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Wings join up for Polar Training

  • Published
  • By TSgt Monica Dalberg
  • 106th Rescue Wing

Pararescue Airmen from the New York Air National Guard 106th Rescue Wing (106 RQW), here, traded the summertime dunes and beaches of Long Island for the icy caps of Greenland last month, as they conducted a site survey for future training opportunities in what could become a new frontier in mission capabilities.

Members of the 103rd Rescue Squadron (103 RQS), 106 RQW, arrived at Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, with the New York Air National Guard’s 109th Airlift Wing (109 AW), Scotia, N.Y. The 109 AW has the only ski-equipped LC-130 aircraft in the U.S. military, and is the sole provider of heavy airlift in support of the military and National Science Foundation (NSF) directed operations in the Arctic and Antarctica Polar Regions.

The wing delivers researchers, mechanics, fuel, mail, food, and everything else needed to maintain remote NSF outposts on the ice shelf in Greenland.

Pararescuemen from the 106 RQW and aircrews from 109 AW met prior to traveling to Greenland to discuss mission capabilities and ways the wings could benefit from one another. Pararescuemen are trained to rescue people on land, at sea, and in extreme danger or duress, while the 109 AW operates LC-130s in the north and south Polar Regions, making them the only pole-to-pole unit in the Air Force. The primary 109 AW mission in Greenland is to airland and onload/offload cargo, and the wing looks to survey new airfields there and increase the capability of their parachute program.

“They could give us access to those environments,” said 1st Lt. Mark Joseloff, 103 RQS combat rescue officer, “and we could provide search and rescue coverage for them if they got isolated…we could be brought along and be the (subject matter experts) for the personnel or equipment recovery to support their mission.”

Colonel Michael Bank, 106 RQW commander, feels the joint training is an evolution of a working relationship between the units.

“The wings have worked together in the past,” Bank said, “…and have started to realize what each brings to the table and how they can collaborate with different more complex training events.”

The Polar Regions of Greenland and Antarctica require more preparation for cold weather operations, noted Joseloff. The colder, windier conditions make for a greater chance of being isolated longer, and altitude, ice caps, glaciers, and snow increase sun glare and exposure. Breathing and physical exertion at the higher altitudes must also be considered, with actions taken more slowly and calculatingly, stated Joseloff. 

The pararescuemen are trained in mountaineering and conduct ice-climbing training twice a year within the U.S., but the ice is different in the Polar Regions. The Airmen usually train on ice containing some sediment, which is not as hard as “clean” ice with less impurities like that in Greenland and Antarctica. The Polar ice is harder because of the year-round colder temperatures, and makes for better anchor points for climbing gear, according to Joseloff.  

Tech. Sgt. Benjamin Walker is a 103 RQS pararescueman and also a graduate student who has spent numerous summers performing research and research support activities in Greenland.

“It was quite amazing and synergistic that exactly what I’ve been studying for my graduate program… could be useful for rescue operations in the Polar Region,” said Walker, who provided knowledge to help ensure member safety for future training.

The pararescuemen, having experienced conditions in the area, can now develop an effective training plan. Potential scenarios include personnel insertion to access and manage a crash site, and stabilize and extract survivors; rapid evacuation from remote science outposts; and ground or airborne search and rescue of lost trekkers.

“Collaborating in a pretty harsh environment and getting valuable training…it’s an economical way to spend training dollars,” said Bank, as he emphasized the gains for the two state units with diverse missions. “It’s a win-win for both wings. We’re happy to work with them.”

“It set us up for success the next time we’re going to see one another and continue to advance our relationships,” said Joseloff of the trip with the 109 AW.

The NYANG wings plan to begin joint training in Spring 2018.