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DIARY OF A MILITARY EMBEDDED OBSERVER

I trained with the Governor General's Horse Guards (GGHG) at Denison Armoury in Toronto. We spent the weekend February 3-4 at 4th Canadian Division Training Centre in Meaford, Ontario, putting our new skills to the test. It's highly unusual for a civilian to do a training work up before a deployment to an exercise like NOREX.

At Basic Winter Warfare (BWW) training we learned to operate in winter environment. This included learning how to avoid, recognize, and treat cold weather injuries like frostbite and hypothermia. We also learned how to move as a section using snowshoes and sleds, properly use personnel equipment (or kit as the military calls it), and setup and live in a tent in wintry conditions. Other training included how to build shelters and basic fortifications using ice and snow. The BWW course I was on with the Governor General's Horse Guards (GGHG) ran from 16 January - 6 February, 2018. The GGHGs are an Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment. They are based at Denison Armoury, located in Toronto, and are a Primary Reserve Regiment that is part of 32 Canadian Brigade Group.

While I trained with a Regiment that was part of 32 Canadian Brigade, the Company that would be participating in NOREX 2018 was from 31 Canadian Brigade, drawn from Reserve Regiments from across Southwestern Ontario, built primarily around The Grey and Simcoe Foresters. The Foresters are a light infantry regiment that have been tasked with the Arctic Response Company Group (ARCG) mission for several years now. I showed up at Wolseley Barracks in London, Ontario, on the night of Friday, 9 February. While I tried to get some sleep on a cot, various Reservists from the units that would comprise the ARCG continued to arrive until past 1:00 am in the morning. We woke up at 4:30 am Saturday morning, had breakfast at 05:00, and were on the bus for the London International Airport by 5:45 am.

Arctic Response Company Group loads an Inuit Air charter flight for Resolute, February 10, 2018.  Photo Credit:  Ryan Dean, Embedded Observer on NOREX 2018.

 
The ARCG chartered an aircraft from Inuit Air to fly us to Resolute. This continues a long relationship between the military and civil aviation in the Canadian North that dates to the 1920s. We loaded the aircraft by hand with our kit and were airborne by 08:45 am.

Major Badley Whipple, The Essex & Kent Scottish, Officer
Commanding, ARCG, (centre) speaking with Master Warrant Officer Albert McCabe, The Essex & Kent Scottish, ARCG Company Sergeant Major (right) and Captain Guiseppe Bartolo, Royal Highland Fusiliers of Canada, ARCG Operations Officer (left) while the ARCG boards behind them, February 10, 2018. 

Photo Credit: Ryan Dean, Embedded Observer on NOREX 2018.                           

We flew north for three hours before landing at Churchill, Manitoba, the "Polar Bear Capital of the World" for refuelling. After take-off it was close to another 3 hours before we reached Resolute, Nunavut.

On the tarmac at Churchill, Manitoba. February 10, 2018.  Photo Credit: Ryan Dean, Embedded Observer on NOREX 2018.

We arrived at dusk at Resolute (3:35 pm) and proceeded to the Canadian Armed Forces Arctic Training Centre (CAFTAC) for briefings. The CAFTAC is a Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) facility that is home to the Polar Continental Shelf Program. The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) have a 25-year memorandum of understanding (MOU) with NRCan to essentially rent space for prepositioned equipment like snowmobiles and ATV's and to accommodate troops. The facility acts as an operation hub. While I was at CAFTAC, the facility was supporting nearly 300 people, including two companies of soldiers.

 Inside the CAFTAC. February 11, 2018.

 Photo Credit: Ryan Dean, Embedded Observer on NOREX 2018.

We spent the night at the CAFTAC, each room comfortably hosting four soldiers in a pair of bunk beds. The ARCG began preparing to move out onto the land to begin their phase of NOREX 2018 on the morning of February 11. The scenario underpinning NOREX was that an aircraft had crashed outside of Resolute containing sensitive equipment. Search and Rescue (SAR) and local Canadian Rangers had been the first to respond, followed closely by an Immediate Response Unit (IRU), in this case a company of Regular Force soldiers from the 3rd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment, to secure the site. The ARCG was arriving a few days later to relieve the IRU and locate and secure aircraft parts.

Crashed aircraft from 1970s. No lives were lost in that incident. Photo credit: Cpl Guy Boudreault, Garrison Imaging Petawawa.

 
I was able to join Major Whipple and his command staff on a recce to meet the IRU and be briefed on the situation. We took snowmobiles to ride out to the fictional crash site, about 16 km outside of Resolute. We were escorted the whole way out and back by members of 1 Canadian Rangers Patrol Group. When we returned over an hour later, we found the ARCG ready to move out to the initial camp.

The ARCG, readying to leave the CAFATC. February 11,
2018.  Photo Credit: Ryan Dean, Embedded Observer on
NOREX 2018.  

 
The ARCG moved out to camp on snowmobiles, pulling sleds known as qamutiiks behind us on which we placed our gear. We pitched camp roughly 1 km out of Resolute on the shore of the Northwest Passage, giving us a night to acclimatize. Temperatures had held between -52C and -57C the previous week but dipped to -62C our first night out on the land, with strong winds. The weather was such that in the interest of safety, it was decided to delay our move out to the crash site for 24 hours.

The ARCG on the move. February 11, 2018. Photo Credit: Ryan Dean, Embedded Observer on NOREX 2018.

Me Standing on the Northwest Passage. February 11, 2018.  Photo Credit: Ryan Dean, Embedded Observer on NOREX 2018.

Our tents had space for 10 people and were lit by a Coleman lantern and heated by a Yukon Stove burning diesel fuel. I slept on the snow that floored our tent within two sleeping bags which my army issue toque on. The following day we worked on building snow walls around our tents to protect from the wind, while shaking out our equipment and getting use to the extreme cold. We had some good conversations in the tent about the steep learning curve in the Arctic and just getting use to being there. Captain Guiseppe Bartolo, Royal Highland Fusiliers of Canada, perhaps put it best, saying "that's what these exercises are: experience that build corporate knowledge so that when the real thing happens, the CAF can come up to the Arctic and operate."

This was the tent I stayed in. February 11, 2018. Photo Credit: Ryan Dean, Embedded Observer on NOREX 2018.

We cooked rations in a pressure cooker placed on our tent's stove. I had Chicken Jambalaya, my sleeping bag doubling as my dinner table. February 12, 2018. Photo Credit: Ryan Dean, Embedded Observer on NOREX 2018.

The cold temperatures are dangerous and can kill you if not careful. You must be deliberate in everything you do when outside. If you are too passive, you quickly become cold. If you are work too hard, you easily sweat, which places you in jeopardy when your sweat freezes. You must take it slow in the Arctic. We wore layers of loose fitting heavy clothing to stay warm. As we got use to the Arctic, we learned what layers to wear when working and what to wear when coldest on the moving snowmobiles.

Our tent building a snow wall to protect against the wind. February 12, 2018.  Photo Credit: Ryan Dean, Embedded Observer on NOREX 2018.

You can't handle anything barehanded and must always wear at least thin gloves when working. Even with these, frostbite can occur within minutes. Some soldiers suffered cold-weather injuries like frostbite, and many were amazed at how quickly and subtly it happened. The rest of the time you wear heavy mitts. When on the snowmobiles, many of us wore white "stormtrooper helmets" that encased our heads and, when worn with goggle, prevented any skin from being exposed to the cold. When I was fully outfitted in the gear, I felt a mild sense of claustrophobia, trapped under many layers of heavy clothing and looking out through goggles that were always quickly frosting over, obscuring my vision.

Ryan Dean, a PhD Candidate at the University of Calgary's Department of Political Science and an Embedded Observer on NOREX 18, Resolute, Nunavut, February 12, 2018.  Photo Credit: Cpl Guy Boudreault, Garrison Imaging Petawawa.

The Canadian Rangers were great, showing us how to become comfortable out on the land. The cold not only affected the soldiers but froze many of the snowmobiles as well. The Rangers showed us that pouring hot water (warmed on our Yukon Stoves) on the carburetors of our snowmobiles, along with a bit of anti-freeze in the gas tanks, would get the fuel flowing again in our simple, 2-stroke sleds. We could defrost our goggles by placing them under the exhaust of the snowmobiles. They also showed us how to cut snow with which to build structures like walls and igloos.

Members of the Canadian Rangers. Photo Credit: Sub-Lieutenant Andrew McLaughlin, 4th Canadian Division Public Affairs Officer.

The following day I left the ARCG and returned to CAFATC for a series of interviews with those involved in planning and executing NOREX 2018. One of my last interviews was with Lieutenant-Colonel Perry Rittershofer, commanding officer of The Grey & Simcoe Foresters. LCol. Rittershofer explained that gaining experience was the basis of NOREX 2018. The soldiers of the ARCG demonstrated they can operate in the Arctic by meeting three criteria: they could survive, communicate, and move. He succinctly summarized NOREX 2018, saying that the exercise "was a great experience for young soldiers to work up here, giving them a sense of accomplishment from coping with a harsh environment.

Sub-Lieutenant Andrew McLaughlin, 4th Canadian Division Public Affairs Officer, (right) and myself. It was Sub-Lieutenant McLaughlin's idea to embed an academic in NOREX 2018 and offered fantastic support to me throughout my experience.  February 13, 2018. Photo Credit: Cpl Guy Boudreault, Garrison Imaging Petawawa.

Meeting a local VIP. February 13, 2018. Photo Credit: Sub-Lieutenant Andrew McLaughlin, 4th Canadian Division Public Affairs Officer.

When I completed my interviews, I packed my kit with that of 3 RCR, and boarded one of the Royal Canadian Air Force's big CC-177 Globemaster IIIs at 6:00 pm. The strategic lifter had the IRU back to Canadian Forces Base Trenton, Ontario in just over four hours. This trip was a tremendous, once in a life-time experience!

Aboard the CC-177 Globemaster III with 3 RCR. February 14, 2018. Photo Credit: Ryan Dean, Embedded Observer on NOREX 2018.

The following photos are of Ryan Dean, a PhD Candidate at the University of Calgary's Department of Political Science and an Embedded Observer on NOREX 18, at the Canadian Armed Forces Arctic Training Centre (CAFATC) in Resolute, Nunavut on February 13, 2018.

                            
                      
Photo Credit: Sub-Lieutenant Andrew McLaughlin, Public Affairs Officer, 4th Canadian Division.
Photo Credit: Sub-Lieutenant Andrew McLaughlin, Public Affairs Officer, 4th Canadian Division.

Photo Credit: Sub-Lieutenant Andrew McLaughlin, Public Affairs Officer, 4th Canadian Division.