In February, three Australian Defence Force Officers ventured into the High Arctic region, where they were taught how to survive extreme cold conditions as part of an experiential learning program run by the Canadian Armed Forces Arctic Training Centre.
Navy Lieutenant Commander Jacqueline Swinton, Air Force Squadron Leader Samantha Couper and Army Major Julien McMahon are all students at Canada’s Joint Command and Staff College this year.
The purpose of their visit to the Arctic was to expose the students to the challenges and complexities of operations in the High North, including mobility, logistics, sustainment, survival and effectiveness.
“I was delighted to have this unique and incredible opportunity with my fellow international colleagues,” Lieutenant Commander Swinton - a Navy Legal Officer, said.
“We were issued special cold weather climate gear, but nothing can prepare you for minus forty degrees, where your eyelashes freeze!
“It’s difficult to breathe in those conditions, and you can’t feel your toes,” she said.
The three Australians were hosted by the Canadian Armed Forces Arctic Training Centre at Resolute Bay, 75 degrees north.
The program included many opportunities to experience the demanding terrain and extreme cold climate.
It also included a unique cultural experience, getting to know and work with the Canadian Armed Forces Rangers, a force made up of Inuit serving members who are known as the ‘eyes, ears and voice of the North’.
On day two, in minus 40 degrees, the students were moved by BV206 Medium Over-Snow Vehicles to the ‘Crystal City’ Arctic Training Site to learn survival skills.
While working in small teams, under the tuition of the Rangers, they learnt how to cut ice bricks with hand saws and build igloos for shelter.
Challenges included enduring exposure to the elements, ensuring the safety of their team mates (in particular, watching out for frostbite) and adapting personal equipment under physical exertion.
“Unfortunately (or fortunately), no polar bears were sighted during this time,” Lieutenant Swinton said.
Squadron Leader Couper said it was a privilege to work with the First Nations people.
“What really amazed me was the resilience and resourcefulness of the Rangers, who ensured our safety and took the time to share their culture and knowledge of their land,” Squadron Leader Couper said.
The three Australian officers gained a great appreciation of the unique tactical challenges of operating in such an austere environment, as well as the strategic issues related to National Sovereignty and Climate Change.
In addition to the personal development and appreciation, the trio contributed to enhancing the ongoing international engagement with the Canadian Armed Forces and other international students.