I wake up in a freezer.
It’s the first time since on exercise I’ve ever been cold waking up. The warehouse isn’t heated and with such a large building, the more than 150 bodies inside didn’t make a difference.
We pack up and grab breakfast. Everyone is asking me what I thought about the exercise – am I planning on joining the Army? I smile politely and tell them I admire what they do.
While their bags are inspected for boarding, I weave in and out collecting names for my articles. Everyone asks about where they can see the pictures, and I come to realize most of these soldiers love having their pictures taken.
The mood is more relaxed, but the soldiers are still dressed sharp, with their uniforms crisp. Most of them I see without toques on for the first time.
On the bus to Yellowknife Airport, I sit beside Corporal John Dalton, The Royal Winnipeg Rifles, who says to me; “Fighting in cold weather makes me an even stronger advocate for world peace.”
We’re given boxed lunches before going inside the fire hall to wait for our airplane. In section groups, soldiers are allowed to use the washrooms and visit the gift shop. Embedding with the army is one of the only times a girl doesn’t have to wait in a line to use the ladies’ room.
Most of the guys are talking about what they want to do first when they get home. While the top of my to do list is taking a shower and sleep, for them it’s about eating a good meal and having a decent drink.
When we start moving to the plane, I sit beside Corporal Mike Smela, 737 Communication Squadron, who tells me in three weeks he’s trying out for the Sky Hawks.
“It’s awesome, you get paid to sky dive, mingle with the public, and travel with a professionally trained team,” gushes Cpl Smela, who is from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. It is their constant enthusiasm for the military that impresses me the most about 38 Brigade Group members. “That was one of the coolest [exercises] I’ve been on, with some of the biggest FOB’s and mess tents,” Cpl Smela tells me.
On the mid-day flight home, I finally see the Northwest Territories from above – a sea of deep green spotted with white lakes. Once in Winnipeg, the troops pick up their kit and begin sorting out their weapons.
I say good bye to 2 section, which feels bizarre after spending a week doing everything with them. My next assignment is writing all about my time in the North, while theirs means travelling across the country for courses and taskings.
My dad always talks about the bond he had with this army buddies. I never really got it, and I don’t think you ever can – not unless you’ve been through something as a military group. Even a training exercise like ARCTIC RAM has a profound impact on those who participate. I can’t fully describe to people how I feel about my time in the north; mostly what comes to mind are the good times hanging out with the soldiers. The minor annoyances mean little once you’re out of the field, and you easily forget the happiness one clean baby wipe once brought you.
To all the ARCG soldiers, I wish you luck in your future endeavours as soldiers and as human beings.
– 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 8 – With eyes watching
All articles and photography by Daniella Ponticelli