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Reservists eager to acquire skills needed to avoid military rations

On the menu tonight: fresh fish or boiled sludge



KIMMIRUT – Louie Qimirpik thinks long and hard before offering his thoughts on military rations as compared to country food.

"It's different," he says diplomatically, although he's unable to suppress a small chuckle.

The 39-year-old Canadian Ranger, hunter and part-time hamlet worker could not be more right.

Qimirpik's job is to teach a platoon of southern army reservists, who hail from eastern and northern Ontario, how to survive on the land.

That means finding food.

"We're teaching [the soldiers] our traditional ways," Qimirpik says. "How to get mussels or cod, how to hunt caribou and seal."

Contrast that menu with the rations brought by the reservists – individual meal packs, or IMPs, in the military parlance. The entrée pouches are boiled in water over a naptha stove and produce mixed results.

The macaroni and cheese is pretty good, but the "breakfast sausages" resemble Vienna sausages coated in a mysterious ­yellow sauce, while the bacon and hash browns come with a warning from the reservists to eat while it's hot, before the contents congeal into a waxy, fatty sludge.

The bread, meanwhile, comes in a separate pouch, and has the texture and taste of a half-dozen hot dog buns compressed into a starchy brick.

So it's no surprise the reservists, many of whom hail from places such Timmins and North Bay, Ont., and who are no strangers to fishing, leap at the chance to catch cod from the reversing falls where Soper Lake empties into the waters of the Hudson Strait.

"You cast, you catch," says Sgt. Jim Vogl of Timmins, who had no trouble landing a fish, but a little more cleaning it.

Qimirpik comes over and shows Vogl how Inuit fillet a cod, then digs into to the fish with his knife and roots out the liver, which is high in vitamins A and D. He cuts off pieces for everyone nearby. A few decline.

"This is a big eye opener for the younger privates and corporals," says Vogl, who's trained with Canadian Rangers before.

It's even a big eye-opener for Capt. Brian Lypps, Vogl's commanding officer, who's making his long-awaited first trip North of the tree line. Lypps has been keen to listen to the Rangers, especially when high winds and a driving rain lashed the campsite last week.

"The night before it was perfectly sunny… and the Rangers came over and said ‘tie it down, buckle it down, get ready for a blow.' And they were 100 per cent correct," he said.

"I was in my tent, the wind got under my tent, picked the tent up, threw me across the other side and I was sleeping on top of my signaller sitting on the other side."

This is a hidden corner of Operation Nanook, the massive military sovereignty exercise that took place at numerous locations across South Baffin this past week.

And while some of the other involve elaborate scenarios like disease outbreaks on cruise ships, the soldiers in Kimmirut are here for a more pedestrian, yet equally important purpose of making southern soldiers more familiar with life in the north.

That's what makes Canada's military brass, facing a growing demand for a bolstered military presence in the North, keen to team their soldiers with Canadian Rangers.

Speaking to reporters in Iqaluit August 20, Gen. Walt Natynczyk, the Chief of Defence Staff and Canada's top soldier, went out of his way to praise the rangers' "awesome natural skills, knowledge and experience."

"This climate is so difficult, the ground is so challenging, that if you're not careful, you'll come up here and get a lot of people killed," Natynczyk said. "So when you go on exercise up here with the rangers, you listen to the rangers."

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