STRATTON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, N.Y. – Ten Airmen assigned to the 109th Airlift Wing deployed to Greenland to support Exercise Polar Reach May 11-27.
The exercise, a joint international training event conducted by the 109th with the Canadian Royal Air Force, allowed the 109th to test the capabilities of its Polar Camp Skiway Team.
The skiway team is a group of Airmen from the 109th operations and maintenance groups trained to deploy to forward polar environments and establish a skiway — or snow and ice landing area — where LC-130 Hercules ski-equipped aircraft may land.
The skiway is a swath of ice a minimum of 150 feet wide and 5,000 feet long, free of packs of snow, pressure ridges, cracks, crevices or other surface irregularities.
The ski landing control officer and an experienced instructor pilot trained to survey snow surfaces lay out the skiway. The officer deploys canvas markers to illustrate the outline of the skiway to the grooming personnel on the ground and aircrews that will land.
Construction team members operate grooming equipment, towed by snowmobiles, to improve snow and ice conditions for eight to 10 hours a day until the snow can support the aircraft.
The 109th partnered with the 133rd Contingency Response Flight from the Minnesota Air National Guard, which specializes in the buildup of hardened communications equipment for forward bases.
The 133rd deployed with the skiway team to test military equipment in the arctic conditions.
The 109th also partnered with the Canadian RAF 440th Transport Squadron out of Yellowknife in Canada’s Northwest Territories.
Personnel and light equipment were flown to the location on the 440th’s CC-138 Twin Otters, smaller ski-equipped aircraft used for light airlift and reconnaissance.
“Camp buildup, sustaining life, operations, and camp pull-out were training items that were emphasized throughout the exercise,” said Maj. Chris Husher, a ski landing area control oﬃcer (SLACO) student.
“It shows our flexibility to forward-deploy to these austere places, emphasizing the ability to adapt and project power in any environment,” Husher said.
Ski landing area control officers determine where and how an LC-130 can operate in polar environments, he explained.
While the exercise took place in Greenland this year, similar programs were conducted in Alaska and the arctic regions of Canada, incorporating other partner units and countries like Denmark.
“In arctic environments, the landscape as well as the weather prove to be an immense challenge,” said Master Sgt. Logan Brennan, polar camp manager during the exercise. “Logistically, the goal is to get everyone in, the mission accomplished, then everyone out in the safest and most eﬃcient way possible.”
This year, Polar Reach focused on training a new crop of Airmen to increase the qualified personnel available to execute the specialized mission, said Lt. Col. Matt Sala, a SLACO and oﬃcer in charge for the polar ski team.
“We had three SLACO students and several more personnel trained in tasks related to basic survival and operations around the camp itself,” Sala said.
“As the Arctic and Antarctic regions become more important, so too does the 109th and its capabilities,” Sala said. “Naturally, that means we need to maintain a posture to execute this skill set and continue to develop it, which means more people need to be trained to do so.”
Polar Reach is an annual exercise for the polar ski team, along with exercises like Arctic Light, which employ the same capabilities with diﬀering partner units, organizations and nations.
The 109th’s LC-130 Hercules is the largest ski-equipped aircraft in the world, capable of landing on ice and snow in polar environments. The wing provides airlift support to the National Science Foundation in Antarctica and Greenland.