These days 16,300 troops from 14 nations are battling the cold climate of Northern-Norway in the biggest joint military exercise in ten years Operation Cold Response (well, the name says it all).
But they are battling a real, and very dangerous enemy. The 5. March 1986 a platoon of Engineers was working on a route for belt-vehicles through the Valley of Vassdalen. An avalanche started high in one of the mountain sides and came thundering down towards the soldiers.
I remember it like it was yesterday. My uncle – a police officer – was flown in with his service dog Arco, a highly trained avalanche rescue dog. They were in the middle of an exercise in Saltfjellet mountain region when the call came in. All day long an endless chain of hueys – Bell UH-1 – helicopters came from the valley, landed on the airport here, and then flew in again. After having spent several days without sleep, my uncle finally got som R&R.
I met him at the local police-station. Arco, his German Shepherd police dog just lay there, totally exhausted and my uncle was very worn. His face said it all. Digging all those victims out of the snow and seeing what terrible destiny had struck them down had, set a lifelong mark in my uncle. 16 soldiers were killed in that accident. The heaviest loss of Norwegian military personnel in peace-time.
And right now, 32,600 feet are really walking on eggshells. The Avalanche Warning is currently at its highest! Lots and lots of snow, combined with periods of mild weather earlier this month, and heavy winds, has set the scene for many new avalanches in the days to come. So I cross my fingers that the guys and girls out there tread lightly and stay away from the danger-areas. I am crossing my fingers that all the 32,600 coming into the area also will exit the area, unskaved, every last one of them.