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New York Air Guard Trains With Danish Special Forces In Greenland

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Sean Madden
  • 106th Rescue Wing

Francis S. Gabreski Air National Guard Base, NY -- New York Air National Guard Airmen assigned to the 106th Rescue Wing joined the Danish military for a September rescue exercise in Greenland.

Exercise Arctic Light 2023 was a two-week exercise conducted by Denmark’s Joint Arctic Command and served to advance the capabilities necessary to operate in the Arctic while also strengthening relationships with partner forces.

The Danish military is responsible for the defense of Greenland, which is part of the Kingdom of Denmark.

“Continued participation in exercise Arctic Light builds upon established relationships with Denmark, Greenland, and paves the way for NATO to continue to provide security in the Arctic,” said Lt. Col. Richard Bloom, an HC-130J Combat King II rescue pilot assigned to the 102nd Rescue Squadron.

The 106th Rescue Wing deployed an aircrew and HC-130J Combat King II search and rescue aircraft assigned to the 102nd Rescue Squadron. Aircraft maintenance personnel assigned to the 106th Maintenance Group and Guardian Angel personnel from the 103rd Rescue Squadron were also sent to support Danish forces in a simulated rescue of patients caught in a landslide.

Guardian Angel is the term for Combat Rescue Officers, Pararescuemen and Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) Specialists who are all uniquely trained personnel devoted to the Air Force function of personnel recovery. Together, they comprise a non-aircraft, equipment-based, human weapon system.

“This was the first time we airdropped Danish Special Forces,” said Capt. Hiram Rhoads, an HC-130J Combat King II rescue pilot assigned to the 102nd Rescue Squadron and a participant in the exercise. “We made drops into mountainous terrain and in the water, for them to save survivors of the simulated disaster.”

The Royal Danish Air Force and Denmark’s Joint Rescue Coordination Center, which is responsible for search and rescue in Greenland, and Danish Special Operations Command, were involved in Arctic Light 2023.

The Danish Special Forces operate similarly to U.S. Special Operations Forces like Navy SEALs and Air Force Pararescuemen.

The 106th Rescue Wing provided the plane for Danish personnel who performed high altitude-low opening (HALO) and high altitude-high opening (HAHO) jumps. They also conducted airdrops of boats, all-terrain vehicles and rescue supplies.

The 106th conduct a similar exercise with the Danish military in Greenland in November 2021.

While these skillsets and capabilities are core aspects of the 106th Rescue Wing’s operations, the environment Greenland provides is less familiar and offers a valuable opportunity to acclimate, Rhoads said.

“The Arctic is an increasingly vital region of strategic importance to the Air Force, Space Force and Joint Forces,” Rhoads explained. “It’s a new environment for us to start working in and training our procedures and techniques to.”

The training proved to be a valuable experience for an aircrew member with limited experience operating in Arctic conditions, according to the New York Airmen.

“This was one of the most exhilarating and challenging exercises I’ve ever been involved with, both mentally and physically,” said Tech Sgt. Curt Abdool, a loadmaster assigned to the 102nd Rescue Squadron. “That was due to the cold conditions and all the moving parts involved with the mission.”

After primarily operating in the Middle East or in the Caribbean and Southern U.S. to respond to hurricanes, going to do an Arctic mission is a completely different skillset, Abdool explained.

Rhoads said that the usefulness and success of this year’s participation paves the way for a return to the Arctic for the 106th Rescue Wing.

“The Danish were very happy with what we delivered for them in terms of capability and accuracy with our drops,” Rhoads said “We’re working toward having them come to us for training as well as going back for the next Arctic Light exercise.”

The 106th Rescue Wing, based at F.S. Gabreski Air National Guard Base in Westhampton Beach, New York, operates and maintains the HC-130J Combat King II search and rescue aircraft, and the HH-60G Pave Hawk rescue helicopter. The 106th Rescue Wing is home to a special warfare squadron with pararescuemen and combat rescue officers, specializing in rescue and recovery, and deploys for domestic and overseas operations.