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News | Sept. 7, 2021

Arctic Guardians work with partners during Nome, Utqiagvik site surveys

By Alaska Command Public Affairs

For associated photos visit DVIDS.

Alaskan Command staff organized and hosted site surveys, Aug. 23-27, of the remote communities of Nome and Utqiagvik for suitability of hosting full-spectrum search and rescue operations.

Both cities function as hub communities for their regions’ surrounding towns and villages.

Leading the team was Paul Nelson, Alaskan Command Personnel Recovery/Search and Rescue program manager.

“Because of the incredible leadership of both communities, they were more than welcoming in opening their doors to us and giving us assistance,” Nelson said of Nome and Utqiagvik. “A major objective of this trip is to further build on existing relationships between community leaders, ALCOM and the National Guard. You really can’t put a price tag on that.”

Nelson said he was charged by ALCOM commander, U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. David Krumm, to gauge the capabilities of both communities’ airports and surrounding infrastructure to host PR/SAR operations during a crisis. This will help in determining their current suitability and what would be needed to make them fully able to act as PR/SAR platforms, so Krumm and other leaders could advocate and plan for future resourcing.

Nelson said the survey acts as an important diagnostic in order to prepare for unforeseen contingencies.

“The big deal here is we don’t want to try and figure this out when there is an emergency,” he said. “We want this figured out before an emergency happens because when people are hurting and they’re having a bad day, that’s not the time to figure this out.”

For the technical foundation of the team, Nelson coordinated with Air Force Reservists from the 922nd Civil Engineer Flight, March Air Reserve Base, California. Four Airmen surveyed both airports and compared the airfields and facilities against rigorous technical specifications, detailing requirements for hosting HC-130J Combat King IIs of 211th Rescue Squadron, HH-60G Pave Hawks of 210th Rescue Squadron and pararescuemen (PJs) of 212th Rescue Squadron. The capabilities of the three rescue squadrons compose the rescue triad.

U.S. Air Force Reserve Lt. Col. Jonathan Linquist, 922nd CEF team lead, explained the mission of the unit.

“Our purpose is to provide staff-level services to combatant commanders and subordinate units when they need it anywhere in the world,” he said. “In Nome and Utqiagvik, we are looking at the suitability of search and rescue missions out of those locations. We are looking at what they can support now and what are the limiting factors that we may want to address with construction work to be able to support in the future.”

Linquist also outlined the challenges of engineering and maintaining facilities in the northern environments.

“Construction in the Arctic is incredibly complicated,” he said. “Part of that is the soils and the permafrost, and another part is the logistics of getting materials and equipment to the locations to complete the work.”

Working with 922nd CEF Airmen were Guardsmen of the rescue triad and the 176th Maintenance Group who provided their expertise to flesh out the technical requirements with operational and maintenance considerations in mind.

Alaska Air National Guard Senior Master Sgt. Dennis Mobley, 176th Maintenance Squadron, described how the local communities in both Nome and Utqiagvik were willing to lend a helping hand.

“At both places, people were friendly, very accommodating and willing to go the extra mile to help us even though we were only information gathering and didn’t have anything pressing at the time,” he said. “Everyone was happy to see us, and they were happy to help us as needed, which included giving up their building space for a period of time.”

Nelson said whether supporting defense support of civil authorities or supporting homeland defense, PR/SAR operations are an integral part of the ALCOM mission.

“Two overarching objectives of Alaskan Command under the umbrella of Northern Command is to provide homeland defense and to provide defense support of civil authorities, and personnel recovery/search and rescue plays heavily in both of those objectives,” he said. “When it comes to search and rescue, we all know that Alaska is very big, and the lack of ground transportation makes us heavily reliant on air transportation, which really makes for the need of robust search and rescue across the state.”