It’s weird waking up and not striking down a tent.
Master Corporal Lee Mistelbacher, our section leader, left early this morning for the 15 minute ride north to Gameti; to see where and how the relief in place (RIP) would work.
“We replace [the PPCLI soldiers] one section at a time,” explained MCpl Alex Swaan. At the moment, airborne soldiers from the Regular Force PPCLI are stationed by Gameti airstrip to hold off our fictitious enemy.
Back at our warm tent haven, the guys and I swap stories and eat junk food. We talk a lot about military life and culture, clarifying words and phrases that were foreign to me before. I find out there’s a distinct difference between a sh*t bag and a sh*tter bag. The former is a bag of edible goodies such as candies, chocolate and mixed nuts; the latter, a bag in which you relieve yourself of all the goodies.
The great thing about eating inside the tent is not exposing your fingers to the cold in order to open a chocolate bar. Through the rumour mill – and confirmed later by the commander – a soldier had taken a large bite from his Soldier Fuel bar, forgetting that it was frozen, and broke a bridge in his teeth. He’s now known as ‘Soldier Bar’ around the camp.
I spend most of my day writing, and having the soldiers in 2 Section ask repeatedly what I’m writing about them. Then they ask for pictures, and as I move closer to snap a photo of the boys from Prince Albert, the stench of body odour bowls me over. And it’s not just them, I’m less-than-fresh too.
It’s just when you’re out in the cold, the smell is dulled.
At 1400 we receive our first solid orders: meet by the command post, it’s time to train with the Canadian Rangers.
Riding alongside us all the way are members of the Canadian Rangers from the nearby town of Whati, NWT. Part of their job is to live on the land and know the area. Their tents aren’t set up with metal poles or pegs, rather they cut down thin spruce trees to make the wood for their poles and tie the fabric of their prospector tent off to other trees.
Two platoon gathers around two rangers: Elder Ranger Freddy Flunkie and newbie Ranger Shaun Moosenose – who prefers to go by Moose. With cigarette in mouth, Ranger Flunkie begins by showing the ARCG soldiers how to set an effective log trap to catch animals such as rabbit and martin. Moose then demonstrates how to work a more modern trap.
The training lasts for more than two hours (see ARCG soldiers learn to hunt, fush from the Canadian Rangers and Canadian Ranger Training) and provides an opportunity for Canadian Forces soldiers to relate to the people living in northern towns. Troops ask thoughtful questions about hunting, and at the end of training Moose offers rabbit meat to whomever wants to try. The wild game meat is easy to chew at first with a slightly tough finish, but everyone agrees it’s better than rations.
The platoon disbands into sections for the evening, while I poke my head around. The command post is surrounded by multiple antennae, making it look like a tangle of intersecting zip lines. I find out the signallers on this exercise are trying something new – long distance communications on the ground. The equipment they would normally carry in a large military vehicle is instead packed up and hauled on sleds.
My evening closes with an hour long sit-in on company orders. Each night the Officer in Command, Captain Ray Taylor, and the other officers gather to discuss the upcoming plans of action. Tonight’s major points are about reminding soldiers about snowmobile safety and keeping everyone on the same page for the push into Gameti the following day.
When I get back to the tent, everyone is quietly asleep, save for Pte Nadeau: the snorer. It’s amazing how quickly these strangers start to feel like family.
– Day 1 – Not the only enemy
– Day 2 – Two platoon, two section
– Day 3 – Baby Monkey
– 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
All articles and images by Daniella Ponticelli