Canadian soldiers brave the cold for COVID-19-safe winter operation

Canadian Armed Forces soldiers set up camp this past week near Yellowknife to participate in its annual winter operation.

Operation Nanook-Nunalivut took place near Yellowknife

A flight engineer stands ready at the back of the Chinook helicopter during the 2021 Operation Nanook-Nunalivut. (Alice Twa/CBC)

Canadian Armed Forces soldiers set up camp this past week near Yellowknife to participate in its annual winter operation.

This year, COVID-19 forced Operation Nanook-Nunalivut to make major changes to get the go ahead.

The military moved the operation closer to Yellowknife instead of its usual locations in Nunavut and the High Arctic. There was also no international participation allowed.

The CH-147F Chinook helicopter on the ice waiting to depart during the 2021 Operation Nanook-Nunalivut. The soldiers used the Chinook to fly back and forth to patrol routes, camps and other locations. (Alice Twa/CBC)

All participants followed different self-isolation plans that varied depending on their role and participation in the operation: Nova Scotian members of the dive task force had to self-monitor, out of province divers self-isolated when they arrived in Nova Scotia, the land task force self-isolated in Newfoundland and other personnel self-isolated in Yellowknife.

"We quarantined. We had COVID tests. We made sure that we didn't have COVID before we came here," said Captain Matt Zalot, a public affairs officer.

"We had medical protocols, including masks and distancing. Any COVID symptoms would have been aggressively investigated," he said.

Zalot said COVID-19 kept the 150 military members from spending time with Northerners.

"My biggest regret is not being able to go into the city to mix with the people and show them that we're all Canadian, we're all here in this land together," Zalot said. "As beautiful as it was, we missed out on interacting with the locals, but we did so out of necessity."

A group of soldiers wait to continue training during the 2021 Operation Nanook-Nunalivut. They spent the week patrolling routes, maintaining satellite signals and refreshing their winter safety skills. (Alice Twa/CBC)

During the week, the dive task force prepared their camp and dive site, cutting their dive hole and searching for a sunken trawler called the All Steel. 

Though they did not find the trawler, Sailor First Class Raphael Marcouiller said this was still an  opportunity to learn new skills and practise using new equipment.

"It was a lot of fun, a lot of lessons learned from diving in the ice and having a harsh environment. We do it every year, but [they are] perishable skills and then every time we do it again, we learn new things," Marcouiller said.

A tent set up by the land task force during their overnight stay while participating in the 2021 Operation Nanook-Nunalivut. (Alice Twa/CBC)

Marcouiller said the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to adapt their diving procedures and increase their cleaning measures. This slowed down time in between dives.

The land task force spent the week patrolling routes, maintaining satellite signals, refreshing their winter safety skills and learning from Canadian Rangers

The next Operation Nanook will take place in late spring or summer.


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