Monday, April 10, 2006

establishing canadian sovereignty ...

Canadian soldiers finish epic patrol without frostbite or getting lost
April 10, 2006

RESOLUTE BAY, Nunavut (CP) -
The last night of an epic military operation in Canada's frozen north ended up being the worst - a blizzard with winds so strong the soldiers had to use snowmobiles to anchor down the tents.

Operation Nunalivut, which means The Land Is Ours in Inuktitut, was the first time that several patrols from widely separated points in the North travelled by snowmobiles on harsh land and converged at one point.

Maj. Chris Bergeron of 1st Canadian Ranger Patrol Group, was in charge of the operation. Five patrols of 42 men - 11 full-time members of the Armed Forces, and 31 Canadian Rangers, who are part-time army reservists who live in communities in the North.

When the men reached Resolute Bay, about 600 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle, on Sunday, they desperately craved a hot shower and a hot meal.

I am very proud of the rangers, my troops went through difficult terrain, difficult ice, through storms, we navigated through blizzards and they were always dead on, he said.

No one got frostbite except for Bergeron, who said he had a white spot on his big nose. And no one got lost, which Bergeron feared the most.

It's a beautiful land, but that land will not forgive any mistakes. I always worried about losing people in the storms ... I would never forgive myself if I was to lose somebody.

Bergeron praised the Rangers and said he learned so much from them, from how to fix a snow machine in -40 C to finding one's way in a whiteout using snowdrifts.

The rangers are truly the eyes and ears of the north, the Canadian Forces cannot operate without them in the North, there's no doubt in my mind.

Bergeron said the rangers were fixing snowmobiles and broken komatiks (sleds) in -40 C temperatures with their bare hands, and no one complained.

Bergeron left Mould Bay on Prince Patrick's Island on March 29 with two patrols, while other patrols left from Isacheson, another from Grise Fiord and another from Resolute Bay.

The three patrols met on Lougheed Island last Tuesday, then all five converged Friday at Polar Bear Pass south of Bathurst Island. Then they made their way to Resolute, but first had to battle one last blizzard and a polar bear.

Ranger Sgt. Allen Pogotak, from Ulukhaktok, N.W.T., said Sunday he was tired, but wouldn't hesitate to take part in a similar operation.

Pogotak said he woke up early Sunday morning to the sound of a polar bear sniffing around his tent.

I ran out and yelled at it, I had my shotgun but I just yelled at it and it disappeared and never came back, he said.

The troops also saw a mother polar bear and her two cubs at the beginning of the trip.

Pogotak said the trip was fraught with equipment problems, but rangers are a determined lot.

Everyone had same problems, komatiks and ski-doos breaking down, but the Canadian Rangers are self motivated and they can fix a Ski-Doo in any kind of condition, in any weather, without complaint and work together - that's how we make it through our trip.

The purpose of the operation was to establish Canadian sovereignty and to learn about various camps, airstrips and other structures built and abandoned on the land. Knowing what's out there and what kind of shape it's in could be handy in case of an emergency such as an air crash.

The cost of the 12-day operation is estimated to be about $1.5 million and covered about 5,000 kilometres.

Pogotak was getting on a plane Monday for his trip home, but Bergeron, 48, was heading back out on the land with the Grise Fiord patrol, accompanying them back home, and will be the last one to get home.

I like the land, I like the challenge, I like the way of living on the land. I have no traffic, it's pure air, to be with my rangers, it's so rewarding, I learn so much from them.

Nothing can stop me now, I feel like 19 again.