Day 7 – Under fire

Posted on March 19, 2012

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Waking up in a Forward Operating Base is distinctly different than waking up in the field. There’s always a hum and a buzz, people moving – a world outside your tent.

Today is rehearsal for the troops – the officers take time to clarify and detail attack and movement plans, the soldiers learn their roles and positions. I decide to finally take time and write out more of my experiences the old fashioned way: with paper and pen.

The company command post tent is warm and welcoming, with a fresh dispenser of coffee at the ready. I start gathering my thoughts and putting together journal notes about my time in the field, my time with two section who had become my road family. They told me the day I was out in Gameti they were worried I had been embedded elsewhere.

“Fire fire fire!”

I hear the yell, and its accompanying echo, just outside the tent. Grabbing my camera, I rush up the nearby snow hill without a parka to see what’s going on. A huddle of soldiers are there, surrounding a  smouldering mess; everyone looking down at the darkened ground.

The smoldering tent just after the fire.

“No, don’t you take pictures!” one officer screamed at me. The situation is tense, a fire in a close knit camp, something many troops told me was an anomaly.

“In my ten years in the army that’s never happened,” said one soldier to me, wanting to make sure I didn’t think this was a regular mishap. The incident left troops shaken, as soldiers were inside the tent at the time and fortunately all escaped without injury.

“I was heating up water on the MSR behind [another soldier] who was working on the Yukon stove,” MCpl Calvin Mullin, The Royal Winnipeg Rifles, tells the Company Second in Command. “I saw the Yukon [stove] flare up and evacuated immediately.”

The stoves are located close to the tent doorway, and the fire first caught the inside flap of the tent.

“I actually heard the control valve burst,” said Second Lieutenant (2Lt) Ray Wiegand, The Royal Winnipeg Rifles, of theYukonstove. The casualties of the fire were neck gaiters and toques left hanging in the tent to dry; no one else – nor any nearby tents – were harmed.

“The issue is the fire extinguishers were frozen and we couldn’t use them,” explained 2Lft Wiegand. “So we had to get out and let the tent burn.”

Right after the fire, ARCG soldiers are given a refresher on fire safety. Throughout the day, two more fire alarms were yelled, both false. All fire extinguishers were checked again, thoroughly, to make sure they were ready for action.

The day continues as planned, with the company commander giving orders detailing the attack. It’s also a chance for ARCG soldiers to meet some officers high in the chain of command – Brigadier General Paul Wynnyk, Land Force Western Area Commander, and Colonel Omer Lavoie, Commander 1 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group (1 CMBG).

They welcome the ARCG and thank the group for it’s involvement in the exercise. They remind the soldiers about the importance of training in Northern Canada. The two men then open the floor up to questions, and the troops had questions.

The soldiers asking questions

Master Corporal Ian Scobie, The North Saskatchewan Regiment, asks where next year’s equivalent of Exercise ARCTIC RAM would take place: it is yet to be determined.

Another asks about what thought will be given to improving the arctic mukluks: write a formal description on what works and what doesn’t. “These are the same boots we were given in the 1970’s,” said Col Lavoie.

Col Lavoie gestures to a soldier's boots

Others want to know about whether there will be summer Arctic exercises and if better snowmobiles will be purchased. And while definitive answers are always hard to give in a situation where promises can’t be made, the soldiers and officers leave understanding a little more about each side.

As a morale boost, soldiers are given a hot meal at FOB Maiden II. The day begins winding down early, at 1800, since the next day is the final battle to end the Ex.

– Day 1 – Not the only enemy
– Day 2 – Two platoon, two section
– Day 3 – Baby Monkey
– Day 4 – Relief, in place
– Day 5 – Hearts and minds
– Day 6 – The curse of FOB Maiden II– Day 8 – With eyes watching
– Day 9 – Going home

All articles and photographs by Daniella Ponticelli

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Posted in: Field Notes