Monday, August 31, 2009

Elmendorf Airmen support Army's Operation Arctic Response

by Airman 1st Class Christopher Gross, 3rd Wing Public Affairs

ELMENDORF AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska (AFNS) -- Active and Air National Guard Airmen provided assistance to Army Soldiers Aug. 24 and 26 during Operation Arctic Response here.

Members of the 517th Airlift Squadron from here and the Alaska Air National Guard's 249th Airlift Squadron supported the operation, which is an emergency deployment readiness exercise testing the capabilities of the military to rapidly respond to crisis situations within the state of Alaska.

The exercise lasted from Aug. 17 through 28 and consisted of various missions designed to challenge Soldiers; however, it wasn't until Aug. 24 and 26 that they needed airlift support.

As part of the exercise scenario, U.S. Army Alaska officials were alerted the morning of Aug. 24 of a person in the state intending to harm the local installations. The rapid reaction force from Fort Richardson, Alaska, quickly responded. They contacted Elmendorf AFB officials requesting air support for their troops and supplies to a location somewhere in Alaska. Airmen from the 517th AS and 249th AS deployed about 120 Soldiers along with five pallets, two Humvees, one trailer and one passenger carrier to a designated area in Alaska.

The 517th AS and the 249th AS aircrews each flew one of their C-17 Globemaster IIIs to the designated site. They performed a semiprepared runway operations landing and deployed the Soldiers and their supplies. The forward site was on a rough and rocky surface with the engines running ready to take off as soon as the aircraft were unloaded.

"We're basically one team, one fight regardless of what uniform you're wearing or what patch you have on your shoulder," said Lt. Col. Patrick Weeks, the 517th AS director of operations.

With no forklifts to unload the pallets, the crew performed a combat offload by lowering the ramp just above the ground and unlocking the pallets. Then they revved up the engines and released the brakes letting the pallets slide out the back, and prepared themselves to take off.

"The SPRO-ops is something they're executing in Afghanistan right now, on a frequent basis," Colonel Weeks said. "It's not asphalt and it's not concrete. It's dirt, rock and a pretty unique capability the C-17 has."

"Because it's different, there's a lot of training that we're going to get out of it," said Capt. Nate Drewry, the mission commander for the 517th AS and one of the pilots during the exercise. Captain Drewry put together the missions that were flown during the operation, and briefed and answered questions for those who participated.

"This is a pretty unique training opportunity for us," said Maj. Benjamin Nealy, a 249th AS pilot. "With this exercise, we can integrate the active-duty and the Guard forces to support the Army."

Colonel Weeks said this was a great opportunity to work joint operations and total force integration.

"We're not just up here doing things on our own, we have the Army here, and we have great resources to train with. We can also seamlessly train with the 249th Airlift Squadron in our own back yard," he added.