Barrie soldiers head north for intense winter training
Master Cpl. Joel Chidley thought he knew cold weather until he signed up for survival training in a village bordering on the arctic.
The 23-year-old Barrie resident is spending this week sleeping in subzero temperatures, taking an icy plunge and living off the land in an area so far north a plane, or the ice road, are the only ways in.
"This is the first time I've done training this far north and in this cold of temperatures," said Chidley, a six-year reservist with the Grey and Simcoe Foresters (GSF). "It sounded like a great experience, something different to enhance my skills.
"It's a lot more difficult working up north, having to wear gloves all the time, boiling our water and being motivated enough to get up and work in the freezing cold," he added.
Chidley is one of 27 Barrie soldiers and 17 from Owen Sound who flew out last Saturday for a week-long survival training session known as Exercise Polar Warrior. The group returns on Saturday.
The Foresters are designated as the Arctic emergency response and are the lead brigade group with the 32 Canadian Brigade Group.
Soldiers and all their gear were flown into the bush area near Kitchenuhmaykoosib Innunuwug First Nation, an extremely isolated Oji-Cree community for their training. The village is located 600 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay and is home to only 1,800 aboriginal residents.
The troops will be trained by members of the Canadian Rangers, who are aboriginal reservists and experts on the land.
"Last year, we did something similar in Moosonee-Moose Factory," said Lt.-Col. Wayne Bruce, commanding officer of the Foresters. "But this is the first exercise we've done where we've had to fly everything in. But, the training will be very beneficial to our soldiers, learning to affectively operate in extremely cold temperatures."
Soldiers are in for some frosty nights to sleep under the stars, but Chidley says part of their training is learning to build a sound and weather-proof shelter.
"On our first training day, we made survival shelters, and as we built them, the Rangers came along to give us pointers to make them stronger," he said. "We slept in them that night, and it was about -35 C, but we were quite warm. We had a fire constantly burning and we all survived the cold."
That's not all the Canadian Rangers have in store for them.
"We'll be doing ice rescues today, learning how to rescue someone who's fallen into icy water," Bruce said. "The soldiers will all have to get into the water, but they'll have dry suits on."
Ice fishing will be another activity soldiers pick up during training, and just battling that kind of cold will be another lesson.
While soldiers might struggle with all these tasks, they're second nature to local residents like Joe Lazarus.
"It's very cold up here, but everything they're learning, we do every day," said Larazus, a Canadian Ranger who is training the Foresters soldiers this week. "I live off the land, hunt caribou, and all the skills I've learned I got from my dad.
"I want to share my skills with the soldiers, show them all that I have learned," he added. "You need to know how to survive in the bush."
Chidley says he's thankful for the opportunity to learn those skills, and thinks they will come in handy in the future.
"As soldiers (with GSF), we do spend a lot of time outdoors and we're into backpacking, so this training will help in case we get into trouble," the Master Corporal said. "I'll take the skills I've learned and pass them on to the new soldiers, and some of the skills will also be helpful in civilian life."