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Pounding the tundra
Being prepared, meticulous key to military success in Arctic

Darrell Greer
Northern News Services
Published Monday, February 24, 2014

The communities of Rankin Inlet, Chesterfield Inlet and Whale Cove played host to about 350 Canadian Forces regular soldiers, reservists and Canadian Rangers during exercise Trillium Response 14 from Feb. 15 to 23.

NNSL photo/graphic

Master Cpl. Jimmy Fazekas enjoys a little community time before heading back out on the land with his unit during exercise Trillium Response 14 in Rankin Inlet this past week. - Darrell Greer/NNSL photo

The exercise gave soldiers from across southern Ontario the opportunity to work in harsh and demanding conditions to increase the operational readiness of the 4th Canadian Division.

It also gave the soldiers of 31 Canadian Brigade Group the chance to sharpen the skills necessary to fight and survive in Canada's most severe climate.

Ground soldiers spent the majority of the exercise practising Arctic survival, and doing live fire ranges, patrols and quick responses to a threat or hazard in the North.

The soldiers found the exercise both challenging and rewarding.

Major JP Hoekstra of the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry said his unit is part of the territorial brigade group, which is a composite unit of different Ontario regiments.

He said his duties focus on civil military affairs.

"That's what I did in my overseas deployments to Afghanistan and South Sudan," said Hoekstra.

"So, for me, it's about coming into town and meeting with the locals.

"The soldiers are the main training party, being out on the lake and ranges."

Hoekstra said a week in the Kivalliq was a bit of a shocker for some soldiers.

He said Trillium Response was a unique opportunity and a very valuable training exercise for the troops, even though they only had about a week on the ground.

"We're in boreal or deciduous forests when we do winter training back home, so we don't have the extreme temperatures we had here.

"Even for this minimal time - to live out on the ice, work with the Rangers, glean all sorts of information from their expertise, and know how to use their weapons, communicate and set up their tents in these conditions - it was a major learning experience for the soldiers.

"The tail end of a modern army is very big, so, logistically, flying all the gear up here to sustain ourselves is a huge undertaking."

For Cpl. Simon Azzopardi, the week in Rankin was his first time in the Arctic.

He said he found the area to be cold and stark, but beautiful at the same time.

"The landscape is just amazing," said Azzopardi.

"It's like nothing I've ever seen before."

Azzopardi said pretty much everything the soldiers did was a challenge.

He said even simple tasks, like getting into their rucksacks, were hard.

"You have to take your mittens off and work with your fingers, so, if it takes you some time, you need to warm your fingers and start again."

"It was the same with setting up our tents.

"You have to be very careful how you dress just to walk from place to place.

"You don't want to overheat, but you also have to make sure you're not too cold."

Azzopardi said he didn't expect the land to be so windswept, or for the snow on top to be so hard packed.

He said the vastness takes a little getting used to.

"It's pretty cool to see because, when it's clear, it seems like you can see forever.

"And it feels so much cleaner than down south.

"It's totally different than what we're used to.

"All the regular things we do in the military, the difficulty level is really amplified up here."

Cpl. Scott Fleming said the exercise was an excellent learning experience in terms of survivability and sustainability.

He said you have a lot more worries on an Arctic exercise.

"We normally have a lot of fresh water during an exercise down south, but, here, we have ice blocks we have to break down and melt for our water," said Fleming.

"You have to be constantly doing that in order to stay hydrated, which is super important out here.

"Everything is a little slower and a bit more difficult.

"You have to pay attention to your body, keep checking your buddies, and make sure you're OK for operations up here."

Fleming said the troops weren't put off by the openness of the Kivalliq terrain.

He said open terrain works both ways if you find yourself in a conflict situation.

"The optics on our weapons are really good and we have a lot of assets we can use to utilize the distance.

"It's a double-edged sword because, while they can see us coming from a mile away, we can see them too.

"It requires a lot more energy to operate here, so you have to eat better and drink a lot of water.

"This cold really taxes the body, so you have to do everything you're supposed to in order to stay effective."

Fleming said the gear they brought worked very well.

He said the troops had a lot of extra stuff in the Kivalliq they wouldn't normally use on their weapons.

"We had graphite, which is a powdered form of lubrication for our weapons systems that doesn't freeze up.

"I think I could live here, sustain myself and have a good time snowmobiling."

For more on Trillion Response 14, please see page 12.

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