Monday, June 1, 2015

Operation Spring Fix 15 - Part 1

When the final school bell rang on Friday, May 29, I knew I didn't have much time.  In just a few hours, I would be heading out on the land with the cadets of 3045 Army Cadet Corps for a weekend Field Training eXercise (FTX).  The FTX was supposed to take place the weekend before, but had to be postponed due to bad weather.  I had to race home, change into less formal clothing, finish packing, and head down to the staging area.
May 29 also happened to be the last day of final exams for high school students.  I had managed to correct most of the exams I administered but there were still some left over.  I would be spending a day or two the following week, correcting exams, class work, and inputting final marks & comments on report cards.   
Thick white clouds hovered above Arctic Bay, blanketing the area with snow.  It wasn't the best weather but it would have to suffice.  The additional snow on the ground would be good for the skidoos.  The staging area was on the western side of town, aptly named the West Coast by the local population.  An old airstrip previously occupied this area before being replaced by houses in the 1980s. 

I arrived at the staging area on my white skidoo in the late afternoon.  I was wearing comfortable civilian clothing and heavy Canada Goose & Baffin outer clothing.  The commanding officer of 3045, Lt. May, Ranger Andy, and a few senior cadets were packing the qamutiks (sleds) with supplies.  We would be taking four qamutiks on this trip.  Lt. May instructed me to take several cadets and his pickup truck to the school and load it up with the remaining camping supplies.  There were plenty of cadets waiting around the staging area when I pulled up in the pickup truck, packed to the brim with food, tents, cooking supplies, ground sheets, portable toilets, toilet paper, garbage bags, and many other things.  The cadets immediately went to work unloading the pickup truck and carefully placing all the camping supplies on the qamutiks.
Ranger Andy's skidoo.
There are certain ways of packing qamutiks; you can't just throw everything onboard and tie them down with ropes.  You have to treat the task like a game of Tetris.  Don't put heavy items on top of light items, gas tanks & oil should not be in the iglutak (hut), and use every available space.  If large ground sheets are available, use them to cover your equipment & supplies before you tie everything down.
Everyone gathered around Lt. May for a quick briefing.  He announced that we would be camping at last year's location, a small fishing area called Qajuutinnguat.  The isolated location lies 33km to the southeast of Arctic Bay.  Unfortunately, Levasseur Inlet was deemed too far and complicated to hold an FTX.  Plan B was in effect.  I didn't mind the change of location; I've already been to Levasseur Inlet two weeks prior.  Lt. May made it clear to everyone that I was the Officer of Primary Interest (OPI) on this FTX.  In short, I was the person in charge.  The senior cadets were there to assist me and Ranger Andy was tasked with protecting everyone from polar bears. 
The convoy of four skidoos & qamutiks began the long drive to Qajuutinnguat.  It was 7pm in the evening but there was still plenty of daylight.  I was driving my own skidoo and pulling a qamutik.  The excited cadets were riding in the three other qamutiks.  I could see in their faces that they were "scared" to ride in the back of a qamutik that I was pulling.  This was their first time seeing me do such a thing.  Reassuring them that I had previously pulled a qamutik in March didn't work.  I rode in the middle of the convoy, keeping my speed between 25- 30mph (40-48km/h).  We passed an Inuit family ice fishing in the middle of bay.  In the distance, we spotted tiny black dots on the ice: seals. 

We briefly stopped halfway to make sure everything was still tied down to the qamutiks.  When pulling a qamutik with your skidoo, you can't stop right away because you'll be rear-ended by the qamutik.  The trick is to gradually slow down ahead of time and then come to a complete stop.  We arrived at the camp site after driving for 90 minutes.  Despite my best efforts, the qamutik I was pulling lightly collided with another.  I still need to practice pulling a qamutik when turning.            

There was no time to waste; the bivouac site needed to be established.  The cadets went to work pitching tents.  We brought two white Fort McPherson tents, and two green 5-person arctic tents.  The McPherson tents would separately house the male & female cadets, one green tent would be used by the adult staff, and the other green tent would house the food.  The food consisted of American-made Meals-Ready-to-Eat, aka MREs.  Unfortunately, the Canadian-made Individual Meal Packages (IMPs) were unavailable.  The Canadian Armed Forces have priority over IMPs.  While the tents were being pitched, two empty qamutiks were pulled to the ends of the camp site.  A luggable loo was placed behind each qamutik, effectively creating two separate washrooms (one for males, one for females).  The gas cans, naptha fuel, and oil were placed at a designated P.O.L. site, away from the tents.  (P.O.L. stands for petroleum, oil, & lubricants). 
Senior cadet Kigutikarjuk carries a blue ground sheet to the male tent.
As you can see, there was some wind.
Flat cardboard boxes being broken into pieces.
We "moved in" to our designated tents after they were pitched.  Ground sheets and flattened cardboard boxes were placed inside to create a comfortable floor.  Next came the air mattresses, sleeping bags, and kit bags.  The cadets who were finished early were tasked with placing all the MRE boxes in the green storage tent. 

The cadets were rewarded for their hard work with hot chocolate and granola bars.  Clear white snow was collected in large grey pots and melted using the Coleman stoves to provide hot fresh water.  The hot chocolate packages came from the MREs.
Bringing back clear white snow for melting.
Lt. May (left) & me on the right.
As the day came to a close, Lt. May bid me good luck and said that he would be back on Sunday for the trip back to town.  I had been preparing for this moment ever since we arrived.  The commanding officer would not be staying for the FTX; I would be alone with Ranger Andy and the cadets.  The ranger had a satellite phone in the event of an emergency, but help would take about an hour to arrive.  This was a test: could I maintain order and complete all the necessary tasks/lessons as an officer cadet out on the land?  I intended to show Lt. May and everyone around me that I could.  As Lt. May drove away on his skidoo, his shape getting smaller & smaller, I thought to myself, This situation just got real.

Taking a deep breath, I turned around and faced the camp and the cadets.  "Alright everyone!  Start getting ready for bed.  We've got a very long day tomorrow."  Once everything was quiet, I retired to my green tent and got into my sleeping bag.  As I closed my eyes, I wondered how well I would lead the cadets for the next two days. 

To Be Continued . . .

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