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Operation Narwhal passes muster

Canadian Armed Forces set ground for future patrol of the North

Christine Kay
Northern News Services

Iqaluit (Aug 12/02) - The departure of HMCS Goose Bay from Iqaluit last week marked the beginning of an exercise that could help set the stage for future travel and patrol by the Canadian Armed Forces in the North on ground, on the sea and in the air.

Canada's army and navy, a police officer and six Canadian Rangers from Kimmirut and Iqaluit are all involved in Operation Narwhal. In order to improve the forces' presence in the North, inter-operability between these organizations had to be practised.

"Command and control headquarters in Yellowknife will be monitoring to see if they can communicate on land, on boat and in the air," said Col. Kevin McLeod, commander of Canadian Forces Northern Area.

The Goose Bay was the first Canadian Forces vessel to sail north of the 60th parallel in more than 13 years, and the exercise involved many other firsts for those aboard.

The Navy's part in this operation meant navigating icy waters and heavy fog from Iqaluit to Resolution Island. It also meant disembarking land crews in a remote area of the island to conduct patrols of the land.

Not only did the navy show it could work with army personnel, it also co-operated closely with the Canadian Coast Guard. The Pierre Radisson, a coast guard icebreaker was met by the Goose Bay on the trip for refuelling.

The Goose Bay tied up to the Pierre Radisson, which transferred about 40,000 litres of fuel to the navy ship. It took almost two hours. There were no leaks or incidents reported during the transfer, a first for both the coast guard and the navy.

It was such a major accomplishment for the crew that they gathered when it was finished to take a picture. Chief engineer Gabe Gallant said he will be framing the documentation for the event and hanging it on his wall.

Resolution adventure

After travelling for more than 24 hours, the ship reached Resolution Island. The ship is designed as a mine sweeper and travels very slowly, with a maximum speed of 15 knots.

Members of the army and Iqaluit's rangers disembarked from Goose Bay by zodiac, along with all their gear. HMCS Summerside, which had been in Kimmirut, also deployed personnel in the same way.

Once on the land, it was time for the army and the rangers to complete their part of the exercise. It took several hours for the camp to be set up. Rangers began their patrol -- a polar bear watch -- and soldiers hiked through the fog and mist to the site where they would be setting up an radio system.

"We unfolded everything and it was a mess with the rain and the weather. We plugged it in and click -- nothing. We set up the radio in a tent flipping through the frequencies. We got back to Yellowknife from an austere location," said Capt. Ryan Walker.

The communication system ensured safety as well as a means of communication between all the governmental organizations in-volved in operation Narwhal. On Aug. 5, several planes from the Air Force's 440 Squadron landed on the island to recover the supplies and personnel. A Kenn Borek plane also flew in to assist.

Canadian Forces commanders hope to avoid another 13-year hiatus by turning this exercise into a routine deployment. As part of this promise, a new Forces liaison officer will take up residence in Iqaluit in early October.