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NEWS | May 15, 2024

Kentucky Guard Airlifts Materials for Arctic Circle Housing

By Airman 1st Class Annaliese Billings, 123rd Airlift Wing

JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska - More than 20 Kentucky Air National Guard Airmen deployed to Alaska in April to airlift 15 tons of homebuilding materials to the North Slope of Alaska to support needy communities.

Maj. Nick Dobson, a pilot from Kentucky’s 165th Airlift Squadron, said the mission enables the construction of affordable housing in the Arctic Circle as part of the Defense Department Innovative Readiness Training program that provides service members with deployment experience while offering lasting benefits to civilians.

“Right now, we’re on track to save roughly $1.4 million in transportation expenses for three building locations — a duplex in Nuiqsut, a duplex in Kaktovik and a single-family home in Wainwright,” Dobson said.

Airmen from the Kentucky Air Guard began developing load plans in November, with aerial porters analyzing the composition of building materials to ensure they met military airlift requirements. Those materials, including insulation, bathtubs, electrical wiring and drywall, were then trucked to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson from Palmer, Alaska, for staging before aerial porters from Kentucky’s 123rd Logistics Readiness Squadron palletized the cargo in mid-April.

In the final step of the operation, aircrews from the 165th Airlift Squadron flew the cargo aboard a Kentucky Air Guard C-130J Super Hercules aircraft to Deadhorse, Alaska, where Kentucky aerial porters offloaded the supplies.

Master Sgt. Charles Wilding, air transportation superintendent for the 123rd LRS, said the mission was a valuable training experience for his troops.

“Opportunities like this ensure we have the time and missions to properly accomplish training,” Wilding said. “Getting the chance to help villages on the North Slope was also extraordinary — definitely a highlight of my career.”

Senior Airman Colton Edlin, an air transportation specialist from the 123rd LRS, said Guard members of all ranks honed their skills during the mission, from cargo reception, palletizing, and netting to load planning, staging and uploading.

One scheme used in Alaska was Combat Offload Method B, typically employed only in austere locations where specialized cargo-handling equipment like K-loaders are unavailable.

Using this method, Kentucky Airmen carefully rolled palletized cargo off the aircraft and onto steel barrels resting on their sides on the flight line.

“The fact that we flew with the cargo and we used method B offloading was what made the mission unique for the aerial port because I had never done either of those things before,” Edlin said. “I’m glad to have had the opportunity.”

Dobson said the mission proved equally valuable for aircrews. Pilots operated from austere locations and had to navigate a blizzard with significantly reduced visibility.

“Aircrew members got great training out of this because they were flying on gravel runways in remote locations while operating and performing combat offloads,” Dobson said.

Innovative Readiness Training typically supports civil engineering projects or medical care. This mission, however, marked the first time that IRT was paired with Mission Readiness Airlift to transport goods for the civilian sector.

Dobson said the effort will help alleviate a shortage of affordable housing on the North Slope, where transportation expenses often account for 60 percent of the cost of a new home. The Tagiugmiullu Nunamiullu Housing Authority has a backlog of 430 single-family homes that can’t be built affordably.

Master Sgt. Corey Ciarlante, an air transportation specialist with the 123rd LRS, said the IRT provided experience he couldn’t get at home station.

“This IRT mission provided critical five- and seven-level training to members to ensure mission readiness and effectiveness while also enhancing our job knowledge and proficiency by forcing us to think outside the box to build up complex cargo,” Ciarlante said. 

Airman 1st Class Elijah Stansberry said the mission was very satisfying.

“It feels great that we were able to help out people who are in need of homes, especially in such harsh weather,” said Stansberry, an aerial porter with the 123rd LRS. “This was my first trip with the port, so this was something I’ve never done before, and I was honored to do it.”

 

 

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