Operation Nanook in Nunavut: like a family vacation
$18-million exercise brings pride to Resolute, experience to armed forces
RESOLUTE BAY — Ask Absalem Idlout and Inootiq Manik about what Operation Nanook means to them and they’ll tell you it’s the biggest show in their home town.
When you bring in more than 400 members of the Canadian Armed Forces, Canadian Rangers, aircraft of all sizes and two red and white Canadian Coast guard icebreakers for three weeks, you’ve got a lot of activity for the community of 230, which Idlout says is “pretty quiet” most of the time.
In Resolute Bay, you can even hear gunshots from out on the nearby shooting range, which Manik says gets kids in town all excited.
During Op Nanook, Resolute Bay residents will see Governor General David Johnston and Prime Minister Stephen Harper — the second time Idlout, 22, and Manik, 20, say they’ll have seen Harper step down a red carpet onto Resolute Bay’s gravel airstrip.
That’s not bad for two young Canadian Rangers from Nunavut’s Cornwallis Island, a long hop — about 3,400 kilometres — from Ottawa.
By Aug. 19, the population of Op Nanook’s temporary camp will have grown to 550 people.
That population that doesn’t include the 500 other members of the army, navy and air forces from Canada, the United States and Denmark and other Canadian Rangers, all of whom are also involved in Op Nanook 2011, but not on site.
For Capt. Sean Cantelon, the deputy commander of Joint Task Force North in Yellowknife, how you view Op Nanook, Canada’s largest annual military exercise in the North, depends on where you are in the operation.
In every way, Op Nanook is “big,” he said.
For regular members of the military and reservists like the Canadian Rangers, it’s mainly a training exercise, in which they get to practice in the North and learn what works.
Troops from the South get a “twist of adventure” by coming to the Arctic. They experience 24-hour sunlight and learn to get by in a place where they can’t run off to store whenever they need something.
And Canadian Rangers — about 50 here from Nunavut— pass on what they know about living in the North: they’re “integral” to the entire operation, Capt. Cantelon said.
But Op Nanook is also tactical exercise: more than 17 government agencies and all branches of the armed forces will deal with a simulated major air disaster exercise involving an in-air collision between a cargo plane and a passenger plane.
Also slated for Op Nanook is a simulated grounding of a 200-passenger cruise ship, played by the Navy’s Moncton, which takes place in Strathcona Sound near Nanisivik.
That grounding includes a scenario of injuries to the ship and passengers — a more intense replay of the grounding of the Clipper Adventurer cruise ship near Kugluktuk last August.
As for sovereignty, you don’t hear much about that — yet — around the Op Nanook camp as people go about their daily activities.
That’s no surprise to Capt. Cantelon who says sovereignty is actually simple.
“It’s being here” on Canadian turf, he said, comparing the big Op Nanook in Resolute Bay to a family using their backyard for a get-together or gardening and exercising ownership in that way.
It’s what the armed forces do everywhere in Canada, he said, but when they’re at a base, in say, New Brunswick, no one talks about “sovereignty.”
As for Op Nanook, he compares that to a family vacation — requiring extensive organization and planning.
An expensive vacation, tallying in at least $18 million, but no one here openly grumbles about the cost.
“Wonderful” is how Idlout sees Op Nanook, which brings a lot of money — as well as excitement— into the community.
“Proud” is how one of the Canadian Rangers describes his role in Op Nanook, which involves sharing knowledge of Nunavut and Inuit with newcomers — “meeting the boys from the South and teaching them skills,” as Jackie Amerlik of Gjoa Haven puts it.
This past week he and other Canadian Rangers went out to a small camp with armed forces members from the South.
There, the Canadian Rangers straightened up some misconceptions— such as Inuit not living in igloos and how an inuksuk is built for a purpose, not just as a decoration.
They also introduced the southern troops to bannock and char — much better than the dried packaged rations like pineapple chicken heated up in a pressure cooker, or coffee drunk out of a plastic bag.
That sharing continues out of the camps on to the shooting range where David Ukutak Jr. of Arviat talks to the group about some small bones found on the ground. They’re seal bones, he says.
During the week, everyone will practice drills together and put on their best for when VIPs pour in during the weekend.
On Aug. 26, Op Nanook ends — although planning for the 2012 edition is already underway.