Thirty-four New York National Guard Airmen from the 109th Airlift Wing and the 106th Rescue Wing teamed up with Denmark’s Joint Arctic Command during a search and rescue exercise in Greenland from Nov. 3 to Nov. 9, 2021. The 109th Airlift Wing, which flies the largest aircraft in the world equipped to land on snow or ice, operates regularly in Greenland, resupplying science facilities there from Greenland’s Kangerlussuauq International Airport. The 109th Airlift Wing, based at Stratton Air National Guard Base outside Schenectady, New York, deployed one LC-130 ski-equipped aircraft and 17 personnel, while the 106th Rescue Wing, based at Gabreski Air National Guard Base in Westhampton Beach on Long Island, deployed an HC-130J search and rescue aircraft along with 17 personnel.
The search and rescue exercise, known as Arctic Light, included elements from the Royal Danish Air Force, the Danish Special Operations Command and Denmark’s Joint Rescue Coordination Center which is responsible for search and rescue operations in Greenland. Greenland is a self-governing part of the Kingdom of Demark, so the Danish military is responsible for defending the island. The exercise focused on the ability to activate, deploy and redeploy capabilities within the Arctic. As units arrived in Greenland, they received tasks from the Joint Arctic Command to aid in the search and rescue mission. The training scenario called for Danish personnel to conduct ground operations following a tsunami which hit Qoornoq, located on Greenland’s northeastern coast.
“The mission of the New York Air National Guard contingent was to drop supplies to the Danish troops on the ground. We were essential to operations for this exercise. We conducted three airdrops between the 109th and the 106th, consisting of survivability rations, equipment, and tactical gear. We even dropped a boat for Danish search and rescue personnel. The hardest part about conducting multinational exercises is working through the communication barrier. Something as simple as sending a drop zone survey or reading through an air tasking order instantly becomes a huge task when electronic systems don’t talk to each other,” said Maj. Christopher Husher, the 109th’s lead exercise planner said.
Since 1975, the 109th Airlift Wing has operated in the Arctic, cooperating with entities like the National Science Foundation, as well as strategic partners like Canada and Denmark. As the geopolitical landscape changes, and operations in the region become more frequent, concerns about interoperability between partners in support of mission effectiveness and safety come into sharper focus. In June of 2019, the Department Of Defense updated its Arctic strategy to address an evolving Arctic security environment as possibilities for international competition in the region begin to rise as Arctic seas become more navigable due to climate change. The DOD established three pillars to support its desired Arctic end state: build Arctic awareness, enhance Arctic operations, and strengthen the rules-based-order in the Arctic.