‘Respect the Arctic environment’: Major-General Simon Hetherington

Article / April 13, 2018 / Project number: 18-0086

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By Lynn Capuano, Army Public Affairs

Ottawa, Ontario — Major-General Simon Hetherington, Commander of the Canadian Army Doctrine and Training Centre (CADTC), based in Kingston, Ontario, intended to spend a whirlwind weekend in Resolute Bay in late February, 2018 to observe Arctic training going on there – but the “whirlwind” was almost replaced by a blizzard that would have prolonged his stay.

“It was a short visit; we were on the ground for about 48 hours. The weather was beautiful on the Saturday morning, but as we were flying out, the weather closed in. Having been in a Northern blizzard before, I can tell you it makes you feel very small,” said MGen Hetherington.

“One of the great lessons that has been pushed home by our Arctic Operations Advisor course is about respecting the land, the environment and the extreme weather, as it can be potentially fatal.”

He was accompanied by about 35 people, including Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) personnel, as the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) runs the Arctic Training Centre in conjunction with NRCan.

Also along for the rare Northern exposure was the Honorary Colonel of the Canadian Army (HCol CA) Paul Hindo, foreign exchange officers from such Allied nations as Brazil, the United Kingdom and the United States, and members of organizations that employ CAF Primary Reserve members, including members of the Canadian Army (CA) Reserve.

“The North is a wonderful place that 99% of Canadians don’t ever get to visit. By including some foreign military personnel and some of our employer stakeholders on the trip, we were able to expose them to our soldiers operating in the Arctic environment,” noted MGen Hetherington.

He believes this visit will help the HCol CA and the employer stakeholders more fully understand what part-time Reservists, who often are also have full-time civilian jobs, actually to do in terms of military service.

“We spent a full day out on the land just off the base watching the Arctic Ops Advisor course in action,” said MGen Hetherington.

“We got into a Twin Otter plane and flew around the area to see the hamlet of Resolute and get a feel for the terrain. We saw a herd of musk oxen from the air. We also were able to visit with some of the NRCan labs, and get good briefings from everybody who is working up there,” he recalled.

From a safe distance, they observed several polar bears in the area as well.

“So it was great exposure, and people got a chance to get really cold, too,” he chuckled.

Sovereignty and science

“The partnership NRCan is invaluable to us and I wanted to better understand how we could expand it further and improve the use of the centre,” he said.

“In the wintertime, we are the primary users of the facility, and in the summertime it’s the scientists from NRCan.”

NRCan’s main use of the centre is the Polar Continental Shelf Project. He noted that lessons being learned benefit both the military and the polar research sides of the partnership.

“As we see the effects of climate change, and with technology making the Arctic more accessible, we have a role in ensuring that our land, resources, and most importantly, Canadians remain secure.”

He noted that cruise ships have begun visiting Resolute Bay and the hamlet of Resolute.

Having scientists in the North is a way of exercising sovereignty, which supports Strong, Secure Engaged: Canada’s Defence Policy.

“If you’ve got scientists present in the North, it's a Canadian footprint on the ground. They might not have rifles or wear military uniforms, but by being there, they are exercising our sovereignty.”

From a military perspective, he said, “By training our men and women in uniform to be able to operate in the Northern climate, ready to deploy on a search-and-rescue mission in the North, this equates to sovereignty.”

A look at the Arctic Operations Advisor course

A main reason for MGen Hetherington’s visit was to observe training that was being conducted around Resolute Bay.  

“One of our uniquely Canadian individual training courses, the Arctic Operations Advisor course, was occurring, so as the lead trainer of the Canadian Army, I wanted to go see how it was going.”

The Arctic Operations Advisor (AOA) course trains officers to advise unit commanders who may not have had direct experience with the High Arctic and its unique challenges, including survival and navigation. They will put their hard-learned knowledge to great use helping the commanders plan future exercises or operations.

As outlined in the Strengthening the Army Reserve (StAR) directive, the AOA course ensures that Reserve and Regular forces train together as much as possible to ensure they can be effectively combined into one team. Accordingly, the course MGen Hetherington observed had 32 students that were a mix of Regular and Reserve men and women. “It was great to see the diversity of the group,” he said.

“This is our Force Employment concept for the North using our Arctic Response Company Groups which are 100% Reserve organizations,” he added. The graduates are expected to go back and serve in the Arctic Response Company Groups in their divisions.

“It's not just about how to put up a tent and how to light a stove,” he said.

In one phase of the course, they go into the Indigenous communities and communicate that there’s going to be a large Northern exercise coming up and there are going to be soldiers and equipment there, and the Arctic Operations Advisors’ task is to help them understand the reasons behind it.

The Canadian Rangers are highly respected members the AOA course team. Part of the Canadian Army Reserve, the Rangers live and work in remote and Northern regions of the country, providing lightly-equipped, self-sufficient mobile forces to support national security and public safety operations within Canada.

“The Rangers never cease to amaze me,” said MGen Hetherington. “Many of them have spent their entire lives north of 60; how to live, how to survive in the North is something to be learned from them.”

“Always, my final takeaway from the North is how small we are as people. The North can be beautiful but it can be in inhospitable. We need to respect the environment; we need to respect the local people who are there advising us.”

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