More than 300 Canadian, U.S. soldiers participate in Exercise Northbound Trooper
© Derek Montague
Pte. McDonald enjoys his time at the German Camp by feeding a bird out of his hand.
Soldiers from Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, and even from as far away as the southern United States have been coming to Labrador this winter for Arctic training sessions, known as Exercise Northern Sojourn.
Between Feb. 3 and March 9, approximately 1,200 soldiers and Canadian Rangers will have participated in these activities, which are designed to teach the troops essential combat skills in Canada’s north.
Northern Sojourn is broken down into four different exercises: Exercise Northern Sapper, Exercise Northbound Trooper, Exercise Northern Raider, and Exercise Stalwart Goose.
Recently, Northbound Trooper took place in Happy Valley-Goose Bay and the surrounding area. This exercise taught more than 300 soldiers essential outdoor skills that many Labradorians use in their day-to-day lives; things like snowshoeing, ice fishing, wood cutting, trapping, and snowmobiling.
“The (Canadian) Rangers have taught us so much about basic survival in an Arctic condition, from what wood to burn, how to quickly start a fire, different types of food, different types of bark. All these things are vitally important,” said Lt.-Col. Shawn Hale, the Commanding Officer of 36 Battalion Group. “What we’re doing here is that we’re projecting north to demonstrate that we still believe that we want to be here, that we want to protect our interests in the Arctic.”
Many of these essential winter skills were learned at the German Camp, set up by the shore of Lake Melville. It was here that members of the Canadian Rangers taught the soldiers how to chop firewood and catch their own meal. Although learning these skills were certainly challenging, it turned out to be a pleasant experience for people who have never been this far north.
“It’s not necessarily the camp itself (that’s special), it’s the experience our soldiers are getting while they’re there,” said Hale.
“We have some soldiers who live in cities and the only fish they’ve seen are at grocery stores.”
For some soldiers, Northbound Trooper would be their first-ever experience trudging around in snow and cold. Until these training exercises took place, Pte. Coggins, who comes from Arkansas, U.S.A, had never travelled outside his country. Labrador was certainly a unique introduction to life in Canada.
“This is definitely out of my environment with all the deep snow and the extreme cold,” said Coggins
“(It’ll be my) first time ice fishing. I’m thinking I might be pulling up a 15, 20 pounder.”
Despite knowing little about the region, Coggins jumped at the opportunity to fly north and experience a different climate. Although he enjoyed his time in Labrador, it took Coggins a little while to get used to moving about in the deep snow.
“I fell over (in snowshoes) a couple times, it wasn’t easy. It kind of felt like I was walking like a penguin,” said Coggins.
But a soldier didn’t have to hail from as far away as Arkansas to obtain a unique experience. Many who came from the Maritimes were awestruck by the beauty of the Big Land.
“I like the snowshoeing up through the Nordic trail, seeing the countryside, that’s what I found the best,” said Bombardier Owen, who came from Nova Scotia to participate in Northbound Trooper.
Northern Sojourn will be wrapping up with Exercise Stalwart Goose, which takes place between March 1-9.