmonton,” she says. “Even though sometimes we may have wanted to strangle each other, living with each other day in, day out, we all became great friends.” 

“I knew it would be a long, hard road,” she adds, “but there’s a lot to be learned along the way. And you always come back home.”

Filed Under: Top Stories

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  1. KārlisEihenbaums says:

    Thank you Canada, thank you for your service! We are NATO!
    Kārlis Eihenbaums, Ambassador of Latvia

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