Major military exercise challenges Ranger skills

Rangers in immersion suits during ice water rescue training.
Rangers take a cold dip in immersion suits during ice water rescue training. Photo: Sergeant Peter Moon, Canadian Rangers

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By Peter Moon

Canadian Rangers and other members of the Canadian Army have completed Exercise MOBILE RANGER in the Far North of Ontario.

“Severe cold and snow, and the logistics of the exercise were all challenges,” said Captain Mark Rittwage, the Canadian Army officer commanding the Rangers of Northern Ontario.

The Rangers are part-time army reservists. In Northern Ontario, they conduct search and rescue missions, evacuations for forest fires and spring floods, and respond to a range of other emergencies in their remote and isolated communities.

Ex MOBILE RANGER involved 98 Canadian Rangers from 23 First Nations as well as 28 other military personnel. It took place near the four First Nations communities of Attawapiskat, Bearskin Lake, Nibinamik and Savant Lake. Rangers had to travel from their home communities to the exercise locations in challenging conditions.

One group of Rangers took almost 24 hours to travel non-stop from Wunnumin Lake and Kingfisher Lake to Nibinamik. “The snow was so deep, they were breaking trail almost all the way,” Capt Rittwage said. “They were going through more gas and oil than they expected, and machines kept breaking down and had to be repaired.”

Another group took two days to snowmobile from Attawapiskat to Lake River in Polar Bear Provincial Park in near white-out conditions, and wind chills that dipped below -50°C. Lake River, known in Cree as Lakitusaki, is a long abandoned settlement. The former Hudson’s Bay Company trading post, church, and several residential buildings still stand on the site.

Colonel Dwayne Hobbs, Assistant Chief of Staff at the headquarters of 4th Canadian Division in Toronto, was impressed by what he saw of the Rangers at Savant Lake. It was the first time he had seen Rangers training on the land.

“It’s amazing to see the teamwork, their understanding of the terrain, the bush, the ice and snow conditions, and of the weather,” he said. “They’re absolutely at home on the land. I’m thinking about frost bite, and they’re thinking of what needs to be done next. They’re pragmatic about what they do. They do things in the right order and with a purpose. What I found fascinating was the amount of sharing of information. They were constantly helping each other.”

The exercise provided experience for the Junior Rangers who were there to watch and learn. “The traditional knowledge of living off the land is fading, because young people are more interested in electronic gadgets,” said Sergeant Jean Rabbit-Waboose of Eabametoong First Nation.

(Sergeant Peter Moon is the public affairs ranger for the 3rd Canadian Ranger Patrol Group at Canadian Forces Base Borden.)

Image gallery

  • Rangers Derek Sutherland of Constance Lake First Nation and Rodney Ray of Lac Seul First Nation.
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