Pangnirtung awaits army exercise

Army, Navy and Air Force prepare to test military skills in the North



The Canadian Forces is mounting a major military exercise that will see soldiers, helicopters and planes buzzing around the hamlet of Pangnirtung this summer.

Colonel Norris Pettis of Yellowknife, the Commander of the Canadian Forces Northern Area, says that “Narwahl 04” will demonstrate “both a will and a capability to project joint forces in the North, in support of whatever contingency may occur.”

From August 9 to 30, the military will deploy four to six helicopters, some Twin Otter aircraft, soldiers from the Canadian Forces Northern Area, and about 200 soldiers from the Second Battalion Royal Canadian Regiment in New Brunswick, at a cost of about $5 million.

The HMSC Montreal, a Navy ship that carries about 220 people, will travel from Halifax and into Cumberland Sound.

Canadian Rangers will join the ground troops. The exact numbers will be determined at a meeting this week.

Narwahl 04 is part of the military’s “strategic collective training plan,” to test the strategic skills – rather than the operational or tactical skills – of the army, navy and air force when working together.

Joint exercises are a routine element of the Canadian military, but this will be the first of this scale in the North, and is the major military exercise of 2004.

The exercise is being written and designed by National Defence headquarters in Ottawa and until August 9, none of the participants, including Colonel Pettis, will know exactly what to expect.

“That would spoil the surprise,” Pettis says. “We are the ones being exercised.”

To keep the event as realistic as possible, the troops involved will not likely be responding to a direct military threat.

“The Canadian Forces, as you’ve seen in the last couple of years, have been called to help out on a number of things, from floods in Winnipeg to the ice storm in Montreal to forest fires in British Columbia,” Pettis says.

“Quite often we’re called out in support of another government department and this exercise will probably evolve that way as well. It will happen very quickly though.”

The “incident” that participants will be asked to respond to will occur when the chief of defence calls on Pettis, who runs the joint force headquarters, and assigns troops to solve the problem.

Exercise Narwahl also includes a one-day tabletop exercise, where representatives from government departments will meet to review scenarios that would require multiple organizations to work together.

The RCMP, Transport Canada, the Coast Guard, and Customs and Immigrations are just some of the groups on Pettis’ list of participants. Details have yet to be determined.

Pangnirtung was selected as the ideal spot for an exercise to test army skills in a remote area.

Part of the challenge will be getting troops, equipment and supplies in and out of the area. The army aims to be completely self-sufficient in its operations – including bringing its own food and supplies.

“You can imagine that we can’t, like we often do, acquire the things that we need locally, or we would clean them out,” Pettis says.

Pangnirtung is also far enough south for a navy frigate that is not capable of breaking through ice to steam up from Halifax.

Several military personnel will stay at Auyuittuq Lodge and in Attagoyuk School, which has already been reserved, but ground troops, who make up the majority of participants, will make their headquarters on the land east of Pangnirtung.

When the exercise is over, everyone will convene in the hamlet for a community feast, “basically to thank the community for putting up with us,” Pettis says.

Pettis already met twice with Mayor Hezakiah Oshutapik in Pangnirtung to inform him of the plan.

In an open letter published in this newspaper two weeks ago, Pettis reminded the people of Pangnirtung that there will be little reliance on local businesses during the exercise.

In an interview with Nunatsiaq News he suggested that residents “get their carvings ready” for the army-hosted community feast.

The Navy may offer tours on the HMCS Montreal once it docks outside of Pangnirtung.

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