By Cpl Ed “Jenga Champ 2016” Snoek

From 22 to 26 February this year, and following a challenging balance of tasks, courses and other requirements, A and HQ Squadrons conducted Exercise STEELE WINTER – a survival exercise designed to offer a good challenge of existing winter skills.  After meeting up at the Regiment at what could reasonably be called ‘0’ Dark Stupid (0300hrs), we made our way to the Ghost Public Land Use Zone near Cochrane, AB.  The bus ride was an experience unto itself, with one bus temperature set to sub-zero and the other set to Scorcher VI.  Once off the bus at Ghost, troops were given their meagre stores and sent on their way by an all-too enthusiastic WO Harry “Nobody dies today” Delaney.  

The intent of the first part of the exercise was to engage the soldiers and test their winter survival capabilities.  Split into groups of two, soldiers went into the black forest and began building shelters and fires – some better than others.  Shelters, fires, snares and morale were the immediate tasks, but the overarching theme was surviving the night.  It was obvious fairly early on that some soldiers were more into the experience than others.  For example, I’m pretty sure the A Sqn 2IC, Capt Dave “The Revenant” Williams, brought his own horse just to cut open and climb into for heat.  At the same time, others simply resigned themselves to a slow death and watched movies on their phones until all battery power was depleted and morale was gone.  Others struggled with different portions of the exercise, such as Cpl Shane “I swear this is bannock” Fettes and his partner who used their pants as plates.

At the end of the first day, teams received their frozen rabbits from HQ Sqn and another struggle began – the weighing of effort between thawing and eating your rabbit or simply waiting to ENDEX, like Tpr Calvin “Winter Fat” Tsui who refused to eat his zodiac/power animal.  Most enjoyed their rabbits, and some teams even went above and beyond by basting it with “wild” oranges obviously found in the wild and not brought with them on the bus.

By the second morning it was obvious which teams’ shelters were effective in providing a comfortable night sleep and which ones weren’t.  The morale of each team was a clear indicator, and some optimism was waning.  However, SQ HQ saved the day and brought coffee for us and wouldn’t leave until it was all gone.  Nearing the end of the day we packed up and made our way back to the RV for a headcount and to laugh about the good times.  Tpr James “Binky” King-McAuslan was relieved that he no longer had to keep the BC, Capt Mike “Space-Cape” Dullege, alive and could focus on himself for once.  The group was loaded up onto the same busses and we began our trip to Banff: the tree-hugging, flannel and skinny jeans wearing, hipster/STI capital of Canada.  We met up with the HQ Sergeant-Major in Banff at the YWCA hostel, showered (most of us), and made our way to the heart of the city for some well-deserved R&R.

On Wednesday (Day 3), and after a bit of a rough start, the group dispersed to the winds where we would participate in a choice of three awesome events.  It was a rough morning for most, but once we were exposed to the crisp mountain air everyone felt ready to go. One group got on their bus and went to Spray Lake to “catch” some fish as the guides made hot chocolate, cider and hotdogs for us on the frozen lake.  Sgt Jesse “Perma-dip” Paterson took delight in attempting to show Maj Darryn “Strong Hand” Gray how to fish, unfortunately to no avail.  Another group, led by the QM, Capt Scott “Eyebrows” Jackson, journeyed two hours away to Panorama, BC and took a snowmobile tour with Toby Creek Adventures 6km up the mountainside.  Tpr Colton “They were coming right at me” Shute apparently took pride in snowmobile destruction and tree vandalism, much to the delight of the staff whose eyes had dollar signs in them.  Skiing took place at Lake Louise and was apparently enjoyed by all, particularly Cpl Matt “Saki-bomb” Feenstra who may or may not have even put on skis.  

The second day of fun activities = no change/no memories.  

As sad as we were that the week was coming to an end, most of our bank accounts were relieved.  With one night left on the town the troops were resolved to make it a good one – one not to be remembered by any.  All participants made their way through the town, eventually a large group pooling in the HooDoo night club.  With peacocks soaring everywhere, dance moves were busted out.  Cpl Sean “Heartburn” Armstrong danced like no one was watching, picking invisible apples from the sky and gifting them to all around.  

Throughout the entirety of this exercise – which is one of the best I’ve ever participated in – the laughs were flowing.  From alleged – and highly debatable – stairwell rendezvous, to screaming obscenities about the taste of a habanero shot in a family restaurant, everyone walked away with a smile on their face.