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Below zero boot camp

Arctic initiation for Northern troops

Darren Stewart
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Jan 31/03) - Everybody posted to the Canadian Forces in the North has to pass a special two-day initiation.

Once a year the military holds Operation Polar Raven to introduce newly deployed members to extreme winter conditions.

NNSL photo

Capt. Brian Martin looks out from a tent at the centre of camp. - Darren Stewart/NNSL photo

This year, 18 people new to the North spent two days and two nights at Trout Rock, 40 kilometres west of Yellowknife.

Once on the ground, the participants built shelters and learned to operate equipment -- from stoves to rifles -- in extreme cold.

"Everybody posted up here has to be ready to be deployed in the Arctic," said Capt. Brian Martin. "This is how we get them ready. It's a way we can refresh some skills they already would have learned."

Martin said anybody in the Canadian Forces would have received mandatory winter survival training, but often don't get a chance to practice those skills.

"If I pull out a pistol in these conditions it's just going to freeze to my hand," he said. "We have to be sure they can fire a pistol with their mitts on."

This year's participants woke up to a brisk -40 C on their first morning.

"It's been pretty cold," said Master Cpl. Mike Escott. "It's not so bad, you just have to keep moving."

The campers sleep in quinzees, hollowed out piles of snow they build when they arrive to the camp.

"They have an Arctic candle inside which keeps them pretty warm," said Martin. "It's actually quite liveable -- warmer than a tent."

Martin said participants are busy over their two-day stay which helps keep their mind off the cold.

"The only time you want to stand still out here is when you're in your bivouac."