Imagine maintaining a military presence over roughly four million square kilometres of exceedingly harsh terrain using the residents of just one small town — a place like Smithers, B.C., for instance, which boasts a little more than 5,000 people.
That's the tricky thing about keeping "boots on the ground" in Canada's Arctic, where the Canadian Rangers have, since 1947, been patrolling the front lines. The Rangers enjoyed a rare moment in the spotlight recently when Prime Minister Stephen Harper made a stop on his tour across the North — to spend a night on the tundra and shoot targets with a few of the largely aboriginal part-time reservists who, in his words, "defend our territory from potential threats and emergencies."
Shooting at these threats is not a very big part of the job, mind you. The Rangers mainly watch over the North. The 5,000-plus members conduct surveillance and report any "unusual sightings or activities" according to the Canadian Armed Forces website.
They are the military's "eyes and ears," it adds. Or — as one Ranger recently put it to author Whitney Lackenbauer — its "eyeglasses, hearing aids, and walking stick."