Arctic Guardians conduct operations on arctic sea ice

  • Published
  • By David Bedard
  • 176th Wing Public Affairs

During a routine flight deep in the Alaska Interior, a small jetliner crashes with a dozen passengers.

All survive the harrowing incident without serious injury, but now they’re facing subzero temperatures with the sprawling and towering Alaska Range separating them from rapid rescue by a 210th Rescue Squadron HH-60G Pave Hawk and other military helicopters.

Help is on the way in the form of a 211th Rescue Squadron HC-130J Combat King II carrying the Arctic Sustainment Package (ASP) that, when dropped with a Guardian Angel team from the 212th Rescue Squadron, provides the crew and passengers of the crashed jetliner a critical lifeline.

The theoretical situation illustrates how the 176th Wing’s ASP could be used to provide winter shelter to the crew of a large military aircraft or the passengers of a civilian aircraft if they crash at a remote site far from rotary-wing rescue assets.

On March 14, the 211th RQS airdropped the ASP at a temporary ice camp established on a sheet of ice in the Arctic Ocean, known as an ice floe, to support testing submarine systems and other arctic research initiatives during the U.S. Navy’s Ice Exercise 2022.

Alaska Air National Guard Master Sgt. Benjamin Westveer, a survival, evasion, resistance and escape (SERE) specialist with the 176th Operations Support Squadron, explained what the ASP provides the joint force.

“The Arctic Sustainment Package is a self-contained package that is good for 28 survivors for seven days,” he said. “That includes the manpower that goes with, which includes the Guardian Angel weapon system — pararescue, combat rescue officers, SERE — that will deploy with the ASP. It has everything from cold-weather clothing, sleeping bags, tents, a heater, a generator, food, water and ways to make more water.”

Westveer explained the deployment of the ASP to the sea ice is a personnel-recovery vignette of Arctic Edge 2022 that interfaced with ICEX.  Arctic Edge 22 is a U.S. North Command exercise scheduled every two years and demonstrates U.S. and allied commitment to mutual strategic interest in the Arctic.

When the exercise is over, Westveer said his team of SERE and aircrew flight equipment specialists will spend six months in man days repackaging the ASP and preparing it for its next mission. The ASP includes everything from tracked amphibious all-terrain vehicles to tent shelters to stoves and generators.

The camp used to support ICEX, named Ice Camp Queenfish, served as a temporary command center for conducting operations and research in the Arctic region. The camp consisted of shelters, a command center and infrastructure to safely house and support more than 60 personnel at any one time.

Westveer reiterated the importance of the ASP in preserving life and limb of personnel who suddenly find themselves isolated in the Arctic’s harsh winter conditions, with ICEX giving the 176th Wing a unique opportunity to validate the package and exercise with it.

“ICEX gives us a unique experience getting the ASP on the ice cap,” he said. “If an event like this happened, it would take time to get helicopters there depending on all of the weather pieces. This allows us to run ahead with fixed-wing aircraft and employ the ASP until we get rescue vehicles there.”

The Los Angeles-class fast-attack submarine USS Pasadena (SSN 752), and the Virginia-class fast attack submarine USS Illinois (SSN 786) participated in the exercise with both breaching the ice near Camp Queenfish.

Alaska Air National Guardsmen of 176th Logistics Readiness Squadron worked with 144th Airlift Squadron Feb. 23 to transport the Navy’s camp equipment on a 144th AS C-17 Globemaster III to Deadhorse on the northern shelf of Alaska.

U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Richard Seif, commander of the Navy’s Undersea Warfighting Development Center and ICEX’s ranking officer, underlined the importance of the exercises as the world increasingly looks to the Arctic.

“The Arctic region can be unforgiving and challenging like no other place on Earth,” Seif said. “It’s also changing and becoming more active with maritime activity. ICEX 2022 provides the Navy an opportunity to increase capability and readiness in this unique environment and to continue establishing best practices we can share with partners and allies who share the U.S.’ goal of a free and peaceful Arctic.”