In part 2, I will elaborate on the importance of sharing experiences with our allies, even more with the United States Military. I will only scratch the subject regarding the United States Military, as I intend to do a full article about it. Because of the current world situation and the importance of NATO, in my opinion, the allied country has to be able to operate to a certain standard alongside each other and in different weather conditions or parts of the world. Although this article is focusing on Winter Warfare, I will give examples drawn from my experience which is based on all year-round conditions.
Afghanistan is a great example of NATO’s coordination and cooperation. Countries like the United States of America openly shared their lessons learned from Iraq and Afghanistan to the less experienced allies. These lessons saved numerous lives and probably contributed to the success of combat operations.
Before we get in depth, I want to give you a quick update on RAFALE BLANCHE 2014. The exercise concluded February 5th, and the After Action Reports (AAR) from the brigade commander, Colonel Dany Fortin, were reported by 45e Nord, a French Canadian website mainly focusing on Canadian military related news.
Nicolas Laffont, 45eNord Editor-in-Chief and a friend of mine, interviewed Colonel Fortin about RAFALE BLANCHE, and here’s a summary of the interview. Please take in consideration that the quote is translated from french and might slightly differ from the original text.
”We have to relearn the basics, and one time is not enough, acknowledges Colonel Fortin. I met some soldiers who did Rafale Blanche 2012, and to do this exercise today, gave us the opportunity to work on our fundamental competencies with a rhythm that allowed us to stay focused to do them well.”
Canadian Paratroopers, a Critical Asset for Winter Warfare
With the Arctic having 0.03 inhabitants per square kilometer, we can assume there are vast open areas in Northern Canada. Paratroopers are trained to jump into those areas to cover or seize enemy positions quickly and efficiently.
Paratroopers are a valuable asset in Winter Warfare, as they are highly mobile and can literally land on the enemy positions. Along with the paratroopers, I include all the aerial delivery assets. It is, in my opinion, safer to drop goods than to drive for hours in an open area, fully exposed. This is in an Arctic situation of course.
Sharing Our Experience with the United States Military
While NORAD is focusing mainly on the aerospace issues of both Canada and the United States, both their militaries are working closely on the ground. On virtually every major exercise Canada does, there are American soldiers who are learning and sharing their experience with their soldiers. That truly shows the close relationship both country’s militaries share.
In 2011, a platoon from the Minnesota National Guard was up in Chisasibi, Quebec with 2nd BN Royal 22nd Regiment (2R22R) to experience winter warfare and learn the training, tactics and procedures (TTPs) of the infantryman of the 2R22R.
I intend to do a full article on the Canadian-American relationship, as there are too many points I would have to go through on this article.
Sharing Our Experience with the NATO allies
We share a very good relationship with all our NATO allies, but even more with the British and the Poles. Poland has been invited to quite a few major exercises here in Canada. I remember in 2011, 2nd BN R22R had the opportunity to have a platoon of Polish Pathfinders with them for a domestic operation exercise in Wemindji, Quebec. For reference, Wemindji is 917 kilometers north of Montreal. The exercise was based on riots, sector control and perimeter defence.
The Poles are back this year with a platoon of paratroopers from the 6th Airborne Brigade, based in Krakow. They executed a wing exchange jump with the 3R22R, then continued on to RAFALE BLANCHE (see part 1 of this article for information about it).
A few years ago, we had Gurkhas with us in an exchange training. They would come here to learn the basics of Winter Warfare from our reconnaissance platoon (RECCE) who then went to Borneo to learn the basics of jungle warfare from the Gurkhas.
Learning From Our Allies
Before I deployed to Afghanistan in 2009, I had the opportunity to go to Fort Bliss for a few weeks to get training in IED related subjects, convoy security and the dealing with the environment that was close to what I’d see during deployment. The civilians contractors, who were all ex-soldiers, gave us some very good classes and tips that would later save my life on a few different occasions.
A light company from my old unit is going next month to Norway to learn from their soldiers about their Winter Warfare competencies and share their own as well. A friend of mine is going so I will have some details when he comes back. I will write an article about it too.
In January 2012, my company was sent to Camp Lejeune for Bold Alligator 2012 alongside 2-2 Marines. It was, for most of the soldiers, the first time they would step on a ship, let alone a Wasp-class Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) /amphibious assault ship. We boarded the USS Kearsarge in AAVP7 and then spent 6 days enjoying ship life (yeah right …) before getting heliported in a V-22 Osprey to an urban sector where we’d conduct combat patrols and company attacks. A company of British Royal Marines, who were just back from a deployment to Afghanistan, was also on taking part in the exercice.
As the newly established amphibious company, we were very lucky to have the opportunity to go train with the Marines, who are, in my opinion, very professional and more than willing to share their experience with us. We came back ready to take on our new role as we learned some very valuable lessons while being in Camp Lejeune. I also had the chance to forge great relations with a few Marines, with whom I still talk today.
Norwegian School of Winter Warfare
Probably one of the best schools in the world regarding Winter Warfare, the Norwegian School of Winter Warfare has a lot to offer and Canadian Soldiers are sent every year to learn from the best. While Canada is one of the countries most prepared for Winter Warfare, Norway has an establish modern military since 1628. The Norwegians have been conducting winter warfare for almost 400 years now and that’s only under an established military. They might not be as powerful as the US military or the British, but their expertise in Winter Warfare is top class. You can visit their page here. As I wrote above, I will get an article done about them as soon as my friend is back from Norway.
The Canadian Rangers, a Very Valuable Resource
Imagine being in a blizzard in the middle of nowhere, your GPS doesn’t work as usual, your comms are not going through, you can’t see 10 feet in front of you…Well this is frequent when we go train up North. The Canadian Rangers, mostly aboriginal from the remote villages in the North, wearing a hoodie and a baseball cap, would find their way within seconds and head back to the patrol base.
When I was up there the last time in 2011, one of them started to show me how to navigate like they do. As much as it looks complicated, it’s fairly simple and all soldiers could learn from it pretty easily, thus making them better at navigating without the need of a GPS or any electronic devices that are most likely not going to work.
The vast areas of the North are their playground. They are raised on snowmobiles with a .303 rifle tracking their food. They navigate with the wind, the sun and the natural curves of the permafrost land.
It is important to learn from them as they will show the Canadian soldiers survival skills. Most of them are more than happy to teach us their skills. I remember how a team of 4 Canadian Rangers built an igloo in about 5 minutes. My section (8 guys) took more than 45 minutes as we weren’t as skilled as them. They monitored us and even gave us really good tricks to be able to cut blocks in the snow on the ground. The last one we did took us 20 minutes, which is pretty decent knowing we aren’t locals.
These Canadian Rangers have a lot to offer and I know the Canadian soldiers are going to benefit from their experience.
While we are trained to fight in any weather conditions, I do believe the military should also focus on survival. Centers such as the USMC Mountain Warfare Training Centre (MWTC) and the Norwegian School of Winter Warfare are great examples of what Canada should establish in the near future.
In part 3, I will talk about the Arctic Council, the importance of NORAD, and the Russian and Chinese implications in the North.
(Featured Image Courtesy: Sergent Sébastien Fréchette, affaires publiques 5 GBMC)