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NEWS | Aug. 9, 2021

Alaska Army Guard helps remote village during IRT mission

By Victoria Granado, Alaska National Guard Public Affairs

JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska – An Alaska Army National Guard CH-47F Chinook helicopter from the 211th General Support Aviation Battalion transported a skid-steer loader from Nikolai to Telida, two villages in the Alaskan interior. 

The July 27 trip was part of the Innovative Readiness Training program, which addresses needs in American communities while providing training for the military.

The village will use the skid-steer loader to maintain its runway, enabling flights carrying goods and people to land throughout the year. The village is a nine-hour boat trip upriver from Nikolai and has no way of receiving large equipment by land.

Chief Warrant Officer 3 Christopher Best, the pilot in command, said it is fairly common for Chinooks to haul unconventional loads due to the versatility of the rotary-wing aircraft. Capable of sling-loading up to 26,000 pounds from the center hook, the CH-47F Chinook was an ideal solution for moving the steer-skid loader to a village inaccessible by road.

“Like most missions, it’s never simple,” said Best. “In a perfect world, the loader would have fit in the back of the aircraft, but it had to be sling-loaded because it was too large. That added a few more logistical complications and additional personnel needed to ensure the load was situated properly.”

For a sling-load, the cargo is rigged to be suspended from the helicopter and flown from point A to point B, which can be over large expanses of terrain. This particular IRT mission was an opportunity for the crew to train in the attachment and transportation of a sling-load with a cargo net.

The crew determined a route following the Kuskokwim river drainage in case they had to land with the loader. With a favorable tailwind, the Chinook delivered its cargo the 35 miles in 40 minutes.

“Aviation units are used to performing missions for other units,” said Staff Sgt. Jeremy Maddox, flight instructor for the Chinook crew. “It tends to be the same time and time again, but when communities have specialized missions for us to accomplish, we accept the missions to help broaden our skill set and help the community at the same time.”

Each IRT mission presents unique situations that coincide with the environment in which the Guardsmen reside and the population they serve.

“I think these mission types truly do contribute to mission readiness,” said Best. “The missions are often exercises in patience, planning and teamwork on a completely different playing field than our regular deployed mission set. This enables us to think outside the box and problem-solve in an entirely different realm.”

In addition to enhancing deployment readiness, the IRT program fosters relationships between the Guard and the people of Alaska.

“As National Guardsmen, we are already an integral part of our communities,” said Best. “Here in Alaska, we just enjoy being out in the communities and doing anything we can to help.”