Cpl Aaron Kellar, 26, returns to Fort Frances after serving in Latvia since February. Prior to his arrival, he completed the Baltic Warrior competition during his deployment in Latvia.
It was a cross country competition where 18 NATO countries competed with 247 teams. Kellar and his team partner came in 152nd.
“My team was myself and my buddy, Dan Feltham, from Petawawa,” Kellar said. “The competition was a 17 km ruck march with 30 kg in your bag, then a two km canoe portage followed by an 11 km canoe ride down a river and then finished with another five km ruck march, which totals 35 km.”
The goal of the competition was to build the army’s morale, Kellar said.
“It brings all the countries close together,” he added. “There were quite a few teams from Canada. Canada, Spain, Poland and Albania had the most teams.”
Prior to the competition, Kellar said he only trained on the weekends and three times a week in order to get their bodies used to carrying the weights for long distances.
“It was fun in hindsight, but it was incredibly challenging,” Kellar said. “The first 12 km were not very hard. And then it went to the bush and it was a lot of loose sand and hills and that killed me. It was the hardest part.”
Kellar was deployed to Latvia as part of Operation Reassurance, which aims to deter, and if necessary, defend the sovereignty of Latvia. Kellar said there’s currently 10 NATO countries on the Operation Reassurance mission right now.
“Right now, [Latvia] is a lot of people’s first deployment,” Kellar said. “It’s not the first place you have to go, but it just happens to be the first place a lot of people go.”
This is the first time Kellar has been deployed since he joined the army in 2016. He said he never saw himself joining the army.
“The stars aligned and it just happened,” Kellar said. “I went to school to be a welder beforehand and the trades crashed and it was hard to find a job. During a family reunion, one of my dad’s cousins was talking about the military and I thought it’d be a good thing to try out.”
Ever since then, Kellar has trained, but he said he found deployment particularly challenging during the pandemic because of the restrictions in Canada.
“The most challenging part was also trying to adapt to the situation,” Kellar said. “After a couple months, you get into a routine and things get a little easier. But being away from home doesn’t really get easier.”
Kellar said the six-month deployment was busy but he ended up making friends and enjoying the camaraderie.
Kellar is a military engineer and his section is called engineer support.
“We do all the camp maintenance,” Kellar said. “I specifically work on generators, but we have carpenters, electricians and plumbers. I think the most rewarding part was just the projects we did. Our rotation completed the most work orders over any other.”
Another rewarding part of Kellar’s experience is when he was at a museum in Latvia and got stopped by a man when he knew Kellar was part of the military.
“He said that Latvians sleep better knowing that NATO is helping them out,” Kellar said. “It was really rewarding to hear that we are making a difference over here.”
Kellar said when he returns to Fort Frances, he is excited to reunite with his girlfriend, family and friends. He adds that he is ready to decompress and relax.
“I will miss the site. It’s a very beautiful country,” Kellar said. “They are very friendly people. I’ll miss being with the boys and the friendships that we’ve gained. That’ll be the hardest part.”