Day 8 – With eyes watching

Posted on March 27, 2012

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Last night is the first time I have trouble sleeping.

At 0300 Master Corporal Mistelbacher wakes everyone up and as it is with an early reveille, things move quickly. The morale is high; it’s the last big day of the ex, but we still have one huge task to push through.

We gear up to leave FOB Maiden II, and without fault things start off well and slowly trouble arises. Not only is it colder than expected, the terrain is far rougher than before.  I’m used to the uncomfortable feeling of jostling around on a sled from the previous treks, but this time my body aches and my kneecaps feel frozen in place.

We are told to stop, I hear whispers from MCpl Mistelbacher’s radio; two soldiers took a turn at the wrong time and ended up stepping into a not-so-frozen ravine. With ice water up past their boots, the soldiers need medical attention. There is not much else to do but send them back to FOB Maiden II.

We push on and after hours of riding, we see a large snow hill on our left with tundra buggies and people watching.

“Media,” MCpl Mistelbacher points out, but I had already seen the tripods and microphones even from far. Then all I hear is the sound of live shooting.

“Get down!” MCpl Mistelbacher screams, and I quickly fall down behind the snowmobile. I’m short and huddle without any protruding parts as I scramble to get my camera out.

It’s a completely unplanned ambush by our fictitious enemy, but it’s safe; the live rounds are all blanks, never actually coming near anyone.

An ARCG soldier crouching among the trees during the final battle.

Two section uses their sleds for protection before coming back and advancing forward. As they push I follow behind, trudging low through four feet of snow. I curse the snow under my breath, and feel myself getting warmer and warmer as the walking becomes harder. For more than an hour the soldiers hold and clear the area – all the while with eyes watching on the hill.

An ARCG soldier watches from the line.

We press on and come to the battle site the soldiers had been told about. The ARCG’s role is to create a line on one side of the airstrip so the 1 CMBG soldiers can finish their mission. The wait takes more than two hours, and once we leave there’s a sense the day is far from over.

The ARCG platoons meet at a point five minutes away, where infantry soldiers from other brigades have formed a semi-circle. Across from them are dignitaries from the Northwest Territories. Everyone listens as soldiers are given awards and speeches are made. At the end, the dignitaries mingle with the soldiers and everyone talks about the experience they just went through.

MCpl Bethany Brown, 1 field ambulance, tells me it reminds her of the scene in We Were Soldiers, when all the “nice-looking media” comes out at the end and asks questions while the embedded journalist, mildly disgruntled, looks on quietly.

ARCG soldiers wait on sleds as dignitaries from the Northwest Territories walk by.

We still have the ride back, during which we pass the hole in the ravine where the soldiers had broken through.

The ride is so rough it blows the suspension on our snowmobile, so I end up getting a ride from MCpl Swaan. After we pull in to FOB Maiden II, I just about tackle hug the guy – it’s the last time we have to be on those sleds. Next we load kit on a truck and board a non-heated bus. The only warm part of me is my neck gaiter, recycling the warmth of my breath.

It’s off to FOB Wolf, 75 KM away, and once there we are swiftly kicked off to the mess tent for real food. It’s incredible how much you look forward to food that didn’t come out of a plastic sealed bag. But the mixture of shovelled down real food and a steady diet of rations doesn’t bode well for my body.

While the guys sort out weapons and count their mags, I doze off to sleep; a small bundle in a sleeping bag.

– 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 7 – Under fire
– Day 9 – Going home

All photos and articles by Daniella Ponticelli

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Posted in: Field Notes