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NEWS | Feb. 16, 2022

NY Guard trains on frozen lake to prep for polar missions

By Tech. Sgt. Jamie Spaulding, New York National Guard

GREAT SACANDAGA LAKE, N.Y. – Twenty Airmen assigned to the New York National Guard’s 109th Airlift Wing are honing their skills as members of the Polar Camp Ski-way Team (PCST) on the Great Sacandaga Lake at the southern edge of Adirondack Park Feb. 15-17.

These Airmen are trained in remote polar operations. They have deployed to Greenland’s ice cap, northern Alaska and Canada’s northern regions to establish the ice runways the wing’s massive LC-130 “Skibirds” land on.

The team members use specially outfitted snowmobiles to drag tow-hitched groomers thousands of feet for weeks at a time to prepare the snow and ice to withstand the landing of the ski-equipped cargo planes.

The 109th Airlift Wing flies the largest ski-equipped aircraft in the world. The wing’s Airmen conduct airlift operations in Greenland and in Antarctica in support of the National Science Foundation, transporting scientists and equipment for ongoing research.

The ski-way team is comprised of Airmen from throughout the wing’s squadrons, including the 139th Air Expeditionary Squadron and the 109th Operations Support, Aircraft Maintenance and Maintenance Squadrons.

In the winter, Great Sacandaga Lake, which is the 10th largest lake in New York at 41.7 square miles, provides a pretty good approximation of an Arctic wilderness, said Maj. Brandon Caldwell, an LC-130 pilot and the PCST leader.

The lake is also 30 miles from Stratton Air National Guard Base, which makes it convenient because the 109th is located outside Schenectady.

The training is vital for letting the Airmen practice the skills they need to do their job, Caldwell said.

“We deploy, build up a camp and survive. All in addition to the actual preparation and maintenance of the ski-way,” Caldwell explained.

During the exercise on the lake, the team set up a campsite like one they would erect in the Arctic. They tested new grooming equipment and snowmobiles, chosen to enhance and extend the capabilities of the team by reducing the time and difficulty of ski-way construction and grooming.

They also trained new members in a controlled environment.

Tech, Sgt. Logan Brennan, a loadmaster and noncommissioned
officer in charge of the camp, said the main concern of operations in the Arctic and Antarctica is survival.

“Survival is a key element when we are actually on the ice. Camp life revolves around things like food, water and shelter. Then, once those things are taken care of, it’s time to work,” Brennan said.

Caldwell said building a ski-way at a remote location is a capability conceived of and developed by the very Airmen who now carry out the operation — to expand and capitalize on the 109th Airlift Wing’s ability to operate in the Arctic and Antarctic.

According to Caldwell, increased attention on the potential for military operations in the arctic in the wake of tensions around the world highlights the vital role the 109th Airlift Wing plays.

“The 109th is a tactical asset in these conditions, and PCST is just the beginning of the large potential for that aspect of what we do at the poles,” Caldwell said. “We on the PCST want the 109th Airlift Wing to be a part of that and we will continue to hone these skills to that end.”