Sometimes four hours of sleep feels like winning the lottery.
I wake up and eat my first rations meal of this trip. Individual Meal Packs (IMPs) are the staple in the field, and while I’ve had them before – this time my beans and sausage breakfast is hot and far tastier.
The tent has two stoves on the go: the regular Coleman to boil the clean ice we carry to make water and thus also cook our rations, and the Yukon stove. It should really be renamed the “hot-enough- to heat-the-entire Yukon” stove because it works with three different types of fuel and burns red-hot, heating tents to more than 20 degrees Celsius.
The soldiers are happier today, even those who had Naptha fuel accidentally leak on their equipment the night before, rendering them without a tent or rations. Company headquarters swiftly replaced all the materials and everyone was set to take off once more.
“I heard a sled rolled,” said one soldier. I’m worried news of my blunder, falling off the sled, has passed through the camp; but the road wasn’t only rough for me and my driver.
A soldier from Regina was sent to Yellowknife hospital after his sled rolled and he injured his knee. Many of the drivers are newly qualified on LOSV – light over snow vehicles, or snowmobiles, and the Northwest Territories is an unforgiving place with unpredictable terrain.
The personnel currently at FOB Maiden II have been here for a while. I pop into the medical tent and chat to soldiers who have been stationed there more than a month. A small white board is doodled with countdowns for those leaving in 10, 15 and 20 days.
FOB Maiden II is another large operating base, 75 KM away from FOB Wolf. I find out last night’s journey took so long because we veered (way) off course and ended up riding close to 130 KM.
“Hey, you the reporter? You’re riding with two platoon.”
The soldier hardly looks at me before taking off in another direction. The ARCG has two platoons with four sections of soldiers (including headquarters). A platoon is made up of approximately 30 soldiers, each section can have anywhere from 6 -10 soldiers. These sections become like family out in the field: you live, sleep, eat and work with them every day.
As I go up to meet the guys from two platoon two section, Captain Taylor is telling them about me.
“I don’t want to say precious cargo, but she is here to tell our story. And she can’t do that if she goes home with a broken hand.”
I am then introduced to my new driver, MCpl Lee Mistelbacher, The Royal Winnipeg Rifles. We don’t get to talk much before heading out at 1300 for Gameti, a northern town 300 KM away from Yellowknife. Our mission for the next few days is to reach the town and pull off a relief in place for soldiers who will be dropped in to the target.
The drive today is much better, moving along slick ice roads levelled off for smooth travelling. We pass two dog sled teams and weave through forest and lake areas as the hours pass.
We come to a junction point where PPCLI C Company is stationed with Light Armour Vehicles (LAVs). The ice roads are only safe enough to hold small cars, so the junction camps are set up to station what can’t move forward.
As part of the exercise, an enemy force is created to simulate actual winter warfare, and as such we move tactically – always on the look out during breaks on the drive.
We are almost half way to Gameti when the platoon stops early for the night. A deserved rest for the soldiers and a chance for me to meet the section I’d be living with.
It turns out my driver, MCpl Mistelbacher, is section leader, and the gruff soldier who told me to come to 2 platoon is his second in command (2iC), MCpl Alex Swaan from The North Saskatchewan Regiment. Only a few of the soldiers knew each other before the exercise. We are all too tired to stay up late.
– Day 1 – Not our only enemy.
– Day 3 – Baby Monkey
– Day 4 – Relief, in place
– Day 5 – Hearts and minds
– Day 6 – The curse of FOB Maiden II
– Day 7 – Under fire
– Day 8 – With eyes watching
– Day 9 – Going home
Article and photos by Daniella Ponticelli