Recce Squadron Heads North – Op NANOOK 2014
By Lt. Joe Agius
It was early morning on Sunday, 24 August 2014 when Recce Squadron began to form up in their hangar. Most of the soldiers were looking for a place to stash their morning coffee cups before falling into ranks. The Squadron was called to attention and roll-call began.
Not long after, the hangar erupted into a flurry of activity. A few soldiers were running around, tying up last minute things while the rest organized themselves into impromptu chains in order to load up half a dozen cargo cans. The mountains of kit were quickly moved and not long after, the hangar once again began to settle down. WO Holmes, the acting Squadron Sergeant-Major then ordered everyone onto the buses that awaited the Squadron in the hollow square. Recce Squadron was on its way to Iqaluit; deploying on Operation NANOOK.
The flight to Nunavut was relatively quiet save a few sporadic snores. Once the plane landed, Recce Squadron quickly found themselves at their temporary home in Iqaluit. They immediately formed up and the camp Sergeant-Major began his address. After several blatant death threats to anyone who crossed the fraternization rules, everyone moved inside the camp and began setting their kit down.
The next morning the soldiers were up at dawn, strapping their rucksacks onto their backs. They were to march for morning PT. This march also started what was to be a resoundingly professional presence in Iqaluit. Whispers were heard that “the soldiers” had arrived. What they did not know yet was that they were witnessing Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians) and that Recce Squadron was just getting started.
After a visit from the Prime Minister during his tour through Iqaluit, the Squadron moved back to the airport to mount Griffons and Twin Otters to deploy forward to York Sound, an isolated bay on the shore of Frobisher Bay about 180km to the southeast of Iqaluit. Squadron Headquarters and 3 Troop pushed out as the advance party and began laying the ground work for the remainder of Recce Squadron. In York Sound, a plethora of Government Agencies would soon descend upon Recce Squadron, whose primary task was to provide assistance to the RCMP, CBSA, Transport Canada, Transport Safety Board, and the Government of Iqaluit Emergency Management Organisation.
As soon as the Squadron was on the ground, they began meeting the contingent of Canadian Rangers from 1 CRPG. After a few handshakes, the camp erupted into laughter as all of the soldier`s got to know each other and Recce Squadron learned of the extensive travels that the Rangers had undergone to arrive in York Sound. The gathering of Rangers had traveled from all over the Arctic in order to provide their invaluable skillset and knowledge base for Operation NANOOK. It was also during this initial meeting that WO Ross was renamed “41 Elder” after his troop witnessed the Rangers entourage invite him to speak with their elder.
That evening, troop-level training kicked off. Each troop, accompanied by a Ranger, went out for a navigation patrol. The Rangers taught the soldiers about the area in which they were operating. Joshua, 1 Troop’s guide, showed 1 Troop how to boil water by gathering and burning a coniferous moss unique to the Arctic. He also picked roots and berries which the Troop learned were quite delicious. When the sun began to retire, the patrols made their way back to camp.
The next day was a flurry of activity as helicopters moved government officials and VIPs in and out of the camp. A fuel spill scenario was played out to help exercise Environment Canada while soldiers from the Squadron rotated through camp duties. ATVs were flying back and forth from an austere airstrip as Twin Otters arrived with government officials, visitors from JTF-N headquarters and much needed supplies. The dust clouds never seemed to settle until the evening, when all of the VIPs were transported back to Iqaluit. That night, Recce Squadron gathered around the tents while Sgt Johnston fileted a few arctic char; a gift from the Rangers. Some enjoyed the fish raw, and others waited while Cpl Van Der Borne expertly fried up chunks of fish on a Coleman stove. The fish was a rare treat and served to bring everyone together.
The next morning, the camp was again abuzz. 3 Troop was being transported out of camp and back to Iqaluit while MCpl Mike “Two-Spoons” Boodhoo and the soldiers of Squadron Headquarters hiked a nearby mountain to practice improvised antenna set-ups. The SAR Techs were attempting to transport their cargo out by sling-load. Recce Squadron had to react quickly to the low hovering helicopter as tents flew through the air. The soldiers quickly tore down their crew tents and piled on top of them while a cyclone of fine foliage flew through the air. The dust finally settled and camp was rebuilt immediately, and better than before.
That night would be the final night in York Sound. After some ATV predator control patrols, Recce Squadron made their way over to the Ranger camp site where they were surprised by a massive fire. The Rangers had been collecting wood in order to see Recce Squadron off with a celebration. The fire burned ten feet tall for hours and music played from travel speakers. Those who left the fire early, sought after pictures of the northern lights. The sky that night was deep ebony and the lights danced across the stars, flowing from pale green to blue and back.
In the morning, the Squadron was to redeploy to Iqaluit. Most traveled by air, however, a lucky few moved down to the beach at sun up in order to board the MV Arctic Explorer. The ship, aptly named, was a repurposed research vessel. Typically it traveled with a crew of 30. When 1 Troop and Maintenance Troop boarded they were greeted by John, the cook. They learned that the crew was only 5, and each person enjoyed the full hospitality of the crew. Quarters were assigned and meals were prepared. The soldier’s brewed fresh coffee and ate dozens of ice cream sandwiches while playing euchre and watching bad (good) action movies from the 90’s. Anchor went down around 2200, just east of Iqaluit. Most slept through the night, but some stayed up and enjoyed the Explorer’s amenities.
The next day was to be the last day Recce Squadron would have in Iqaluit before returning to Edmonton. Most went out and enjoyed the city and its people. Some hunted for the perfect soap stone carvings while others were just looking for ATM’s or a cup of ‘Timmy’s.’ That night would be a big night at the Legion, everyone swapping stories from the last week. Around 2100, the lights dimmed and the music got turned up. The dance floor quickly filled with both locals and soldiers alike. Sgt Limbert and Cpl Brown tore up the dance floor all night.
On 31 August, Recce Squadron moved back to the airport. They boarded their plane and left Iqaluit behind. Some brought back rare stones from the beach, some brought soap stone carvings of bears and narwhales, some just pictures and videos. What they left behind lived in the minds of all who met them. It was the quintessential image of what a Strathcona looks like: professional and capable, confident and humble, with the uncanny ability to endure the perils of the Legion dance floor when given the opportunity.