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New York Air Guard transports Joint Special Operations Forces, Arctic Edge 24

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Madison Scaringe,
  • 109th Airlift Wing

Forty-six Airmen from the New York Air National Guard’s 109th Airlift Wing participated in Arctic Edge 24 (AE24), a U.S. Northern Command-led homeland defense exercise demonstrating the U.S. military's capabilities in extreme cold weather.

The event aimed to demonstrate combined force readiness and the U.S. military's commitment to security interests in the Arctic region.

During AE24, more than 400 joint and allied Special Operator Forces (SOF) honed their skills in extreme cold, focusing on specialties like long-range fires and movements, special reconnaissance, rapid resupply, personnel recovery, and medical care in the challenging Arctic environment.

The 109th conducts annual missions to Greenland and Antarctica, making them suitable partners to bring their Arctic expertise to Alaska.

Based out of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, the 109th flew 31 sorties, transporting over 95,000 pounds of cargo and 61 passengers from February 23–March 11.

"Our Airmen displayed unmatched dedication, expertise, and resilience in the face of extreme conditions," said Col. Rob Donaldson, commander of the 109th Airlift Wing.

"Their participation not only showcased the unique capabilities of the 109th Airlift Wing and our mission ready airmen, but also underscored the critical role Air National Guard units play in enhancing joint force readiness," he said.

The cargo transported by the 109th throughout the exercise supplied various special forces groups with the equipment needed to carry out their training in Kotzebue, Utqiagvik, Kodiak and Fairbanks, Alaska.

On March 9th, high in the Arctic Ocean off Alaska’s north shore, the 109th airdropped a supply package to East Coast-based Naval Special Warfare Operator (SEALs) and Norwegian Naval Special Operations Commandos as part of a first-ever integration of SOF personnel, aircraft and snowmobiles in conjunction with a submarine that surfaced so far into the Arctic Circle.

The event utilized special operations MH-47G Chinook helicopters to transport 15 SOF personnel to a secure zone on the ice, identified by the submarine, where four snowmobiles were unloaded.

The team then set up a command-and-control tent where they coordinated the air-drop of a critical package from the 109th’s C-130 Hercules. The package was retrieved and navigated to the waiting USS Hampton (SSN 767).

Just moments before, the Los Angeles-class fast attack submarine had surfaced through the thick sheet of ice, emerging from the sea below.

"This historic integration of Special Operations Forces personnel, aircraft, snowmobiles and a surfaced submarine represents a remarkable milestone in Arctic operations, showcasing the extraordinary capabilities and readiness of our combined force," Donaldson said.

Notable among the airlifted equipment was an M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) operated by Marines from Fox Battery, 2nd Battalion, 14th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division, Marine Forces Reserve.

The vehicle was transported to Eielson Air Force Base in Fairbanks, Alaska, as part of a HIMARS Rapid Infiltration (HIRAIN).

The training involved offloading the HIMARS from the 109th’s C-130, along with two C130J Hercules, stopping at a resupply checkpoint and concluding with a live-fire demonstration showcasing the Marine Forces Reserve’s ability to rapidly deploy and deter threats in harsh Arctic conditions.

Unforgiving Arctic weather and aircraft mechanical issues proved to be hurdles for the 109th during the exercise.

“Mother nature is always the biggest challenge and potential hazard in these types of environments,” said Lt. Col. Matthew Sala, the 109th deployed commander.

"Our crews regularly train and operate in these conditions, and demonstrated their abilities once again during this exercise,” he said.

“We had maintenance issues with a few different types of leaks, as well as a tire change,” said Chief Master Sgt. Jeffrey Hanna, the 109th maintenance group senior enlisted leader.

“When the aircraft challenged us, this team continually worked together as multi-capable Airmen to ensure missions were not missed. Our aircraft are pushing 50 years old and there’s a dwindling number of C-130 H-model aircraft in the Air Force inventory. The supply chain is our greatest challenge, it is very difficult to track down replacement parts,” he said.

Despite the setbacks, the 109th Maintenance Airmen worked long hours into the night to ensure the aircraft was back to mission ready as soon as possible.

“I have been in this maintenance supervisor role for many years, and this is the greatest maintenance team I have ever worked with. It was a privilege to lead them. They worked extremely hard to ensure the aircraft was good to go with no time wasted on our part. I’m very proud of them,” Hanna said.

Arctic Edge 24 involved participation from multiple nations, including special forces from the United States, Norway, Denmark and the United Kingdom.

This collaborative training emphasized collective efforts in securing the Arctic region and enhancing military capabilities in extreme environments.

“I am very proud of all the members from the 109th,” Sala said.

“Throughout this exercise, challenges were thrown at them from all sides. Members of the 109 Special Operations Task Unit, the task group, and the maintenance and logistics sections all rose to the occasion, adapted and overcame. These Airmen proved to be Arctic Multi-Capable Airmen and women that the Wing can be proud to call their own,” he said.