'It's difficult to comprehend the size of this territory.'

Student soldiers get schooled on Nunavut


One day, they could be calling Canada's military shots in the Arctic.

So it's fitting that students from the Joint Command and Staff Program at Canadian Forces College Toronto were in Iqaluit and Pangnirtung earlier this month for an in-person look at Nunavut.

"It's about learning about Canadian issues," said Lt. Col. Yve Thomson.

"Not many of us have had the opportunity to come North of the treeline."

With climate change potentially opening up access to a trove of resources in the Arctic, the looming possibility of sketchy ships looking to traverse the Northwest Passage to cut travel time between Asia and Europe, and boundary disputes with all three Arctic neighbours, the Canadian Forces seem to be trying to get as many of their personnel as much northern exposure as possible.

The North's economic and environmental issues, combined with the patchwork of military resources here, provide plenty of strategic issues for everyone for senior government officials down to the rank and file, said Lt. Col. Nick Makin, a British soldier who's in Canada on a military exchange program.

And for a Brit there's an extra element to consider: "It's difficult to comprehend the size of this territory," Makin said.

Thomson stresses she and her fellow students didn't come to Nunavut on any kind of mission.

She has a point. Thomson and her fellow student-soldiers did get out on the land in the escort of Canadian Rangers, to learn a bit about travelling, hunting and surviving on the land in Nunavut.

But it is a far cry from sovereignty missions like last spring's Operation Nunalivut, which saw soldiers and Rangers travel a gruelling, overland trek by snowmobile from the Eureka weather station to Alert.

"We really weren't in survival mode, let's face it," said Maj. Simon Bernard, a native of Quebec City.

Still, it has to be a pleasant change from the typical curriculum of the Joint Command and Staff Program. A quick glance at the syllabus reveals classes such as Bilateral and Continental Relationships and Operational Design and Planning.

Besides, the soldiers got their first taste of country food, and spent time strolling the streets meeting people.

"You can't pass a poor comment" on the welcome offered by Nunavummiut, Thomson said.

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