KANGERLUSSUAQ, Greenland - New York Air National Guard Airmen from the 106th Rescue Wing participated in a Danish military search and rescue exercise in Greenland Nov. 5-9.
Conducted by Denmark’s Joint Arctic Command, Arctic Light 2021 tested the ability of units to activate and deploy in the Arctic.
Greenland is a self-governing part of the Kingdom of Demark, so the Danish military is responsible for defending the island.
The 106th Rescue Wing Airmen deployed an HC-130J Combat King II search and rescue aircraft from Gabreski Air National Guard Base at Westhampton Beach at the eastern tip of Long Island.
They teamed with 17 Airmen from the New York Air National Guard’s 109th Airlift Wing, which flies from Stratton Air National Guard Base outside Schenectady.
The 109th regularly trains in subfreezing temperatures with their ski-equipped LC-130 aircraft, aptly nicknamed “ski birds.”
The 109th operates the largest ski-equipped aircraft in the world and regularly flies missions to Antarctica and Greenland to resupply American science research stations operating in the polar regions.
“This was our chance to dip our toes in cold weather and arctic operations,” said Lt. Col. Sean Garell, the commander of the 106th Rescue Wing’s 102nd Rescue Squadron, which flies the HC-130s.
“We wanted to look at the 109th approach to cold weather operations because they have experience when it comes to Greenland and Antarctica,” Garell said. “We wanted to examine ways to keep the airplane operational despite harsh conditions, especially as temperatures plummet below zero degrees Fahrenheit at night.”
The Arctic Light exercise was a perfect fit for the 106th because it revolved around a search and rescue mission, the specialty of the 106th, Garell said.
The training included elements from the Royal Danish Air Force, the Danish Special Operations Command, and Denmark’s Joint Rescue Coordination Center, responsible for Greenland search and rescue operations.
“Our goal was to provide subject matter expertise on personnel recovery, whether it’s fixed-wing, rotary-wing or Guardian Angel,” Garell said.
Guardian Angel is a term that encompasses three related career fields: combat rescue officers, pararescuemen, and survival evasion resistance and escape specialists.
Along with the HC-130 and aircrew from the 102nd Rescue Squadron, the 106th sent two helicopter search and rescue specialists from the 103rd Rescue Squadron, two pararescue experts from the 103rd Rescue Squadron and aircraft maintenance specialists from the 106th Maintenance Group for the training exercise.
They operated from Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, the location of the island’s main international airport, which serves as a home base for the 109th Airlift Wing when it flies missions in Greenland.
The 106th Airmen conducted a low-level mountain flying and a resupply airdrop to a Danish special operation forces team in Nuuk, Greenland, as part of the mission.
The ration-filled bundle landed less than 10 meters from the target, culminating a successful exercise, Garell said.
“We learned how our planes hold up up there. We learned what we need to be able to operate up there, and really it was just our first step,” he emphasized.
Garell said Arctic Light was a great opportunity to cement relations with American, Danish and Greenlandic partners while working together, sharing expertise and expanding search and rescue operation capabilities.
“We learned what we can do with the aircraft to keep them running, how we adapt our employment, our training,” Garell said. “But the big thing was solidifying ties with the Danish, Greenlanders and the 109th.”