"Canadian Forces Station Alert"

Alert, Nunavut

Photo courtesy Scott Crouse

CFS Alert 50th Anniversary Flight
& Photos 3-5 Sep 2008

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During 2008, Alert celebrated 50 years of SigInt at the most northerly permanently inhabited place on the globe. This occasion was marked by a CC-130 Herc flight from Ottawa to Alert and return 3-5 Sep. There was also a large celebration of the "Frozen Chosen" which took place in Ottawa at CFS Leitrim 12-14 Sep 2008.

I was one of the 24 "veterans" chosen to make the flight to Alert. It was early up on 3 Sep 2008 in order to be at Bldg 11 at Uplands for the flight. Believe it or not, 436 Transport Sqn out of Trenton had the wheels up by 0800, (all times are approximate and EDT unless otherwise indicated) and we were off to Iqaluit, formerly Frobisher Bay on Baffin Island for a fuel stop.

A Journal of the CFS Alert 50th Anniversary Flight

We arrived in Iqaluit at 1205 and were away again at 1310. Half an hour out, headed for Alert, it was discovered that the de-icing system was not working, (not a good thing when flying in the Arctic). So, back to Iqaluit. Making a long story short, the Flight Engineer managed to rectify the de-icing problem by tapping a motorized valve which had become stuck, with the appropriate sized hammer!

Airborne again at 1600 we were heading to Resolute Bay to RON. Better there than Iqaluit since we would all be bunked at the South Camp Inn as opposed to several locations around Iqaluit. Landing in Res at 1815CDT we were bussed to the hotel where we had a hot meal and got our accommodations squared away. At some point I asked Ossie, the Inn owner where one could get a beer. His reply: "In Iqaluit or Alert"!! Apparently Res is a "dry" community. We used our evening time to catch up on a lot of friendships that had gone astray after so many years, in some case as much as 45-50 years. Of course there was also the meeting for the first time of the names you have seen so often but never had the chance to meet in person. It had been a long day!

Up the next morning at 0530CDT 4 Sep 08. After breakfast we departed the Inn for the airfield, stopping on way to view and take photos of the belugas in the bay. There were at least 100 of them and obviously there was a lot of feed around as evidenced by the great number of seagulls feeding on the leftovers. At the airfield by 0900, boarded the Herc at 0920 and sat 'til 1008 while the plane was de-iced. We were off the ground by 1020 and arrived at Alert at 1205EDT. On the way up Ellesmere Island, it cleared off for the most part and people were able to get a few good pics of the awesome scenery. I have said many times that there is nothing as pretty as the desert in our far north, the scenery flying over the Arctic is spectacular.

After landing at Alert, the pilot decided that he would not shut down the aircraft engines because they were heading back to Resolute to RON. Can't stay in Alert as there are no de-icing capabilities. Needless to say, we were blown to our waiting transport to take us up to the Station. Alert has not changed all that much since I was last there in 1989. Of course the biggest change is the absence of the 50's row of GP Huts that housed transients and the wonderful old Senior Staff Mess, hut #53. On arrival at HAPS we visited the kitchen and had lunch and then it was up to the theater for the usual briefing that everyone gets upon arrival in Alert. It was here where the edge was taken off the festivities by the CO who was conducting the briefing. He informed us that we weren't allowed to take pictures in the messes or the dining hall. Personally I really didn't come all the way to Alert to be told I couldn't take pics of my friends who I hadn't seen for years, in of all places the messes or dining hall. Operations, no pics, fine, but the messes and the dining hall?????? Give me a break!!! Needless to say photos were taken - like what were they going to do, send us south?? The CO's and SWO's word whiskers were that "the official military photographers would take pics in those areas." They had that down pat!! So here we sit at this writing more than a week after having returned to Ottawa and still there are no photos, (that I can find) on "combatcamera.ca".

The "official" photos have finally been posted on the Leitrim ARM website (19 Sep 2008).

After the "briefing", three of us went out for a walk around the perimeter of the Station, taking many photos. We also visited the ham shack which was set up specifically to work hams around the world for these 50th Anniversary festivities at the "Top of the World". Alert's old amateur radio callsign, VE8RCS, was reactivated specifically for this purpose. Sometime after the "briefing", (I neglected to check the time) BGEN Ferron DGMIO unveiled a plaque in the entrance to HAPS commemorating 50 years of Sigint in Alert.

Commemorative Plaque
At 1730 we gathered in the Arctic Club, (the old WO's and Sgt's Mess) before proceeding to the dining hall for a "CFS Alert 50th Anniversary Supper". The meal was great, the cooks and kitchen staff did a superb job of looking after us. After a few words by BGEN Ferron (excellent Sir) we again gathered in the Arctic Club for the "official" photograph of the Vets and invited dignitaries with the "cake". After this it was socializing with a few "wets" - for some it was a long night. The official photos which have been posted to the CFS Leitrim ARM website include a photo of most of the vets and dignitaries that were on the flight.

50th Alert Anniversary Supper Menu
50th Alert Anniversary Cake
50th Alert Flight Group
0630 05 Sep 08 up for breakfast after which we gathered at the clock tower then proceeded to the far end of the air strip to visit the graves and cairn of the Lancaster tragedy in 1950 and also the cairn in memory of the 5 killed in the Boxtop 22 CC-130 crash on a hill-top east of Alert in Oct 1991. A short memorial service was conducted and concluded with a few words from Sgt. Tony Cobden, one of the survivors of Boxtop 22. This was Tony's first return to Alert since that fateful episode in the history of Alert Wireless Station and CFS Alert.

Sgt Tony Cobden-Boxtop 22 Cairn Boxtop 22 Cairn Plaque

The next stop was the "Alert Sign" at the Station end of the airstrip. This is probably the most photographed thing/place in Alert.

The Alert Sign

We then headed back up to the Station and again assembled at the clock tower for 1030. After collecting our luggage and being herded onto waiting buses we headed back down to the airstrip. We spent the next hour and 45 minutes sitting on the bus waiting to get on the aircraft. Somewhere along the way the aircraft commander decided that we should have our toques in our pocket. So there we sat humming and hawing until the CO informed him that it would take another 45 minutes for us to dig the toques out of our arctic kits. Fortunately sanity prevailed at this point and the aircraft commander rescinded his demand and we were allowed to board. Finally at 1215 we were airborne and arrived at Iqaluit at 1615 for fuel; back on board at 1715 and up and away, landing in Ottawa at 2115. It didn't take long to turn in our arctic gear and we were "outta" there. It had been a long and hectic 3 days, but most of the people thought that the effort had been worth it.

I would like to pass along my sincere thanks to all those in Leitrim and Alert who got this thing going and off the ground (pardon the pun). For most of the 24 "veterans" that will be the last kick at the kitty. A lot of us will not likely be around for another flight into Canada's far north in 25 years. If I am around, I will most certainly put my name forward again. Sincere thanks also go out to 436 Transport Squadron out of Trenton Ontario and especially the crew who flew us into Alert and back. You are true professionals.

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