Surviving the Canadian Arctic

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Jeremiah Wickenhauser
  • 133rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
It’s negative 57.1 degrees Fahrenheit as the Canadian Air Operations Survival class prepares to head to the field for a five-day, four-night exercise. Two members of the Minnesota Air National Guard’s 133rd Contingency Response Team (CRT) flew to Resolute Bay, Canada, to train with the Canadian military on Arctic air operations survival.
U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Jeremiah Wickenhauser and U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Cody Hallas was invited to participate in the international Arctic survival training event to strengthen international relationships and expand the CRT’s barren land Arctic survival skills.
“The Arctic environment is constantly trying to kill you; every task is harder in the cold,” said Hallas. “Every task takes longer, and the risk of serious injury is always present. Moisture management and the inability to dry gear is a huge issue. Cold, wet gear is miserable to wear and work in and extremely dangerous in the Arctic.”
The international course had guest survival, evasion, resistance, and escape (SERE) instructors from the British Army, teaching alongside Canadian SERE specialists and Canadian Rangers. The course, which runs twice per year, hosted SERE students from across the world and Canadian aircrew. Minnesota guardsmen trained with active-duty French, German, and New Zealand military students in the frigid Arctic temperatures.
It was almost too cold to train. Most classroom trainings occurred in Resolute Bay, Canada, near the 74th parrel North. The class then traveled by Small Unit Support Vehicle (SUSV) to Crystal City, a nickname for a frozen riverbed in a snow-filled canyon, for a five-day, four-night field training exercise. The students experienced temperatures ranging from highs around negative 25 degrees Fahrenheit to lows around negative 45 degrees Fahrenheit. The wind chill made it much colder, around negative 65 degrees Fahrenheit. The class spent their days cutting snow blocks, building shelters, cooking food, melting water, and staying warm.
The Canadian Rangers, a sub-component of the Canadian military made up of local Inuit members, harvested a seal and shared the raw harvest with the students. The Rangers also demonstrated how to build an igloo. The students then constructed an igloo and spent one cold night trying to sleep in it.
“It was awesome having our American counterparts endure this hostile environment while maintaining a positive attitude,” said Canadian Warrant Officer Dwane Guay, lead instructor.. “They really embraced the training objectives and implemented the new technique confirmed by our method of instruction, demonstrations, and practices. It is always a pleasure to have positive, professional, allied troops interested in the Arctic environment, especially ones willing to share their experiences with their home units.”