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News Article / May 11, 2015

By Ruthanne Urquhart

Time flies when… well, when you’ve been flying to Canadian Forces Station (CFS) Alert, Nunavut, for as long as George Stewart has. Located just 817 kilometres from the North Pole, on the northeastern coast of Ellesmere Island, Alert is the northernmost permanently inhabited location in the world.

Mr. Stewart is the 8 Wing Trenton Alert Management Office (Ottawa) airlift and logistics coordinator with Director Air Programmes at National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa, Ontario.

CFS Alert is a unit of 8 Wing Trenton, Ontario, Mr. Stewart’s starting point for his 8,616-kilometre round trips to and from CFS Alert. More than 100 of them, now.

In 1985, Mr. Stewart retired from the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) Regular Force as a chief petty officer, first class; in 1996 he retired from the Canadian Army Reserve as a captain.

Over the course of his military career, he sailed in Canada’s last aircraft carrier, Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship Bonaventure. He was posted to CFS Bermuda, and served as the adjutant of 763 Communications Regiment. And Mr. Stewart’s many postings included four tours at CFS Alert.

Alert’s core functions are to maintain signals intelligence collection and geolocation facilities in support of the Canadian cryptologic program, and to maintain radio frequency direction-finding facilities in support of search and rescue (SAR) and other programs. The station and its personnel—an average complement of 110—provide support services to organizations such as the Assistant Deputy Minister (Information Management) [ADM(IM)], Canadian Forces Information Operations Group, Mission Operations, Joint Task Force (North), and the Canadian Rangers, and undertakings such as the annual sovereignty exercises the CAF carries out. Alert also supports various government and non-government Arctic research programs.

When he left the Forces after 30 years, Mr. Stewart continued in the same position for the next 30 years as a public servant, working with personnel at CFS Alert and coordinating logistics, airlifts and safety issues. His position was transferred to the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) in April 2009 when command and control of Alert was transferred to the RCAF from ADM(IM).

Mr. Stewart, known by many as “Mr. Alert”, coordinates the infrastructure support for the station and aircraft movements to the station. Annually, he spends several weeks moving between Thule, in Greenland, and Alert, coordinating Operations Boxtop and Nevus (previously Operation Hurricane).

Over the years, Mr. Stewart’s interest and expertise have broadened to include the Arctic environment as a whole – its uniqueness and its fragility. He is a strong, eloquent supporter of environmental protection initiatives and programs. Perhaps his most insightful and far-reaching initiative involved improving the efficiency of infrastructure and reducing fossil fuel consumption at Alert by instituting a more compact building footprint, better use of insulation, heat recovery, and solar power systems.

CFS Alert and the RCAF chose Mr. Stewart to be the representative for the Olympics Committee at Alert, and to serve as torchbearer on November 8, 2009, when the Olympic Flame passed through Canada’s Arctic.

“That was one of the most significant things that ever happened in my lifetime,” he said. “I was very humbled and pleased when CF Station Alert nominated me to the Olympics Committee as their representative, and it was a real honour to represent them.”

It was only yesterday, it seems, though it was January 2010, when Mr. Stewart received a Chief of the Air Staff coin to mark his 55 years of service.

On January 18, 2015, in Trenton, Mr. Stewart received another commemorative coin, this time from Governor General and Commander-in-Chief of Canada David Johnston. The coin marked Mr. Stewart’s 60 years of service – and he is only the second person to receive one.

On this occasion, Mr. Stewart had dinner with the Governor General, 8 Wing commander Colonel David Lowthian, and senior Trenton staff. The next morning, the Governor General flew to Alert for a two-day visit with Canadian Armed Forces members and civilians to learn more about the important research and work being done there.

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