Op NUNALIVUT 2017: test of good will, uncommon determination

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Article / April 12, 2017

By: Stefany Chénier

Those living in the High Arctic call it “the frozen paradise”, but recently the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) called it home during an annual exercise.

Every year, CAF personnel have the opportunity to appreciate the pristine scenery of Canada’s North while experiencing its extreme conditions during Operation NUNALIVUT (Op NU). Commanded by Joint Task Force (North), Op NU is a surveillance and control operation aimed at demonstrating the capabilities of the CAF to conduct operations in the High Arctic and respond to situations in this vast region. This year’s exercise also led to a real life rescue, as two stranded hunters were saved and a third hunter was found.

More than 350 combined members of the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN), Canadian Army (CA), Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), 1st Canadian Ranger Patrol Group (1 CRPG)—and for the first time, divers from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP)—overcome obstacles to prevail during Op NU17 from February 23 to March 10.

“The unforgiving winter in the High Arctic was a challenge to all members who deployed this year,” said Brigadier-General Mike Nixon, Commander, Joint Task Force (North). “They demonstrated exceptional skills, capabilities, and cooperation, learning how to work together in Canada’s harshest climate.” In the area of Hall Beach, Nunavut, close to 245 CAF members conducted Arctic operations and skills training. The contingent included 110 members from 5 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group, with the majority coming from the 12e Régiment blindé du Canada (12 RBC); the  2nd Canadian Division Arctic Response Company Group, comprised of 135 reservists from 34 and 35 Canadian Brigade Group (34 and 35 CBG); and personnel from 5 Service Battalion. Over two gruelling weeks, 12 RBC and the 2 Cdn Div ARCG personnel conducted ground search and rescue exercises and were taught survival and navigation techniques by 1 CRPG.

They built a rudimentary landing strip, practised on an austere rifle range, and led snowmobile patrols, while living in a temporary camp and feeding off Individual Meal Packs. They surmounted logistical challenges, extreme blizzard conditions, and temperatures that often dipped below -62°C.

In Resolute Bay, Nunavut, RCN, CA, and RCMP divers conducted ice diving operations and explored the depths of Arctic waterways.

“When you deploy in the Arctic, there is an enormous amount of moving pieces. Having divers underwater is the easy part,” said Lieutenant (N) Samuel A. Mercier, Clearance Diver from the Fleet Diving Unit (Atlantic). “When you get onsite and start diving, it means you were successful in planning the components of the mission.”

Despite challenging weather, the joint dive team—made up of 14 Clearance and Port Inspection Divers from FDU (A), 5 CA Combat Divers, and 10 RCMP Divers—was able to meet its objectives. Their efforts focused on enhancing Arctic diving abilities and establishing inter-operational procedures, both critical for future underwater endeavours.

Strategic air support provided by the RCAF was an integral component of mission success. The CC-177 Globemaster III and the CC-130J Hercules were key enablers, moving equipment, supplies, and troops from around the country. The 440 (Transport) Squadron aircrew also played a vital role in a real rescue operation while conducting austere landing exercises in Hall Beach.

“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,” said Lieutenant-Colonel John Hlibchuk, Task Force Nunalivut Commander.

“On a personal note, this has been a great lesson in flexibility, patience, and humility. The advice and support provided by the Canadian Rangers and the Arctic Operations advisors has been critical to our mission success.”

Once again, Op NU17 allowed the CAF members to hone existing skill-sets and conduct surveillance and control operations. Valuable lessons have been learned, including a new appreciation for working in one of Canada’s most beautiful, yet extremely challenging environments.

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