CAMP RIPLEY, Minn. — Nearly 30 Airmen assigned to the 123rd Contingency Response Group (CRG) returned to Camp Ripley for a second round of cold weather training December 13-17.
The Kentucky Air National Guard unit, part of the 123rd Airlift Wing, specializes in opening airfields in remote areas.
Last year, the Airmen spent a week learning how to make ice caves, fire, water and shelter as part of an introduction to cold weather survival that allowed them to learn how to stay warm in freezing temperatures while performing different aspects of their jobs.
“Last time, we focused on more of your basic introduction to the cold and survival skills,” said MSgt. Ryan McNary, a logistics planner for the unit and 17-year-veteran. “This time is focused on setting up operations on an airfield.”
The unit is preparing for a simulated exercise in Nome, Alaska. They will spend just under a month setting up an airbase for other units to operate out of during Artic Eagle 2022 (AE22).
The exercise is a Joint, Interagency, Intergovernmental, and Multinational exercise series to support partner nation and National Guard participant’s training requirements. With U.S. national interests and Department of Defense activities in the arctic region focusing on securing, defending, partnering, planning, and enhancing capability, AE22 is an opportunity for National Guard states to participate in high-level training opportunities and support the global challenges, remote locations and extreme cold weather pose to the Joint Force.
“It’s really important to get these basic skills down because we are about to be in a very hostile, cold climate that can seriously injure people,” said TSgt. Thomas Kennedy, an Air Transportation Specialist with the 123rd CRG. “This is skills training for any artic mission.”
The Airmen are learning how to regulate their body temperatures and testing equipment to make sure that it will hold up against cold weather.
Minnesota weather gave them precisely what they needed, with a historic winter storm that brought thunder, strong winds, snow and below-freezing temperatures.
“We ended up taking everyone out of the field because we didn’t have the confidence in the equipment,” said McNary. “It’s not worth it, in a training environment, to put people’s lives at risk. After the storm, everything was still there, but now that confidence is built, and our people can see that.”
The storm also created travel concerns for the 123rd CRG unit because Camp Ripley does not have the ability to de-ice aircrafts yet.
“Our primary issue was that we didn’t have de-icing capabilities, said Nathan Foster, Miller Army Airfield Commander. “We do not have that capability, and the C-17’s didn’t want to take a chance of getting into Camp Ripley and then getting stuck on the ground due to icing.”
Without de-icing aircraft, the airfield is limited during winter while they wait for the ice to melt or the weather to clear.
“Our goal over the next year is to procure de-icing capabilities, like a de-icing truck,” said Foster. “Once we have that capability, we will be able to support flights year-round and in all weather conditions.”
Throughout their training, the 123rd CRG teamed up with service members from the 321st Contingency Response Squadron (CRS), part of the 621st Contingency Response Group based out of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey and Minnesota’s 133rd Airlift Wing.
“For us to come here and work with them helps us be more prepared,” said TSgt. Lance Oakes, Program Manager for the 321st CRS’s Assessment Team.
The training relationship between the two units began well before the event.
“We were told we were going to start doing Arctic operations,” said Oakes. “I phoned a friend who said to call [the 123rd CRG]. I introduced myself and built that relationship. They said, ‘we’re going to do some training, do you want to come with us?’
Because of the new relationship, the two units have served as observers for each other’s exercises and developed more efficient ways of accomplishing tasks.
“Even though they are in the Guard, they’re still a CR and we’re a CR,” said Oakes. “We are trying to break down barriers as far as working together and now that we are, it’s 100 percent better.”
During their weeklong training, the 133rd Contingency Response Flight (CRF) hosted Exercise Arctic Butterfly to train arctic survival skills and support flight line operations in a cold-weather scenario for the two units.
“This exercise is specifically designed to exploit the 133rd CRF’s strength as the premier Arctic CR unit in the National Guard,” said Lt. Col. Jason Christensen, Commander of the 133rd CRF.
The partnership between the three units allows each service member to share best practices and better prepare themselves to respond for their next real-world mission.
“Everyone is bending over backward to help us,” said McNary. “The airfield folks are wonderful. We’ve never had any issues and that’s why we want to do all of our training here.”