There’s no “I” in “austere”: Working as a team in Canada’s North during Operation NANOOK

A soldier rides an ATV over deep mud and water.
Members of 38 Canadian Brigade Group approach a river in all-terrain vehicles during Operation NANOOK, near Rankin Inlet, NU, on August 18, 2017. Photo: Cpl Dominic Duchesne-Beaulieu.

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By Lucy Ellis, Task Force Nunavut Public Affairs

Arriving in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut in the late summer, there are a few things that stand out: the terrain is rough and rocky, most people drive trucks or all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), there are no trees anywhere, and the wind coming off the water cuts through your clothes. The beauty of the landscape can distract from a critical feature: operating and living in a remote, northern location can be incredibly difficult.

The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) conducted Operation NANOOK 2017 in Nunavut and Labrador from August 14 to August 25. The importance of building relationships was central throughout the operation.

It comes as no surprise that there is a high degree of camaraderie among CAF members from the same unit or brigade, but this operation stressed the importance of developing relationships beyond that.

“Not only did Operation NANOOK enhance our capability to operate in austere conditions in Canada’s North, it also provided our task force members with an outstanding opportunity to engage with our whole-of-government partners in a realistic, emergency scenario,” said Lieutenant-Colonel David Fraser, Commander Task Force Nunavut.

In Nunavut, for the first portion of the operation, the Arctic Response Company Group (ARCG) worked closely with Canadian Rangers from 1 Canadian Ranger Patrol Group. Experts in the North, Canadian Rangers come from northern communities, and they know this land better than any troops from the south.

“None of this would be possible without the Rangers,” said Major Samantha Burch, ARCG Company Commander. “I think that 38 Canadian Brigade Group gets better each year at working with the Rangers, and learning more of what they have to offer.”

The Canadian Rangers shared traditional knowledge and survival skills with the ARCG troops. They showed them which berries could be eaten, how to catch a fish in a weir, how to make a fire when there is no wood, and how to cook their meals on slate rocks.

This was also the first time the 38 Canadian Brigade Group has deployed to the North on ATVs in the summer.

“The Rangers gave the troops some tips and tricks on how to secure their loads better on their ATVs and trailers, and how to properly traverse the land and how to read the land,” said Warrant Officer Lionel Packulak. “We now have a better idea of how light we have to pack the equipment.”

In the second portion of the operation, the CAF was part of a whole-of-government response to a simulated barge fire in Rankin Inlet. The scenario was designed to stress the local emergency response system to see how it would handle a mass casualty.

As it unfolded, CAF members worked side-by-side with members of more than 35 other government departments and agencies. These included the Public Health Agency of Canada, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, Rankin Inlet Health Centre, Rankin Inlet Emergency Management Services, Rankin Inlet Fire Department, Kivalliq Inuit Association, the Hamlet of Rankin Inlet, the Mayor and Council of Rankin Inlet, and many more.

“It was beneficial to see how we would fit into this scenario and how we’d be able to help and use our resources to do what we can to support the community,” said Captain Ted Jackson, Task Force Surgeon.

CAF members also acted as the simulated casualties, as they were covered in graphic yet fake wounds to make the situation as realistic as possible. With all of the partners coming together, the scenario provided valuable insight into the best way to respond to emergencies in the North.

Whether you’re spending a night out on the land as a platoon or dealing with a crisis as a community, teamwork is the key to success in Canada’s North.

Image gallery

  • A nurse in a bright orange vest kneels beside soldiers with fake wounds.
  • A soldier smiles widely as he holds a fish in his hands.
  • A soldier rides an ATV over deep mud and water.
  • A female Canadian Ranger shows a group of soldiers local plants.
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