Residents of Cambridge Bay and Resolute can expect to see a major influx of military personnel in and around their communities as Operation Nunalivut is held from Feb. 23 to March 21.
The annual High Arctic military exercise will involve 350 Rangers and Canadian Armed Forces personnel combined. Soldiers will be sent from Winnipeg and Shilo, Man., and military divers will arrive from Canada’s East Coast. In addition to the diving operations, there will be military drills on land and on sea ice, patrols and live fire training.
“One of our big things that we’ve learned is that the weather can be quite a challenging foe,” said Lt. Commander Melissa Syer, who is based in Yellowknife and who will be on the ground in Resolute for this year’s Operation Nunalivut. “We’re really trying to learn from past experiences. It’s cold and the more training you do leading up to it, the more success you have in the operation.”
Equipment failure due to the frigid conditions is practically a “daily occurrence,” Syer acknowledged.
“That’s just the nature of the beast, the result of operating in the High Arctic in the winter,” she said.
Massive Globemaster and Hercules transport aircraft, as well as Twin Otter planes, numerous snowmobiles and possibly other tracked military all-terrain vehicles, will be deployed during the exercise.
The platoons of soldiers in Cambridge Bay and Resolute will not meet up physically, but will be aware of each other’s actions through the command and control of designated senior military leaders.
The Hamlet of Cambridge Bay, which hosted Operation Nunalivut in 2015, will prepare to accommodate the soldiers and Rangers with water supply, sewage services and garbage collection, said Jim MacEachern, the hamlet’s assistant senior administrative officer.
“And just with logistics in general,” he said.
The Rangers play a critical role in the exercise because they are experienced at operating in a Northern climate, said Syer.
“They’re giving a lot of training to the soldiers who come up from the south on winter survival, building cold-weather huts, that sort of thing,” she said. “They’re key to this operation. They embed with the platoons, with the people out on the land. They’re a resource for the platoon leaders in terms of operating in the North.”
Cambridge Bay Ranger Kevin Taylor, who’s expecting to be part of the upcoming operation, can attest to how the extreme cold can affect equipment. He said he once had to repair a snowmobile with a badly damaged suspension during an exercise held at -67C, factoring in the windchill.
“Weather is always an issue. It being so unpredictable puts everyone into survival mode when you’re on the land,” Taylor said. “I became a Ranger 22 years ago after realizing the land could have taken me with no notice.”
Taylor was also a member of Operation Nanook in 2009, which took him to Eureka and on a patrol of the frozen channel between Canada and Greenland.
“It was an experience I will never forget,” he said.
Operation Nunalivut will also entail community engagement by having soldiers visit the schools in Cambridge Bay and Resolute, and a “community day” featuring a variety of activities will be held in Cambridge Bay, Syer noted.