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Kentucky Air Guard trains in Sweden for arctic warfare

  • Published
  • By Philip Speck,
  • 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs

GRUBBNäSUDDEN, Sweden – Fifteen Airmen from the Kentucky Air National Guard completed an arctic warfare training course during two weeks of field exercises at the Swedish Subarctic Warfare Center.

The combat controllers, pararescuemen, special reconnaissance personnel, search, evasion, resistance and escape Airmen, and support troops traveled to Sweden in January to build on existing relationships with their European partners, said Senior Master Sgt. Sascha Kvale, a combat controller flight chief for the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron.

“One of our squadron missions is to support the active duty — specifically what’s going on in Europe right now,“ Kvale said. “So we’re building relationships with our European partners. We have a relationship with the Swedish Special Operation Group joint terminal attack controllers and the Swedish Subarctic Warfare Center. We’ve joined them for training for the past two years.”

Swedish Army Sgt. 1st Class Frederick Ragnarsson, head instructor at the warfare center, said the 123rd came to Sweden because the Swedes have one of the best training courses in the world for arctic environments.

“I think we have a good partnership going on,” Ragnarsson said. “We try to facilitate good training for the guys and make them better warriors in this kind of environment.”

Kvale said the arctic training is necessary to familiarize his Airmen with operating in the brutal conditions of freezing temperatures.

“Nothing works here like it does in Central Command, Afghanistan and Iraq. Everything is much more complicated, and sophisticated equipment often doesn’t function,“ said Kvale. “Sometimes our GPS devices’ batteries die within an hour. All of our batteries get cold-soaked, so when you put a new battery in, it still doesn’t work. Also, if you’re not maintaining weapon systems appropriately, they can freeze up completely.

“Sometimes it’s just the old-school, simple things that work best here.”

The training is a fundamentals course in which special tactics Airmen learn how to set up patrol bases, perform small unit tactics and execute dismounted patrols — all on skis, which some of the operators had never used much before.

“Just moving from point A to point B in this environment is so much more complicated than anything we’ve done before,” Kvale said. “Here we conducted ambushes with rockets and machine guns, things we’ve been doing for years, but just because of the environment it became much more complicated.”

While the course may be basic, it certainly isn’t easy, Ragnarsson said.

“The basic stuff is what you need to survive out here,” he said. “To begin with, in order to transport yourself, you need to go by skis. You need to be quite disciplined in order to maintain your physical fitness. To just maintain your daily tasks is a struggle out here.”

Kvale agreed.

“We don’t inherently understand how to operate in the Arctic or the subarctic like this. And until you come out here and experience it, there’s no way to explain it to somebody. Just the simple process of staying warm enough to not die is weeks and weeks of practice in itself.”

Staff Sgt. Keith Schneider, a combat controller with the 123rd, said that something as simple as choosing the best clothing can be a challenge.

“It’s tough to start cold, but that’s one of the things that they really teach out here. But once you start working and moving, you start warming up. The biggest challenge for me is just the clothing — what to wear and when to wear it, and how to keep everything dry.”

Leaders of the 123rd and the Swedes agreed the course was successful, with each team learning something new from the joint training.

“The training went really well,” Ragnarsson said. “I’m impressed with the guys. They have a really good spirit going. It’s a good group of guys and they pushed themselves and had great progress from Day One and up. I mean, it’s a real steep learning curve. Some of the guys have never been on skis, and now they can go places on skis, bringing their stuff, the webbing, the weapons and all the team gear.”

Kvale said the course “was some of the most challenging and beneficial training I have done in decades, to be quite honest.”

“The Swedes run an extremely professional course here. I recommend it for any special operations unit or anybody that can come out here and do this training. It will make you better at basic tactics,“ he said.

“If you can do tactics at the subarctic training facility, you can do those tactics anywhere in the world.”