Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Joint Ops at Top of World

by 1st Lt. Nicole Langley, 821st Air Base Group

The biannual resupply of Canadian Forces Station Alert and Eureka, known as Operation Boxtop, came to a close Sept. 28 after nearly three weeks of round-the-clock missions originating from Thule Air Base, Greenland.

With approximately 200 Canadian servicemembers involved in each operation, Boxtop is Canada's largest resupply operation and occurs each spring and fall. "Boxtop is a model multi-national operation demonstrating the dependence and interoperability of U.S. and Canadian forces ensuring security in the remote arctic region," said Col. Lee-Volker Cox, 821st Air Base Group commander. "Supporting the world's northernmost inhabited locations from Thule exhibits NATO's global reach capabilities. No matter how difficult the weather, terrain or remote the location, we can deliver."

During the fall operation, the annual bulk replenishment of dried, non-perishable goods are delivered, said George Stewart, G4 for the Department of National Defence/Canadian Forces Chief Information Management Group.

CFS Alert is located approximately 420 miles north-northeast of Thule AB and has about 70 Canadians assigned. It is the northernmost permanently inhabited settlement in the world. CFS Eureka, located about 340 miles north-northwest of Thule, has only about 17 Canadian servicemembers assigned there.

The dried goods that were transported to Alert from Thule were delivered to the U.S. Air Base by Canadian-contracted sea carrier this summer near the end of Thule's port season, Mr. Stewart explained.

Thule AB has been providing support for these resupply operations since the early 1950s. While the Canadian Forces conducted direct operations, Thule's Operation Boxtop team consisted of individuals from airfield operations, logistics and communications.

Additionally, the base supported the Canadians with lodging and access to the dining facility and morale, welfare and recreation services. Base personnel also provided medical and security forces support.

While the Canadians did face some challenges during the operation, primarily due to weather and aircraft serviceability, the overall operation was considered a success.

According to Capt. Marie Meihls, 821st Support Squadron's Logistics Flight commander, with more than 160 missions flown, this fall's operation exceeded the goals.

As the primary contact for Thule support to CFS Alert and the detachment at Eureka, Mr. Stewart described Thule's support as outstanding in all areas. "Without support from Thule Air Base, the survivability of CFS Alert would be in serious question," said Mr. Stewart.

While the Canadian Forces benefit from Thule's support, the U.S. Air Base also benefits from the additional training. "The entire operation provides Team Thule a superb opportunity to train and operate at an operations tempo that is 500 percent higher than normal. It takes a tremendous effort to maneuver, service, repair, load and launch aircraft 24/7," explained Colonel Cox.

In addition to providing daily support for the operation, many Team Thule members got the opportunity to have an up close and personal look at the flying missions to Alert and Eureka by participating in orientation flights as space was available.

The operation wouldn't be complete without the traditional Boxtop Olympics - a competition of international proportion that occurs during each biannual resupply operation. The Canadian Forces competes in activities including volleyball, floor hockey, badminton and bowling against Team Thule, and the winner is awarded the coveted traveling trophy until the next matchup.

"Unfortunately for Team Thule, Boxtop Olympics II 2007 ended in a draw, with Alert keeping the trophy," explained Master Sgt. Chester Spires, 821st Air Base Group first sergeant.

At the end of the operation and the athletic competition, it was obvious that the time spent together was mutually beneficial for the Canadian servicemembers and Team Thule.

"Everyone comes together for Boxtop and the Thule family grows with an additional 200 members," said Colonel Cox. "No matter where I went and no matter who I saw, you could tell their was genuine friendship and mutual admiration. Everyone was working together as one team focused on the mission.

"That doesn't surprise me, because when you're on top of the world, you can't just get support with a phone call. If we can't get it done, it's not going to get done and Team Thule always gets the job done!"