|First Air chartered plane.|
A skills competition is a northern cadet event where teams from participating corps/squadrons come together and compete in four areas: drill, leadership/teamwork, marksmanship, and sports. Originally, the competition this year was supposed to happen in Iqaluit, but the necessary facilities were unavailable. Thus, the organizers turned to Plan B: Rankin Inlet, from April 25 to 27. The three participating corps would be: 3045 Army of Arctic Bay, 3055 Army of Repulse Bay, and 3019 Army of Rankin Inlet. Corps from other communities were invited but, unfortunately, they were unable to commit.
Organizing a territory-wide cadet event is a financial & logistical challenge in Nunavut. A huge chunk of the budget immediately goes to ferrying everyone to and from the event by plane. Air travel is the best mode of transportation if you want to save time, but it'll cost you. As I have already mentioned in previous blog posts, plane tickets are very expensive in the north. After that comes rations, accommodations, equipment, vehicles, and salaries. The costs skyrocket if the unpredictable weather comes into play. I have heard stories of people being stranded in communities for days because of fierce winds and fog. Not all communities have a hotel and if they do, the prices are not cheap. Rankin Inlet has a reputation of being one of those communities with unpredictable weather, particularly fierce winds, because the town is situated on flat land. I could only hope that the weather would be kind because I was only granted Civilian Leave for April 25. I made sure to prepare lessons for the supply teacher on that day.
My team of eight cadets had been preparing for the competition for several months. Many Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays were spent on perfecting the required drill routine, improving marksmanship scores, assigning tasks for the leadership tasking, and playing volleyball as a team. I instructed, assisted, and delegated wherever I could. The Skills Team and I also received assistance and helpful advice from Jerome, a civilian volunteer who used to be in the Rank Force. When the time came to fly down to Rankin Inlet, the team & I were feeling pretty confident. A few days prior to April 25, everyone was issued sleeping bags, duffel bags, green coats, mitts, and white mukluks. We also securely packed eight Daisy air rifles, safety goggles, and repair tools. Since the Daisies are not firearms (they fire below 500fps), we were not required to complete any extensive paperwork. The cadets were responsible for packing warm civilian clothing, toiletries, boot polishing kit, pillow, and anything else they would need.
On the morning of April 25th, I got up at around 8am, two hours later than I normally do on a school day. The First Air charter plane was not leaving until 11:30am so there was time to sleep in. Everyone had been instructed to be packed and ready to be driven to the airport at 10am. The charter plane was flying directly to Rankin Inlet with a brief stop in Repulse Bay. It was nice having an entire plane to ourselves. The flight down to the Repulse Bay took around 3 hours and was mostly uneventful. However, the cabin was full of excitement. I was excited to be seeing and visiting the Nunavut mainland for the first time. Up until then, my travels had been confined to "The Island".
|Repulse Bay Airport Terminal.|
I managed to get a good picture of Repulse Bay before the plane landed at the airport. Unlike Arctic Bay, the airport sits right next to the town proper. After landing on the gravel runway, the plane taxied to the small terminal and stopped to be refueled, and restocked with food. The propellers were halted to allow the 3055 Army Skills Team to board the aircraft. The cadets exchanged greetings in Inuktitut and I introduced myself to the escorting Captain who also was the Commanding Officer of the corps.
|Rankin Inlet Airport Terminal|
The flight to Rankin Inlet (RI) took about two and half hours. From the air, the town had a similar layout to Repulse Bay but with more buildings and people. Rankin Inlet is the "Iqaluit" of the mainland. When Nunavut was created in 1999, a vote was held to choose a territorial capital. Rankin Inlet was one of the two choices, the other being Iqaluit. (Iqaluit won the vote). RI's airport is the second busiest in Nunavut and was recently upgraded with an expanded apron to accommodate more aircraft. Everyone disembarked the plane after it halted in front of the green terminal. I paused for a second before placing my right foot on the Nunavut mainland for the first time. Inside, we were met by the officers in charge of the competition. We collected all our belongings and were driven to the Personnel Accommodation Barracks (PAB), located on the other side of the airport.
The PAB was built during the Cold War to accommodate an air squadron in the event of a Soviet attack through the Arctic. Fighter aircraft would be housed & serviced at the nearby Forward Operating Location (FOL), a collection of five large hangars. The PAB & FOL are owned and operated by NORAD. 3019 Army Cadet Corps is very fortunate to be granted access to two of the FOL hangars for training, parading, and shooting because the facilities can be commandeered by the military at any time. Such was the case in February when the Canadian Forces held Exercise Trillium Response, using the FOL as their staging area, barracks, and mess hall.
|Rankin Inlet Airport tarmac|
|Rankin Inlet Gas Tank farm|
The cadets and officers from all three corps moved their belongings into the PAB. The males were assigned rooms on the second floor and females were assigned rooms on the first floor. Each room was designed to accommodate two occupants. CIC officers, such as myself, had rooms all to themselves. Once everyone had changed into civilian attire, a welcome briefing was held in the mess hall (cafeteria). The officer in charge welcomed everyone to the 2014 Skills Competition and explained the rules and schedule. He concluded his speech by wishing all the teams good luck. Dinner was served after the briefing and was provided by a local caterer. Over dinner I met and spoke with the officers & civilian staff of 3019 Army.
After dinner, everyone headed over to the FOL for an evening dance. As we were walking over, a strong cold wind was blowing. It reminded me of the cold windy days in Iqaluit. The dance was organized by the cadets of 3019 as a fun way to welcome the visiting army corps. I was glad that I was not required to dance; anarchy would have ensued. Instead, I sat down with the other adult staff and supervised. When the dance was finished, everyone retired to the PAB for some much needed rest. Tomorrow, the competition would begin.
To Be Continued . . .