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ARCTIC RAM: Far, far north exercise readies troops for sovereignty response

Some characterized the trip as “basically as far north as you can get,” or “as far as Peru… but north.”

The 38th Brigade deploys off the C-17 Globemaster in Resolute Bay Saturday.

Braeden Jones/Metro

The 38th Brigade deploys off the C-17 Globemaster in Resolute Bay Saturday.

“It’s going to be a pretty steep descent, just so you’re aware.”

The pilot of the C-17 Globemaster taking 120 Canadian reservists into Resolute Bay to spend a week training in the high Arctic is more candid than the average commercial pilot—but his passengers are used to that kind of directness.

They’re a part of a larger contingent of Canadian Forces (CF) members, including rangers and regular service members, training around the North between early February and early March. More specifically, they belong to the Arctic Response Company Group (ARCG).

The 120 who landed at the Arctic Training Centre Saturday are relieving Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) members from Edmonton, who parachuted into the area on Friday, in the joint training exercise Arctic Ram 2016.

Most had never been as high as Resolute Bay, close to latitude 75°. During the flight some characterized it as “basically as far north as you can get,” or “as far as Peru… but north.”

It’s about 2,400 km from Winnipeg, still in the central time zone, but basically straight north. The community of Resolute is one of the most populated northern settlements in the Canadian arctic.

But the reservists—hailing from Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Northwestern Ontario—stayed at the Arctic Training Centre northwest of that hamlet, on a compound shared with the Polar Continental Shelf Program.

At least they did for Saturday night. They’ll spend subsequent evenings in tents pitched out on sea ice, braving the harsh arctic climate, where the bulk of their training exercise would be staged.

The mock scenario this week has the ARCG responding to a “downed satellite,” with the objective of locating its parts.

The PPCLI paratroopers responded first on Friday, setting up a preliminary camp with light gear.

The 38th Brigade gets ready to move onto sea ice after repairing snowmobiles.

Braeden Jones/Metro

The 38th Brigade gets ready to move onto sea ice after repairing snowmobiles.

After spending most of Saturday evening repairing snowmobiles and specialized “Komatik” sleds—long skidded platform sleds that are bound with rope rather than nailed together, for flexibility over the rough terrain—ARCG deployed Sunday by land and sea ice.

Maj. James Meredith, the officer in command, said regardless of the scenario, the training is “invaluable.”

“We’ve done a hand over, we’ve shown that we can do this. We can spool this up,” he said.

Meredith explained it’s a demonstration of the force’s ability to “stretch out from a base in Winnipeg” with numbers, and “(fire) out another 150 to 200 km” from there during the mission.

“So that’s quite a projection to be able to do,” he said. “The more people that we can move, and the faster we can get to what we need to do is (all) a part of the scenario, and we can show that.”

PPCLI paratroopers set up a preliminary camp with light gear.

Braeden Jones/Metro

PPCLI paratroopers set up a preliminary camp with light gear.

Arctic Ram is one of a number of annual exercises that test the ARCG and prepare more CF members for real-life scenarios not unlike this year’s exercise.

The ARCG is meant to support the regular forces in operations in the North and to ensure sovereignty of the Canadian Arctic.

The frequent turnover of Canadian Army reservists means the training has to be annual, to make sure that more are able and trained to work in the high Arctic.

“(The) vast majority this year are all brand new to the Arctic, brand new privates that have just completed their basic training in winter warfare,” said Meredith. “Having (this) experience and that exposure and rapport… all of a sudden we can do what we’re supposed to do.

“But it’s that learning bit that we go through every year.”

During Exercise Arctic Ram 2016, Metro will be reporting on different aspects of the Canadian Arctic, the community of Resolute, and the military’s presence and training in the area.