Brandon soldier helped feed an army in Iqaluit

·5 min read

A Brandon military member is returning home today after spending the last two months on a mission to Iqaluit, where he helped produce potable water for the city during its drinking-water emergency.

Cpl. Yannick Gagnon, a cook with 4 Engineer Support Regiment of the Canadian Armed Forces, said he received the call he would be shipping out to Nunavut on a Sunday in October and was on a plane by 5 a.m. the following Tuesday to fly to Iqaluit as part of Operation LENTUS.

“You don’t know when [the calls] are going to happen because they are usually just a disaster like Iqaluit was with the water situation,” Gagnon said.

He arrived in Nunavut on Oct. 26 and will be leaving the city today. He was originally set to depart the city on Nov. 17 but was delayed until potable water was established in the community in early December.

Gagnon served as kitchen officer while deployed, charged with providing meals to troops rotating in and out of the city.

His service came with significant challenges.

“When you’re in such a small community like this, you can’t take from the economy. I can’t go and take a government credit card and go and buy from the grocery store to feed 35 people,” Gagnon said.

To keep the troops fed, Gagnon would liaise with a major in Ottawa, Yellowknife and 8 Wing in Trenton, Ont., building weekly ration orders, and food would be flown into the area once a week. It was a logistical juggling act that became even more complicated due to the unforeseen flooding in British Columbia.

“I definitely had to dig into my back pocket a lot to adapt and overcome the logistical situations that were out of my control,” Gagnon said. “The overall logistics of receiving rations, which is all the food up here, is something that I never, ever had to do in my career. I wasn’t 100 per cent sure what was going to be coming up, and then I had to adapt and overcome every single time I got a ration order.”

Gagnon’s days started at 6 a.m. and ended at 6 p.m. for the duration of his deployment.

“At the end of the day for myself, by trade, I’m a cook, but my No. 1 job is the morale and the esprit de corps of the troops,” Gagnon said. “Cooking is your second job; the morale and esprit de corps of the troops is your No. 1 priority.”

Seeing the troops come in to eat after spending countless hours pumping water in temperatures dropping below -40 C gave him an extra bit of drive to wake up every morning and push himself to create the best hearty meals possible for them. Gagnon would feed around 30 people per meal and ensured fresh bread and hot soup were available from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The unforeseen circumstances that occurred throughout their time in Iqaluit only demonstrated the resiliency of the troops and the locals in the city. Gagnon said it was incredible to see troops hard at work, spending up to 16 hours a day to bring potable water to the community.

“They would be absolutely beat, but they know what they’re up here for, and it pushes them to be able to produce water.”

Gagnon’s feeding plan for the troops was affected by the water crisis. He had a 15,000-litre tank in the kitchen and had to boil everything that came through the back of the house.

“I just had to constantly boil anything. Imagine doing dishes: I had to boil the water, and then I would have a sink that I would pour water in constantly and that would be my cold water. And then I would have more water that would be constantly boiled so that we knew that the water was sanitary enough to be able to use to clean dishes properly.”

He had some time to explore the city and by the end of the operation, some of the troops were calling him the “operation tour guide.” He gained the nickname because of how well he got to know Iqaluit in the nearly two months he was there.

“It was a very great experience,” Gagnon said. “It’s probably nothing like what you would ever expect. It is the most diverse, cultured, small community I have ever seen in my entire life.”

One of the more memorable experiences was participating in a Remembrance Day ceremony outside in freezing temperatures. Military members were decked out in toques, gloves and several layers of clothing while parading with the Iqaluit RCMP detachment.

“If you’ve ever seen the RCMP in their parade uniforms, they don’t get to wear toques. They just wear like, a top hat ... so you just watched their ears go a frigid red,” Gagnon said. “The experience was great to be able to relax a little bit from the day-to-day operations of trying to produce water through the filtration systems to be able to recognize our fallen that have served before us.”

Gagnon’s father served in the Canadian Forces and was posted to CFB Shilo when Gagnon was eight years old. He later graduated from École secondaire Neelin High School.

He first joined the military in January 2014 and completed his basic training in St. John, Que.

“I’m not originally born in Brandon, but it’s home. When somebody asks me where home is, I tell them it’s Brandon, Manitoba,” Gagnon said.

» ckemp@brandonsun.com

» Twitter: @The_ChelseaKemp

Chelsea Kemp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun

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