This Murray Siding air force major is ‘beyond the Inuit land’

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This Murray Siding air force major is ‘beyond the Inuit land’ Empty This Murray Siding air force major is ‘beyond the Inuit land’

Post by Leopard on Fri Feb 22, 2019 1:13 pm

Fram Dinshaw (Fram.dinshaw@trurodaily.com)
Published: Feb 22, 2019

This Murray Siding air force major is ‘beyond the Inuit land’ TN-21022019-CFS_ALERT_-_SIGNPOST_FxNQLsc_large


Major Nathan Burgess spends his winter on a forlorn military base just 817 km from the North Pole

TRURO, N.S. — As commanding officer of Canadian Forces Station Alert, Major Nathan Burgess has to call on his survival instincts to cope with the minus-50 temperatures and the threat of polar bears that roam the icy waste of Ellesmere Island.
“When you walk out of that door, you know you’re not at the top of the food chain,” said Burgess, who is stationed more than 4,000 km from his hometown of Murray Siding.

Anyone venturing outside the network of heated buildings at CFS Alert must carry a stick to ward off wildlife, from seals on ice floes to packs of wolves that roam the snowy hills. Other personnel are placed on guard to scare away polar bears that come in too close from the floes.

But in the dead of winter, Burgess’ biggest enemy is the polar night.

The base is the northernmost permanently inhabited place on Earth, where the sun sets in October and will not rise again until the first week of March, plunging Alert into months-long darkness.

The moon and stars are the only light source outside – Alert is, ironically, too far north to see the aurora borealis.

For Burgess, polar night is a chance to look up and admire the Milky Way and constellations like the Big Dipper spread out above him. He also enjoyed a clear view of last month’s blood moon, free from light pollution.

“I saw Venus through night-vision goggles and it looked like a torch in the sky,” he said.

Despite seemingly endless night, Burgess said morale remains high. The men and women under his command often enjoy sporting activities such as karate and boxing matches, as well as working out at the base’s gym.

Meantime, food and other supplies are delivered to CFS Alert’s airstrip once a week by cargo plane, typically a C-130 Hercules or a newer C-17 Globemaster jet.

“The isolation is probably the biggest challenge for most people, given the fact that we are the most northerly inhabited place on the planet, so it has the feeling of being on a moon base up here,” said Burgess.

He first arrived at CFS Alert in October, to assist in the transition of the outgoing commanding officer. His six-month tour formally began in November.

While Burgess has enjoyed his time in the high Arctic so far, he confessed to missing the Truro area, where he was born and raised before joining the Royal Canadian Air Force in 2002.

He is looking forward to rejoining his wife Leona and his children Owen, Nolan, Kaleigh and Richard when he returns home in the spring.

“I think it will be a mix of feelings,” said Burgess. “Obviously one of happiness when I get home, see my wife and four kids and the greenery, the trees and grass and everything we take for granted.”

As commanding officer of Canadian Forces Station Alert, Major Nathan Burgess has to call on his survival instincts to cope with the minus-50 temperatures and the threat of polar bears that roam the icy waste of Ellesmere Island.

“When you walk out of that door, you know you’re not at the top of the food chain,” said Burgess, who is stationed more than 4,000 km from his hometown of Murray Siding.

Anyone venturing outside the network of heated buildings at CFS Alert must carry a stick to ward off wildlife, from seals on ice floes to packs of wolves that roam the snowy hills. Other personnel are placed on guard to scare away polar bears that come in too close from the floes.

But in the dead of winter, Burgess’ biggest enemy is the polar night.

The base is the northernmost permanently inhabited place on Earth, where the sun sets in October and will not rise again until the first week of March, plunging Alert into months-long darkness.

The moon and stars are the only light source outside – Alert is, ironically, too far north to see the aurora borealis.

For Burgess, polar night is a chance to look up and admire the Milky Way and constellations like the Big Dipper spread out above him. He also enjoyed a clear view of last month’s blood moon, free from light pollution.

“I saw Venus through night-vision goggles and it looked like a torch in the sky,” he said.

Despite seemingly endless night, Burgess said morale remains high. The men and women under his command often enjoy sporting activities such as karate and boxing matches, as well as working out at the base’s gym.

Meantime, food and other supplies are delivered to CFS Alert’s airstrip once a week by cargo plane, typically a C-130 Hercules or a newer C-17 Globemaster jet.

“The isolation is probably the biggest challenge for most people, given the fact that we are the most northerly inhabited place on the planet, so it has the feeling of being on a moon base up here,” said Burgess.

He first arrived at CFS Alert in October, to assist in the transition of the outgoing commanding officer. His six-month tour formally began in November.

While Burgess has enjoyed his time in the high Arctic so far, he confessed to missing the Truro area, where he was born and raised before joining the Royal Canadian Air Force in 2002.

He is looking forward to rejoining his wife Leona and his children Owen, Nolan, Kaleigh and Richard when he returns home in the spring.

“I think it will be a mix of feelings,” said Burgess. “Obviously one of happiness when I get home, see my wife and four kids and the greenery, the trees and grass and everything we take for granted.”

SIDEBAR: CFS Alert: The true north, strong and free

Major Nathan Burgess finds himself situated closer to Moscow than Ottawa.

That’s why Canada’s Armed Forces has maintained Canadian Forces Station Alert as a signals intelligence intercept facility and weather outpost since the Cold War.

Its mere presence on Ellesmere Island signifies Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic.

“It’s quite fascinating, we’re so far north that geostationary satellites cannot reach here, so our satellite communications must be intercepted at Eureka (400 km to the south) and microwaved up here – that’s how remote we are,” said Burgess, who joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 2002.

He commands just over 70 air force, army and military contract personnel at CFS Alert, who are joined by researchers and scientists from the federal government, monitoring wildlife, marine and atmospheric conditions.

It is possible to stay at CFS Alert and not go outside into the sub-zero temperatures, as some of the buildings are connected and all are properly heated, creating a comfortable indoor environment.

“It’s surprisingly comfortable,” said Burgess. “There’s no commute.”

The troops also have access to a tanning bed, which allows them to keep their Vitamin D at a healthy level through the winter. Personnel are encouraged to keep regular sleep schedules to prevent the polar nights from disrupting their internal body clocks.

The air at CFS Alert is so dry that base staff must apply skin cream, lip gloss and even eyedrops to stop their bodies drying out, and also sleep with humidifiers.

“We screen personnel for their mental and physical health, to ensure they’re capable of withstanding the extremes up here,” said Burgess.

CFS Alert has a sick bay and emergency medical team onsite, but the most serious cases are evacuated by plane to the American base at Thule, in neighbouring Greenland.





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