There’s so much snow everywhere. I honestly didn’t think I’d ever find snowfall beautiful.
But during the night, the sky placed a thin layer of snow over our tents and kit. We leave our rucksacks outside, with our parkas overtop – keeping our coats inside the warm tent creates moisture on the jacket which freezes once outside.
Inside the tent breakfast is on the stove and Corporal (Cpl) Tyson Campbell-Harris, The North Saskatchewan Regiment, is handing out rations. Over the course of the exercise Cpl Campbell-Harris becomes the designated cook. Everyone is in a much better mood after sufficient sleep, and one soldier comments he even heard music in his dream.
“All I kept hearing on repeat was ‘baby monkey, baby monkey – backwards on a pig, baby monkey,’” said Private (Pte) Brandon Nadeau from Prince Albert,Saskatchewan. Soon enough, all of two Section is bleating out the famous tune from a viral YouTube video of a cute baby monkey literally riding backwards on a pig.
The newfound energy has soldiers moving quickly to take down the tent and start their sleds. Off in the distance I notice one lone man in what looks like a make-shift fort. I go over to join him and find out he’s manning the C-6 machine gun as part of his guard duties.
“They all look dead,” remarked Corporal (Cpl) Shawn Weisman, 737 Communication Squadron, referring to the rows upon rows of skinny tree trunks surrounding the camp. The skeletal trees are black and none of them stand perfectly straight; some leaning as if needing support, across others.
Our goal for the day is to reach Gameti via the ice roads. We are making good time and stop rarely. I didn’t always find the pee breaks useful as the roads are wide open offering little shelter and little privacy.
I also need space – having to take off almost all of my kit to relieve myself.
I snap photos of soldiers when we stop for breaks, keeping my camera and batteries heated with a hand warmer. Everyone has their go-to break routine: some do crunches on their sled; others grab a handful of jerky and swig their canteen, while others dance around to stretch their knees.
Drivers tell me they have back pain from holding the handlebars at the same angle hours on end. The handles themselves are heated and provide some reprieve from the cold, while the cruel wind bites at the soldiers’ freshly shaven faces.
To stay awake, the soldiers tell me they sing songs. I decide to belt out my own mental playlist, thinking of songs I usually sing when I hit the karaoke bars.
We end up stopping just shy of Gameti, in an area full of trees. The shelter set-up starts at 1500 and we are told it’s temporary. But the sun goes down and the orders come in, we are officially staying the night.
I find out Cpl Campbell-Harris is the big brother of another 2 Section soldier, Private (Pte) Justin Campbell. Their last names should be the same, but there was an error made on their birth certificates. Both are from Prince Albert, Saskatchewan and are heading to Shilo, Manitoba for tasking right after the exercise.
Two other soldiers from Prince Albert, Pte Brandon Nadeau and Pte Tyler Pouteaux are also in 2 Section. Rounding out the rest of the group is Cpl Jon Shau and Cpl Evan Pratt from The North Saskatchewan Regiment, and the lone artillery man Bombardier Matthew Canart, 26th Field Artillery Regiment, RCA , from Brandon, Manitoba.
“You know we made sure we got you,” Nadeau told Canart. It seemed the artillery guy made an impression on the infantry men during Exercise ARCTIC APPRENTICE in Gimli,Manitoba, a month before.
Later that night, medic Cpl Philippe Simon, 17 Field Ambulance, came by to check on everyone and whether or not they had “frostbites.” While the men had been cold for most of the day, the real medical issue is Nadeau’s infected ingrown toenail. “Infectoe” is the loving pet name 2 Section bestowed on him, but Simon isn’t impressed. He decides to cut strips of iodine gauze and firmly places them under the edges of the toenail to reach the infected area.
Nadeau isn’t happy, the guys are laughing without shame; but within a half hour, infectoe is back to his usual loud snoring.
– Day 1 – Not the only enemy
– Day 2 – Two platoon, two section
– 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