This past weekend I attended exercise 'Nordic Ranger' with my reserve unit in the Chilcotin, west of Williams Lake.
I was not looking forward to the event as I knew it would be tough. And I knew it would be cold and potentially dangerous. Working in the outdoors gets especially tricky when the temperature goes hovers around freezing as it provides the potential for overheating followed up by freezing: if you don't get out of sweaty clothing you can become a cold-weather casualty.
The beginning of the exercise was particularly exciting. We learned how to board and deboard Griffon helicopters. It was pretty awesome to lift off the ground with open doors and then take a quick tour above the tips of the trees.
What followed was much more gruelling. After being lifted to our landing zone, we put on our packs, hooked up our sleds, and started trudging through the bush. It was tough slogging. After two hours we had traversed a mere two hundred meters. The initial plans were to make it some distance and then set up a base before securing an airfield in the morning. But because of the slow progress, it was decided to move on to the airport immediately.
Eight hours later we were looking down our objective in minus ten-degree weather. Many of the soldiers had stripped down for the attack. I changed my layers when I started shivering. After this we waited for permission to strike--kneeling or laying prone for almost an hour.
The firefight that followed was swift. After securing the area, winter tents had to be set up on the snow so the troops could bed down. Twelve hours from the start of our journey we were in our sleeping bags for four hours rest. The next morning we packed up and extracted and then debriefed.
Back at our base of operations, I had the opportunity to lead a chapel service for those who were interested (maybe a dozen so of us came together including the Honorary Colonel). I was tired but was grateful for the opportunity. During the earlier trek, I had approached my breaking point. My back was aching from my pack. I was running out of energy. My morale was suffering because I had no idea how much time remained. At the same time, I had seen the evening sky in all its glory--more stars than I can ever remember seeing. I could not help but forget that I was in the midst of God's glorious creation. And I knew that the same God who upholds all creation was also upholding me.
On the ride home I was able to debrief the experience with a couple of officer friends. We talked about the good, the bad, and the ugly of the weekend. What became clear to me was that going on that patrol was helping to legitimize my place in the unit. Respect in the army is earned by sharing in the suffering of others.
I am grateful that I was able to attend this winter exercise.
I overcame some of my fears and grew a little more resilient. I was able to offer encouragement and lead a short worship time. But maybe most importantly I was able to work in solidarity with the soldiers and suffer with them. This may prove to be the most valuable achievement. Soldiers are more willing to talk to those who share their common experiences.
I am also grateful for the church's support of this ministry as well as for Session backing me up with pulpit supply. Please keep me in your prayers as I minister to these young men and women. Through me, you are sharing God's love within a very different world.
An account of the first (and easier) part of this weekend, as well as pictures, can be found here.