NY Guard Airmen train on frozen lake to prepare for polar missions

  • Published
  • By TSgt Jamie Spaulding
  • 109th Airlift Wing

Twenty Airmen assigned to the New York National Guard's 109th Airlift Wing are honing their skills as members of the Polar Camp Ski-way Team, known as the PCST for short, on the Great Sacandaga Lake at the southern edge of the Adirondack Park.

These Airmen are trained in remote polar operations. They have deployed to Greenland's ice cap, northern Alaska and Canada's northern regions to establish the ice runways the wing's massive LC-130 "Skibirds" need to land on.

The training began February 15th and will finish February 17.

The members of the team use specifically outfitted snowmobiles to drag tow-hitched groomers thousands of feet for weeks at a time to prepare the snow and ice to withstand the landing of the ski-equipped cargo planes.

The 109th Airlift Wing flies the largest ski-equipped aircraft in the world. The wing's Airmen conduct airlift operations in Greenland and in Antarctica in support of the National Science Foundation, transporting scientists and equipment needed for ongoing research.
The ski-way team is comprised of Airmen from throughout the wing's squadrons, to include the 139th Air Expeditionary Squadron and the 109th Operations Support, Aircraft Maintenance, and Maintenance Squadrons.

In the winter, Great Sacandaga Lake, which is the 10th largest lake in New York at 41.7 square miles, provides a pretty good approximation of an Arctic wilderness, explained Maj. Brandon Caldwell, a resident of Broadalbin and LC-130 pilot and the PCST leader.

The lake is also 30 miles away from Stratton Air National Guard Base, where the 109th is located outside Schenectady, New York. This makes it easy for the Guard Airmen to get to.

The training is vital for letting the Airmen practice the skills they need to do their job, Caldwell said.

"We deploy, build up a camp, and survive. All in addition to the actual preparation and maintenance
of the ski-way," Caldwell explained.

During the exercise on the lake, the team set up a campsite like one they would erect in the arctic. They tested new grooming equipment and snowmobiles, chosen to enhance and extend the capabilities of the team by reducing the time and difficulty of ski-way construction and grooming.

They also used the opportunity to train new members in a controlled environment.

Tech, Sgt. Logan Brennan, also a resident of Broadalbin, a loadmaster and non-commissioned
officer in charge of the camp, said the main concern of operations in the arctic and Antarctica is survival.

"Survival is a key element when we are actually on the ice. Camp life revolves around things
like food, water, and shelter; then, once those things are taken care of, its time to work,"
Brennan said.

Caldwell explained building a ski-way at a remote location is a capability conceived of and developed by the very Airmen who now carry out the operation. An innovation intended to expand and capitalize on the 109th Airlift Wing's ability to operate in the Arctic and Antarctic.

According to Caldwell, increased attention on the potential for military operations in the arctic, in the wake of tensions around the world, highlights the important role the 109th Airlift Wing plays.

"The 109th is a tactical asset in these conditions and PCST is just the beginning of the large potential for that aspect of what we do at the poles," Caldwell said.

"We on the PCST want the 109th Airlift Wing to be a part of that and we will continue to hone these skills to that end," Caldwell continued.