A Misty Isle of View

  • Sep. 9, 2011 2:00 p.m.

By Jane Wilson–I think I can safely say I was more surprised than anyone else to find myself hanging halfway down a wall in Australia this August. As to how I got there, the easy answer is climbing rope, but I suppose I should go with the longer explanation. The longer explanation is that the 4th Canadian Ranger Patrol Group, to which the Port Clements Patrol belongs, sent an exchange group to the North West Mobile Force (Norforce) for three weeks in August, known as Exercise Southern Cross, and I was fortunate enough to participate.We spent our training time in Australia around Darwin and Nhulunbuy, as Norforce has a system of patrols that provide military presence in the Northern Territory (and Kimberley) in Western Australia, in some of the same ways our Canadian Rangers Patrols do in remote and isolated parts of Canada.I’ve been trying for weeks to describe the trip in a way that is beyond that bare bones description above, but won’t make other people want to plot my death, and I am not actually sure it’s possible. Full disclosure then, being picked for the exchange was like winning the lottery. There was no day on the trip that I could describe as bad, except possibly our last day before flying home, spent in Sydney, and that’s only because I enjoyed Darwin so much I still wanted to be there, and because of the awful awareness that the trip was ending. I learned new skills, met great people and really just had the most wonderful time. It was such a great experience that, while I didn’t get so much as a sunburn, I think I’m going to have to try to invent some complaints about the trip just to protect my own life. I could complain that there’s very little real coffee in Australia which meant we were some extremely shaky Canadians making frequent MacDonald’s coffee stops across Darwin. I imagined the lack of coffee was due to lack of demand because of the heat, until we met our Liaison Officer Captain “Buzz” Sarlin, and realised that there’s no coffee because he’s drinking it all in order to maintain his impossible energy levels. I always wondered what would give someone the nickname “Buzz”, and now I know. Of course, I also always thought I was perky, until I met him and discovered that I am actually only mildly cheerful. The man literally bounces off the walls, drawls faster than anyone you have ever met in your life and only presents anything like a bad mood when he can’t be the best at everything all the time. I appreciated the way he burned up all the oxygen in a room, but he still could have left some coffee for the rest of us.Captain Sarlin’s contagious (and hyperthymic) enthusiasm meant we cheerfully agreed to jump, fully-uniformed, into pools time after time, both for swim tests and boat activities. Although it was never required, I think he even could have talked us into wearing the infamous (and humorously brief) Norforce shorts. We were all given them, supposedly for PT (Physical Training), but most likely just to see the looks on our faces when presented with them, as I never saw anyone from Norforce actually wearing them. I’m not sure how best to describe the shorts to you except to tell you that when I put them on all I needed was some roller skates and I was ready to go to a killer party in the ’70s. I suppose I could complain the Australians seem to favour endlessly cheery cell phone ringtones that made me long for the ubiquitous iphone “Old Phone” ringtone. There is nothing like taking survival training from the fantastic Sergeant “Uncle Phil” Maker, a man who looks like he is going to go full Crocodile Dundee any moment, only to have the class turn Dance Party when someone’s cell phone would go off. I think this is probably what made him cantankerous enough to use the Holy Roman Empire axiom about the Special Air Service, but I might be reading too much into it. I could complain it was hot, but I didn’t mind it being hot. It was probably the first time I’ve been warm enough since 2005 (the last time I was pregnant). I have to wear long johns in August, so I can’t really complain that their winter was 15 degrees hotter than our hottest summer day. I could maybe complain about the amount of times we were told that it was hot; I lost count at 4 classes in Heat-Related First Aid. Even that was not too bad once you learned to see the classes as an opportunity to start judging your friends on the basis of who would be the most likely to loosen your clothing and spit water on you should the worst happen. (Yes, I am looking at you, Ranger Gair.) I did not care for putting on camouflage face paint, as I’m sure it undid many months of careful skin care, but I wouldn’t really complain about it though because I was very keen on the activity that went along with it. We were all given a Norforce partner to shadow while they did their tracking tests for their Patrolman’s course. I shadowed a man named Adam and was fascinated by the way he could create a whole scenario from the physical evidence, so I was very glad I didn’t follow my first instinct to paint my face pale green and write “Non-tactical support” across it in darker colours, as it was probably not the best time for ironic face paint.I might also complain I was the only female Ranger who participated, and I certainly could wish more women were there, but it didn’t affect my enjoyment of the activities at all. I quickly established that I am not one of the boys, but that the male Rangers were welcome to be one of the girls if they wished, and we got along famously. The only even moderately sexist comment was made by an Australian and I didn’t have time to respond for how quickly the other Rangers jumped to my defence. And if there were an occasion when we were told to check our buddy’s webbing straps before a hike, and I had to point out to my buddy that there were no straps were he was checking, you have to realise that my buddy was enough one of the girls for me to think it was funny. I realise that these complaints didn’t sound genuine at all and probably didn’t make anyone feel better about my good fortune, so please take comfort that I am due for some really bad luck any time now. Please don’t feel like you need to help with that though, and if you do, at least email me at jane.wilson@hgqci.org and let me try to talk you out of it.