CAMP RIPLEY, Minn. - In the Arctic, steel becomes brittle at -22 degrees Fahrenheit, continuous connectivity at the bandwidth needed for modern military operations lags, and more than 80% of Alaska communities are not connected to the road system.
These challenges were among the many topics discussed at the National Guard Arctic Interest Council’s quarterly meeting at Camp Ripley Jan. 24-26.
The Minnesota National Guard hosted the event, bringing together subject matter experts from the Coast Guard, Navy, Air and Army National Guard, Ted Stevens Center for Arctic Security Studies, academic professors and industry partners to discuss the advancement of Arctic and cold weather capabilities.
Army National Guard Brig. Gen. Wayne Don, director of the Alaska National Guard’s Joint Staff, said the forum focused on service members’ need to be equipped to complete their mission in the Arctic rather than simply survive.
“With all the changes that are going on around the world, to include climate change and the increasing activity in the Northwest Passage area, it has become very important for all of us to recognize that we have to have the right capabilities and gear to operate,” said Don.
“The people that are going to advocate for that most ardently are going to be the people that live there. And as members of the Arctic community, I think we are in the right position to advocate for those changes and upgrades within our capabilities,” said Don, an Alaska Native who grew up in Mekoryuk, a village on Nunivak Island, 500 miles west of Anchorage in the Bering Sea.
Don said that all of the council members’ experiences are different, and coming together is essential in providing input into broader strategies.
During the event, attendees visited and observed the Minnesota Air National Guard’s 133rd Contingency Response Flight. The Airmen completed their cold-weather-focused annual training, sheltering in tents, igloos and snow caves to simulate an Arctic mobilization.
“Two steps in the Arctic is one anywhere else,” Senior Master Sgt. Jeremiah Wickenhauser, 133rd CRF superintendent, told the council members.
Wickenhauser said the 133rd’s ability to be the premier Arctic contingency response unit in the National Guard requires “innovation, experimentation and training.”
Wickenhauser said the forum was a helpful way for other states to learn about training opportunities and join exercises like the 133rd CRF-hosted Arctic Butterfly. Participants train on arctic survival skills to support flight-line operations in a cold-weather scenario.
From diving and explosive ordnance disposal in the Arctic to cold adaptation and winter equipment maintenance, council members learned from multiple SMEs who shared experiences from their career fields.
Since its inception in 2017, the National Guard Arctic Interest Council has advocated for the advancement of arctic and cold weather capabilities as part of the U.S. defense strategy. Approximately 50 representatives from nine states participated in the event.
Don said that collaborating with neighbors and discussing challenges impacting different National Guard states brought key issues into focus.
“It’s a good thing for us to get together and talk about some of the challenges, successes and strategies for moving forward,” said Don.