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Richard Lawrence was on the ground (and in the air) during the CAF's 10th annual exercise in Canada's North. This article focuses on the Arctic training exercises that took place at Rankin Inlet, Nunavut.

Sgt Herbert Scharer, of the 1s' Canadian Ranger Patrol Group (1 CRPG), leads the ground search and rescue (GSAR) exercise. As part of the Reserves, Canadian Rangers "play an important role in assisting CAF members by providing local expertise, guidance and advice, conducting Northern Warning System patrols, and providing local assistance to SAR activities" in over 200 remote, isolated and coastal communities across Canada. (All photos by Richard Lawrence)

OPERATION NANOOK IS a sovereignty operation conducted annually during the summer in Canada's north to provide the Canadian Armed Forces the opportunity to assert Canada's sovereignty, demonstrate and enhance the CAF's ability to operate in the harsh northern conditions, and to train and assess emergency operations preparedness.

To that end, OP NANOOK 2017 adopted a two-pronged approach to meet these requirements by engaging in two separate exercises in two separate areas of Canada's North: Labrador and Rankin Inlet, Nunavut. In Labrador the CAF underwent sovereignty and defence exercises that also provided training for northern operations. In Rankin Inlet, the primary focus was on emergency preparedness in a whole-of-government (WoG) scenario; they also took the opportunity to conduct land training.

DND invited media to embed journalists into both operations with the troops from the 12th to 27th of August. The focus of this article is on the much shorter two-day overview of the military training exercises that took place at Rankin Inlet on August 22-24, 2017.

On the training side of Operation NANOOK, approximately 300 troops, primarily reservists of the Arctic Response Company Group (ARCG), participated in the training exercises. The ARCG is made up of mostly southern units, of which most come from 38 Canadian Brigade Group (38 CBG) headquartered in Winnipeg, and augmented with troops from about 35 other units, along with the 1st Canadian Ranger Patrol Group (1 CRPG).

Exercises during this part of OP NANOOK consisted primarily of training with the Rangers and learning how to live off the land and work in the North. The troops had to ruck out to a survival site and sleep under the stars, build shelters, identify edible plants, and learn to catch, gut, and cook fish on a stone fireplace, etc. In other training, they were taught how to use four wheeled all-terrain vehicles (ATVs or quads) out on the land and how to do a ground search and rescue operation (GSAR) using ATVs.

Cpl Heidi Schulz, a medic with 15 Field Ambulance (Edmonton), says, "The training with the Rangers has been fantastic. It's stuff you'd never get to learn and do on your own. The traditional fishing, the learning about berries and other plants and ... remedies. [And] having a great time ... it's a lot of firsts. First time catching and eating Arctic char, first time caribou, muskox ... the local food they're bringing in for us is just awesome as well."

During this visit, the troops had relocated back to the Rankin Inlet forward operating location (FOL) to participate in the disaster exercise (for more on this re-enactment training scenario read Part 1 of Richard Lawrence's article in the October 2017 issue) and, in some cases, acted as observers providing insight only when it was clear that the local participants were reaching the end of their resources. Some also got to play the victims of the fire/explosion and were made up with simulated injuries that looked more than real, and were then coached on how to act when brought into triage.

During one of the periods where the troops weren't required, they were put on assault boat training using rigid-hulled inflatable boats (RHIBs) in the water behind the accommodation blocks. Here they learned to work as a team to paddle and manoeuvre the RHIBs. The highlight of the day was capsizing the RHIBs and conducting man overboard drills, which had the troops purposely flip the boats over, dumping everyone into the frigid water, and then organize themselves to flip it right side up again, all in a matter of minutes.

The next day, while participating in the emergency response exercise, some of the reservists were put to work using their new skills in GSAR with ATVs by searching out on the land for a missing family. Again, acting upon a request from the local authority, the Rangers and CAF troops evaluated the most promising areas, separated into three columns of ATVs, and sped off onto the tundra.

In the hamlet of Rankin Inlet, this disaster drill involving all levels of government and the Canadian Armed Forces can be deemed a success on many levels--not only in what worked well, but more so in revealing what aspects could be improved upon. The military put into practice northern training as well as interoperation with civilian authorities and multiple tiers of government in order to achieve a successful outcome. All participants will have a lot of evaluation to do in the weeks and months going forward, but the broad goals of Operation NANOOK 2017 seem to have been achieved.

But can more be done to show presence, surveillance, sovereignty, and defence in Canada's North?

There are many programs for additional assets in the northern reaches of our vast country. Polaris is proposing the RAMPAGE two-seat tracked vehicle to replace the BV206 (carries 10). The Royal Canadian Navy's new Arctic Offshore Patrol Ship (AOPS) will allow the RCN to operate during three seasons in Canada's Arctic waters. The Canadian Coast Guard's new vessels will provide other capabilities, including research, as well as greater access for other federal departments, including Canada Border Services Agency, RCMP, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, etc. A winterized Argo amphibious vehicle may replace the existing ATVs or at least supplement them. The Polar Epsilon 2 project should provide better imagery for surveillance and weather requirements using the RADARSAT-2 earth observation satellite and whose data will be shared with other agencies. Thought was also given to increasing the number of Rangers, but this is not really possible as they are already close to two per cent of the population, which is a very high percentage. The Rangers are, however, in line for new equipment and clothing.

The Rangers have been using the bolt-action Lee-Enfield No. 4 rifle since 1948 and this rifle is going to be replaced by the licenced-built variant of the Swedish-designed Tikka T3 CTR bolt-action rifle--and be known as the Colt C-19. There was discussion in the 1980s and 1990s about replacing the Lee-Enfield with a .223 calibre rifle but, as Major Conrad Schubert of Joint Task Force North stated, the Rangers "were not the least bit interested in that. That was not something that pleased them in any way ... The rifle is issued to them not so they can shoot hordes of invading enemy. It's so they can protect themselves. The things that they want to protect themselves from don't die when you shoot them with a .223--you need something a little more powerful."

The .308 C-19 is ballistically very similar to the Lee-Enfield .303 however the C-19 ammunition will be compatible with both .308 Winchester and 7.62 x 51 mm NATO ammo for greater interoperability. It has a stainless steel barrel as opposed to blued steel and won't rust. The laminated stock is superior to the old solid piece stock in that it won't warp when it gets wet. The C-19 has a 10-shot magazine and costs about $2,000 per rifle. The old Lee-Enfield will be gifted to those Rangers who possess a proper firearms acquisition certificate rather than be collected for destruction.

During the three-day OP NANOOK emergency preparedness exercise, the hamlet of Rankin Inlet as well as the territorial and federal governments had to have a high level of communications and co-ordination to achieve a favourable outcome. Exercises like this one and the follow-up analysis will provide a solid foundation and viable road map for handling disasters in the North.

Looking to the military training portion of OP NANOOK, this was successful on several fronts. First, it continued to show the Canadian presence in the North--although one could also say that the permanent northern settlements and 1 CRPG satisfy these criteria on their own without the addition of CAF personnel. However, putting the CAF troops out on the land with the Rangers so they could learn from their experience in dealing with Canada's Arctic climate definitely helped make the troops more self-reliant in a harsh and unforgiving environment as well as taught them new personal skills along with their ATV, GSAR, and RHIB training.

My thanks to Esprit de Corps for putting my name forward for this quick trip and to DND for providing the transport, rations, and quarters, as well as the opportunity to observe, even in this limited capacity. Thanks also to Joint Task Force North (JTFN) for being as open as they were, and to the Public Affairs organization for their professionalism and assistance.

Please Note: Illustration(s) are not available due to copyright restrictions.

Caption: ABOVE: Caribou spend much or all of the year on the tundra, ranging from Alaska to Baffin Island, so their skulls and bones are often found. One virtually intact skull with antlers was discovered during ATV training.

TOP RIGHT: Another aspect of Arctic training included invaluable survival skill techniques. Members of the CAF were taught how to catch Arctic char by setting up catch basins or weirs in shallow water (as seen here), set up snare traps, as well as build emergency shelters.

Caption: PHOTOS THIS PAGE: Learning how to manoeuvre a rigid-hulled inflatable boat (RHIB) and, more importantly, quickly remove someone from frigid cold waters after a capsize could mean the difference between life and death in Canada's North. Such exercises are an important part of the military training the Canadian Armed Forces conduct in the Arctic each year as part of Operation NANOOK.

Caption: After almost 70 years in service, the Canadian Rangers' tried and true No. 4 Lee-Enfield .303 rifle leans up against a quad ATV in Rankin Inlet. The Canadian military began distributing the new Colt C-19.308 rifle earlier this year, but it will take up to three years for the C-19 to be completely phased in. Slightly over 6,800 rifles have been purchased by the military.
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Publication:Esprit de Corps
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Nov 1, 2017
Next Article:CANADA'S TOP COMMANDO: An interview with MGen Michael Rouleau.

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