By Rick Schwertfeger
Captain, Frontier Partisans Southern Command
Lights from headlamps in the distance dart across the blue snow horizon, mirroring the shooting stars above in the brilliant Canadian winter night sky. Through the darkness, Canadian Army Reserve Soldiers lead the way towards camp, breaking trail with their snowshoes through six feet of untouched snow.
Nearly 40 Oregon Army National Guard Soldiers traveled to British Columbia, Canada, January 24-28, 2019, to receive an introduction to arctic warfare focusing on building winter survival skills, cold weather tent operations, and light infantry winter mobility. “It’s one thing to be able to tactically operate, but it’s another thing to be able to sustain yourself throughout prolonged operations in arctic conditions,” said Canadian Army Reserve Maj. Greg Chan. Instructors from the 4th Canadian Rangers Patrol Group taught the soldiers how to make a fire in winter conditions, tips for survival food, and how to construct snow shelters.
Now the Midnight Sun hovers over the Canadian Arctic. Three months of sunlight for all or most of the day occurs in the months bracketing the Summer Solstice in late June. For example, Nunavut, located two degrees above the Arctic Circle in the Northwest Territories, sees 24 hours of sunlight per day for two months. And the work of a unique military force — the Canadian Rangers — continues under the Sun.
The 5,000 strong Canadian Rangers — spread over 200 mostly coastal communities in the Canadian Arctic – had a Cold War origin. The vast lands of the Arctic frontier were the most vulnerable and hardest to defend from invasion. But stationing regular Canadian troops there would be prohibitively costly, and they likely would see little action. The solution: part-time citizen soldiers recruited from those local communities.
“The core concept is that citizens in isolated and coastal communities can serve as the military’s ‘eyes and ears’ during the course of their everyday lives.
“A Canadian Ranger usually has lived in an area for a long time and is intimately familiar with the local people, terrain, and weather conditions. He or she usually works on or near the land or sea, having certain skills and local knowledge that enable them to observe unusual incidents. The Rangers are distributed among five patrol groups, all working independently from each other, depending on their members and environment. Rangers are almost always on-duty, as they reside in their areas of operation and are always observant to ensure the survival of the small indigenous communities they live in.”
The primary duties of the Rangers involve patrolling and assistance. They conduct coastal and inland water surveillance. Acting as guides and observers of operations, they provide local knowledge and expertise to regular forces. Rangers advise and assist Ground Search and Rescue operations. Although not first responders, Rangers rally in response to natural disasters and humanitarian operations. For example, in 1999, 11 Ranger patrols in Nunavik, northern Quebec, assisted the area of Kangiqsualujjuaq in response to a massive avalanche.
One interesting aspect of the Rangers is their rifle. “The northernmost part of Canada, for most of the year, is like a giant freezer, with temperatures reaching up to -40°F.” The Canadian Rangers require equipment that is dependable and guaranteed to work whenever needed. They found these qualities in 1947 in an oldie but goodie: the Lee-Enfield No. 4 rifle. Thanks to the rifle’s accuracy, stopping power, and ruggedness, it remained in Ranger service for over 60 years. But around 2010 replacement parts for the Lee-Enfields were becoming scarce.
A new rifle was needed. The choice was the Canadian Colt C-19, a version of the FinnishTikka T3 Compact Tactical Rifle, a bolt-action model modified for the Rangers by the Finnish company SAKO, and manufactured by Colt Canada.
Chambered in .308 WIN, the C-19 improves on the Lee Enfield in pure power, an important factor in the Rangers’ operational areas, where the main threats are from dangerous wild animals. The C-19 is lighter, shorter, more accurate, and functions well in extreme wintry, cold weather conditions.
Most striking of all, the rifles have “a laminated stock in a unique orange/red color with a green Canadian Rangers crest on the butt stock. Laminate wood is less prone to suffer from deformation in the shifting extremes of the arctic climate.”
Rangers are long on resourcefulness. In 2017 a patrol was stranded on a point of land at the end of a mission, unable to embark in their boats because of dangerous, choppy waters. They were stranded for four days; and were running out of food. So utilizing their local skills, the Rangers hunted caribou and seals for food, and found a fresh water pond of melt water for drinking. One participant reported that:
“Things got real.” But the Rangers’ use of “their expertise saved us all.”
Different from many reserve forces in other armies:
“…the Canadian Rangers are not expected to serve overseas. They are not even trained to be deployable outside of their communities or regions. Ranger roles are entirely oriented towards support for domestic operations. Government policy stresses that the defense of Canada is the ‘first priority,’ and that the arctic is a region of particular concern.”
And if you’re looking for a fight, better join a regular Canadian military force.
“The Rangers are not expected to engage with an enemy force. Indeed, they are explicitly told not to assist ‘in immediate local defense by containing or observing small enemy detachments pending arrival of other forces,’ nor to assist police with the discovery or apprehension of enemy agents or saboteurs.”
Because of their limited training, combat operations would put the Rangers at excessive risk.
But Canadian Rangers enthusiastically defend and support their own communities, and diligently engage in performing their primary role: They are The Watchers.
Note: I utilized many sources researching the Canadian Rangers, but I’ll recommend one that was quite intriguing: “Watchers on the Land” by Mark Mann; BESIDE Magazine, Issue 09 on the theme of Nordicity. Pages 136-141.
© Rick Schwertfeger firstname.lastname@example.org Austin, Texas