Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Reservist battled extreme cold

Despite February temperatures that plummeted well below average here in Rainy River District, temperatures were much colder north of the Arctic Circle.
That’s where Bombardier Micha Gerber, of the 116 Independent Field Battery, RCA in Kenora, was deployed for 10 days last month for training exercises.

“We had one day where we had near white-out conditions,” recalled the Fort Frances resident.
“But other than that it wasn’t too bad at all,” he remarked.
“The warmest day we had was minus-25 C [13 below zero], so that was a really nice day for us,” noted Gerber.
“And then we had temperatures down to minus-65 [85 below] that we recorded.
“There was a day, I believe, that was colder but we didn’t check the temperature that day,” he added.
Bdr. Gerber was one of 80 reservists from across 38 Canadian Brigade Group (Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Northwestern Ontario) who travelled to Kugaaruk, Nunavut as part of “Exercise Arctic Ram.”
“This composite unit is called the Arctic Response Company Group [ARCG], which is composed of specially-trained soldiers and specific equipment intended for Arctic operations,” explained Battery Commander Capt. Jon Baker, also of 116 Independent Field Battery, RCA in Kenora.
“Alongside the ARCG were regular force soldiers from other parts of Western Canada, for a total of almost 500 soldiers deployed north for the training,” he noted.
“The purpose of this exercise was to improve the capability of Canadian Army soldiers to operate in the extreme conditions of the Arctic, testing both the skill sets of our personnel and the limitations of our equipment,” Capt. Baker explained.
“Among other tasks, we practised our response procedures to a simulated major air disaster—evacuating casualties and recovering equipment.”
“There’s an old plane crash there that we used as part of our scenario,” Bdr. Gerber said, noting they practised drills in cold weather survival, such as sleeping and eating, as well as how to operate their weapons in the extreme cold of the Arctic.
“It’s all stuff we’ve learned,” he remarked. “But of course, the dynamics of it change drastically when you hit the extreme cold.”
Bdr. Gerber said their training focused on what to do in the event of a plane crash or mass casualty disaster in the Arctic—training he hopes he never has to put to use.
“It depends if something were to happen up there or if there is some sort of conflict up there, which, of course, we hope would never happen but it’s a possibility,” he remarked.
“Other than that, I probably wouldn’t need it.
“But a large part of our land mass is in the Arctic, so it’s good to know how to operate up there,” Bdr. Gerber reasoned.
Capt. Baker noted the Arctic training exercise can develop useful skills for those living in Northwestern Ontario.
“Northwestern Ontario is no stranger to the extreme cold, and many of the economic and recreational activities of the region require that people have the ability to work outside in these conditions for extended periods of time,” he noted.
“Opportunities such as this exercise offered to reservists at 116 Independent Field Battery in Kenora can provide specialized training with all sorts of applications to civilian life in Northwestern Ontario.”
Bdr. Gerber said it’s the type of training he wanted to participate in, and submitted his name back in the fall for the exercise.
“It’s a rare opportunity to get to go to the Arctic,” he reasoned. “I wanted to take that opportunity and learn what I could.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect so there was a little bit of uncertainty there,” Bdr. Gerber admitted.
“You definitely train for it, so you’re kind of prepared,” he noted. “But at the same time, there are other elements, such as blizzards, for example, that there isn’t much you can do.
“If something were to happen in a blizzard, your options get very limited,” he said.
“But at certain times I was excited, too, because it’s a new frontier for me.”
Members of the ARCG also were able to learn about the culture in Nunavut.
“The locals fed us Arctic char, seal, narwhal, and even polar bear,” said Capt. Baker, noting they took a pause in their training for the cultural event.
“They also put on displays of traditional Inuit drumming and throat singing, and challenged our soldiers to some traditional Inuit games such as the one-legged high kick and the knuckle hop,” he said.
“It was a very unique experience to see this rugged terrain and interact with these amazing people—an opportunity that very few Canadians are fortunate enough to have.
“We got to meet the people and experience their way of life a little bit, which is quite different than ours,” said Bdr. Gerber.
Capt. Baker, meanwhile, said he was pleased with Bdr. Gerber’s performance in the Arctic training exercise.
“As the battery commander for 116 Independent Field Battery, I can say that Bdr. Gerber is a very keen and exceptionally fit soldier,” he said.
“He is one of the most dedicated members of the unit, effectively balancing the life of a part-time reserve soldier with the demands of his civilian employment and apprenticeship training.
“He performed quite well, having no issues whatsoever with the training leading up to the ‘Exercise Arctic Ram’ or the exercise itself,” Capt. Baker stressed.
Bdr. Gerber continues to be employed with the reserves in Kenora, and feels it has offered him some great opportunities.
“I enjoy it,” he remarked. “It’s a great opportunity for people from Fort Frances.
“It is a little trek up to Kenora but it’s definitely a great opportunity.
“There are opportunities to go up north, around Canada, or around the world,” Bdr. Gerber noted.
“It also offers the opportunity to travel to remote parts of our country and participate in meaningful training that could one day save lives, such as a real-time response to a major aid disaster,” echoed Capt. Baker.

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