STRATTON ANGB, N.Y. -- In a first-ever joint reserve component exercise, Airmen from the New York Air National Guard’s 109th Airlift Wing landed 37-fully equipped Canadian reserve and American Vermont Army National Guard infantrymen on the frozen Arctic Ocean near Little Cornwallis Island in Canada’s Nunavut territory on March 15, 2023.
The insertion was a key element in the Canadian Forces Exercise Guerrier Nordique 2023, which ran from February 22 to March 22.
Airmen from the 109th’s specially trained Polar Camp Skiway Team (PCST) spent over a week just north of the 75th parallel where they constructed the 6,000 foot ski landing zone that allowed the LC-130 Hercules “ski-birds” flown by the wing to transport the combat troops into the remote Arctic location.
“I am extremely proud of all the personnel of the 109th Airlift Wing who participated in this challenging exercise, which included the forward deployment and extraction of combat personnel on sea ice above the Arctic circle via our LC-130 aircraft,” said Col. Christian Sander, commander of the 109th Airlift Wing.
“The team overcame the severe polar environment and established a perfect landing zone capable of supporting the LC-130, fully loaded with well-equipped Army personnel and coalition partners,” he said.
A troop movement of this size to a location this austere was only possible because of the capabilities of the LC-130, the largest ski-equipped cargo aircraft in the world capable of landing on ice and snow in polar environments.
The 109th’s PCST received transportation from the Royal Canadian Air Force’s 440th Transport Squadron’s Twin Otter aircraft who brought their camping gear, grooming equipment and personnel to the designated campsite on the frozen Templeton Bay.
Once the polar camp was established and sustainable, the PCST used snow machines to groom a 6,000-foot ski landing area out of snow and ice for the LC-130s.
A functioning ski landing area allowed the LC-130's to carry out their objectives, including transporting 37 fully equipped Canadian and American Soldiers to the desolate area.
Throughout the exercise, the 109th transported 59,000 pounds of cargo and 89 personnel to and from the remote polar camp.
“This was a powerful demonstration by our multi-capable Airmen in and out of a remote Arctic location never previously believed to be accessible for such a large operation. This was a strong proof of concept demonstrating our agile combat employment capability in support of the DoD’s Arctic Strategy and other objectives in the region,” Sander said.
While polar survival is not their primary job, the 12 personnel who make up the PCST are multi-capable Airmen who bring a variety of skills and expertise to the team, said Lt Col Matthew Sala, officer in charge of the ski landing area control officers and PCST.
The PCST members come from a variety of job backgrounds such as aircraft loadmasters, crew chiefs, navigators and maintenance specialists. They also bring outside skill sets, like knowledge in repairing generators or snow machines, and ensure the polar camp is sustainable.
Despite setbacks due to poor weather and maintenance issues, the PCST members constructed the ski landing area in three days, working in Arctic conditions with ambient temperatures reaching -30 degrees Fahrenheit.
“The living conditions at camp are demanding. Life sustainment and ski landing area maintenance in these constantly changing environments can uproot your plans in minutes. But seeing that first LC-130 land and ultimately take off on a ski landing area that you created out of nothing makes it all worth it,” Sala said.
After arriving at Templeton Bay, the U.S. and Canadian soldiers practiced skills in Arctic warfare. They established a security perimeter around the landing zone as well as security positions in the surrounding areas.
Exercise participants included Airmen from the New York Air National Guard’s 105th and 109th Airlift Wings, Soldiers from the Vermont, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Utah Army National Guards and various units from the Royal Canadian Armed Forces.