Westmount, Quebec – 20 March 2017: This guest article was prepared by Lieutenant-Colonel John Hlibchuk, the Commanding Officer of the Royal Canadian Hussars. It is about Operation NUNALIVUT 2017 conducted by 2nd Canadian Division’s Arctic Response Company Group (ARCG), where the company commander was the RMR’s Major Pat Paulin along with the CSM Warrant Officer Brent McNair. There were a total of 12 RMR soldiers participating on this operation.
Lessons learned in Canada’s Arctic, by LCol John Hlibchuk
How many people do you know who have gone to the Canadian Arctic and survived temperatures below -60 degrees Celsius with wind speeds reaching 80 km/h? The members of the 2nd Canadian Division’ Arctic Response Company Group (ARCG) did just that.
People say humans are resilient, and we are however not many people test their limits in the cold austere condition of the High Arctic. Between March 4th and 10th, 2017, Operation NUNALIVUT 2017 gave me the chance to deploy with 125 citizen soldiers – all volunteers, 90 of whom came from Montreal. They are your neighbours, your colleagues, your friends.
We experienced the unforgiving Canadian North by conducting surveillance and control operations, learning survival techniques from the Canadian Rangers, and spending a night outside in -62 degrees Celsius. I could not be more proud of the men and women of the 2nd Division ARCG for the tremendous work they did during Operation NUNALIVUT 2017. These individuals are the reason why I joined the military 30 years ago and they are the reason why I stay.
We encountered many challenges which demanded flexibility and creativity in our decision making. Besides obvious obstacles such as extreme cold and low visibility during blizzards, simple tasks such as transporting supplies by Qamatiik, the traditional Inuit sled, had to be taught by the Canadian Rangers and adopted quickly. The way we operate in the South is not the same as it is in the North. Normally, we focus on rapid deployment, but in the North, we have to be meticulous and ensure that everything is done properly the first time as there are no second chances. Our troops learned this quickly as they were setting up and tearing down Arctic tents in the midst of oncoming blizzard conditions.
All those who were able to deploy on Operation NUNALIVUT 2017 felt a twinge of excitement at the thought of living out this unique experience as well as the pride of representing the Canadian Armed Forces in the Arctic. As military members, our hard training and teamwork maintained our morale and focus, making this operation a resounding success. The help of the Canadian Rangers was essential and very much appreciated and gave us the enviable opportunity to learn more about Arctic survival and weather conditions from Canada’s eyes and ears of the North.
In addition to the support from the 1st Canadian Ranger Patrol Group, we had the opportunity to work with the 12e Régiment blindé du Canada and 5e Bataillon des services du Canada. Throughout the operation, the CC-177 Globemaster and CC-130J Hercules aircraft transported personnel, supplies, and equipment to Hall Beach from Yellowknife and Québec City while CC-138 Twin Otters provided local air support.
In addition, divers from the Royal Canadian Navy’s Fleet Diving Unit Atlantic, along with Canadian Armed Forces combat divers from across Canada and Royal Canadian Mounted Police divers, conducted ice diving operations in Resolute Bay. In all, some 350 personnel participated in the two-week operation demonstrating outstanding interoperability.
Our ability, as members of the Canadian Armed Forces, to operate effectively and efficiently in the event of a crisis, is of paramount importance and even more so in the harsh and often unforgiving conditions in the Canadian Arctic. Working collaboratively across the Forces, with other federal agencies, such as the RCPM, enables us all to achieve these goals.
Operation NUNALIVUT 2017 brought a number of essential requirements together and exposed soldiers to a challenging and rewarding Arctic experience that will be invaluable as they go on to other operations. On a personal note, this has been a great lesson in flexibility, patience and humility.