HAPPY VALLEY-GOOSE BAY, Canada - U.S. soldiers traveled to a remote area in northeast Canada called Goose Bay, Nov. 18, 2013, to meet with Canadian service-members and other Canadian government officials. The purpose of the trip was to determine whether 416th Engineer Command units, along with Army National Guard explosive ordnance disposal personnel could assist with some expansive construction projects.
Several site reconnaissance teams were dispatched to various locations on the main base. Another group flew 65 nautical miles (115 km) to a remote location known as the Austere Operations Training Complex, or the AOTC. A plane was necessary, since there are no roads to the site.
Soldiers got a firsthand look at the engineering challenges they will face when the operation starts next summer.
The town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay in southeastern Labrador is built on a plateau surrounded by rugged hills and water, isolated and hard to get to.
The joint civilian and military airstrip is long enough to land, launch and service any aircraft. Seventy years ago this military aviation base was built in a time of necessity to move supplies and personnel to Europe to support first World War II and later the Cold War. Now Goose Bay is going through a repurposing process to meet the needs of the Global War on Terror.
Some of the major projects are expected to take three to five years to complete and include new bridges, road extensions, runway maintenance, and extending a light weapons firing range, from 12 to 25 lanes. To accommodate an expected increase in military training, the plan also includes a new dining hall, remodeled explosive storage facilities with protective earthen barriers, and new fence lines.
"We are hoping to be able to go through with these plans for this project," said Royal Canadian Air Force Capt. Raoul Tremblay, a French-Canadian construction engineer with the 5 Wing Goose Bay. "I am really excited for these projects and looking forward to working with the U.S. Army."
Tremblay has been the driving force behind the projects.
The engineer projects will be assigned to various units within the U.S. Army Reserve. The most important project will be a bridge project for the AOTC.
"We will take considerations for the hottest time of the year, by working under fly nets to prevent black flies from biting our soldiers," said Capt. Michael Davis, assistant plans officer with the 980th Engineer Battalion in Austin, Texas.
The bridge project will eliminate the need to airlift soldiers and equipment from the main runway nearly two miles away. The primary reason for the bridge projects are the nearly 400 pallets of explosive ordnance located there, all of which need to be moved to storage areas.
Normally, the 652nd Engineer Company (Multi Role Bridge Company) would do its training in Fort Chaffee, Ark., at a site that has access for ground-based transportation.
"It's an awesome opportunity for Army Reserve engineer soldiers to hone their MOS (military occupational skills) skills. As a bridge company we can go out on a different location that is not one of our standard training locations here in the United States," said Master Sgt. Robert James Rutter, chief bridge noncommissioned officer for the 652nd Engineer Company out of Hammond, Wis.
The subarctic forests and lakes around Goose Bay have allowed international forces to use Combined Forces Base Goose Bay as a training site for special-forces training and winter survival training. The site is also being used regularly by the German army special forces among other allied forces.
EOD teams will ensure safety for those training in the area by doing an environmental remediation removal process in order to remove any unexploded bombs on site. Other engineers will use an extension technique to push bridges across a river in order to limit damage to the delicate ecosystem, securing a legacy of minimal impact on the local community and ecosystem to allow both to thrive into the future.
Why is this area relevant? There is a significant U.S. military history here.
Aircraft flight capabilities in the 1940s were limited due a combination of speed, fuel and cargo loads. It was necessary to build airstrips at regular intervals in order to rest crews and to refuel aircraft. The shortest point from the North American continent across the Labrador Sea to Greenland was only 800 miles.
Labrador was part of the United Kingdom in the 1940s and was sparsely inhabited by the Inuit and Métis people living in small villages. The surrounding area is heavily forested with low-lying spruce trees and is rife with wildlife and food sources.
"There was this guy, who was around in the first World War and knew the area well. They called the area Uncle Bob's Berry Patch, Robert Michelin was his name," said retired Royal Canadian Army Sgt. Max Peddle, who is now a part-time curator at the Labrador Military Museum.
One day Michelin saw aircraft overhead.
"They came in for some fuel and found out there was no place to land," Peddle said.
In early 1941, local fur trappers and foreign workers arrived on ships to build three 7,000-feet-long gravel runways in less than half a year. The first plane landed on the runways on Dec. 9, 1941, two days after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. It became a major hub for military aircraft traveling across the Atlantic during World War II.
Once the airstrip and supporting buildings were brought on line in early 1942, the local town of Happy Valley was created which absorbed a growing population.
"At one time, there were around 25,000 Americans on this site," said Peddle. "This was one of the busiest airports in the world, second only to the airport in Chicago."
After the war, the airstrip's mission changed to flying missions over the Arctic Ocean near what was known prior to 1989 as the Soviet Union. Missions were flown to protect the northern border of Canada against any attack that would theoretically come over the polar region from the Cold War antagonist. Allied forces from Germany, Denmark and Italy also used the base for low level altitude flight training during the Cold War.
Eventually the base became a North Atlantic Treaty Organization base. Even after the Soviet Union dissolved, the region briefly saw a resurgence of air traffic by moving troops overseas.
"There were plenty of people coming through here for the Gulf War in the early '90s," said Joseph Connolly a retired Royal Canadian Army enlisted member.
"Then on Sept. 11, 2001, we landed seven planes that were diverted from American airspace, because they could not land there," said Peddle. "We took on additional planes because they did not have room at Gander, (an airstrip on Newfoundland); unlike what they had, we have room to stack them up and move them out of the way, to land more if needed."
The subarctic forests and lakes around Goose Bay have several undisturbed airplane crash sites.
"Out there at the end of the runway, the 'Great Artiste' crashed on the way to a polar mission," said Peddle.
The Great Artiste was the only observation plane flown on both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombing missions over Japan.