Derek Moss, deputy commander of Joint Task Force North (JTFN), the Canadian Armed Forces branch North of 60, keeps an active Facebook profile where he posts pictures and keeps southern friends up to date on life in Canada’s North.
“We consider the North to be very much Canadian and yet very few people come up here,” Moss shared in an interview with The Journal. “I’ve been very lucky. I’ve been around to a number of communities and been hosted extremely well and got to do things that you would only see in the North.”
Life in the North is certainly unique for JTFN personnel, who are most often volunteers shipped up from bases in the south. The force employs around 250 personnel and is headquartered in Yellowknife with smaller detachments in Whitehorse and Iqaluit.
The sheer size of JTFN’s detachment area, which includes communities often only accessible by plane, and the harsh climate are both unique challenges for troops, Moss said.
To equip themselves for life North of 60, soldiers require special equipment such as snowmobiles, ATVs, satellite phones and transportation aircraft, which include a Hercules and C17.
On average, JTFN members serve for two to five years at the Yellowknife base and take their experiences with them when they rotate back south, Moss said. “It’s all about exposing the south to the particular challenges of the North: geography, environment and weather,” he said.
Despite the challenges, the Yellowknife branch will often see personnel apply for extensions to their service, Moss said.
He is one of them.
Moss has been serving as the deputy commander for a year and a half now, and said he will be looking for an extension come next year when his time is up.
“They are probably going to try and send me away next summer, but they are going to have to pry me out of here,” Moss said with a laugh.
His reason for wanting to stay?
“The people,” he said.
“You rely so quickly on your neighbours and friends, much more so than you do down south, I find,” Moss said. “Everybody, no matter what they do for a living or where they are from, what community, they greet you with a smile and they say hello, and they want to know a little bit about you and then they want to tell you a little bit about them. I really enjoy that.”
A close community connection is also what distinguishes the Canadian Forces in the North from bases in the south, Moss said. Much of their service relies on help from local partners.
“We rely on the communities much more so,” he said. “You don’t just hop into your car and drive into the next community in a couple of hours…The size and the climate are particular challenges and we rely on people to overcome those.”
Military interest growing in North
The Canadian military has had a growing interest in the North for a number of years, Moss said, but it’s not because of a threat to national sovereignty.
“The Canadian Armed Forces do not see military threat in the North in the near future,” he said. “The Canadian military is growing in the North, but that’s not all about rifles and shooting; that’s about supporting Northerners.”
Ten years ago, the Canadian military’s Northern presence was limited to administrative support. Today, Moss said JTFN has boots on the ground working in conjunction with RCMP, Environment Canada and the department of Fisheries and Oceans to support infrastructure across the North, good governance and protection of the environment.
JTFN also works closely with the Canadian Rangers, a subcomponent of the Canadian Forces in remote areas of the country who provide service and patrols as locals in often isolated communities.
“They are our biggest eyes and ears in the North, our biggest conduit into the culture of the North,” he said.
Each year, JTFN operations include a disaster simulation to test response procedures in various Northern locations. Last year, they simulated a chemical spill in the Red River near Inuvik, where they worked with the local emergency response groups and Aboriginal governments.
Next summer, the Canadian army will be undergoing a large Maritimes search and rescue operation near Iqaluit that will involve participation or observance from multiple Arctic countries. In 2015, plans are forming for an Arctic oil spill exercise.
Moss explained that with channels opening up in the Arctic, there is likely going to be an increase of shipping, meaning the military is preparing for an increase of incidents.
“The changing Arctic is very much on our minds,” he said.1 comment