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Alaska, Canada conduct joint arctic SAREX

JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska – More than 100 servicemembers from the Alaska National Guard, U.S. Army Alaska, Canadian Joint Operations Command and Joint Task Force-Alaska joined together to participate in an Arctic Search and Rescue Exercise in Anchorage and Fort Greeley, Alaska, Oct. 30-31.

“The goal of the exercise was to test the interoperability of U.S. and Canadian SAR forces and equipment in an Arctic SAR response,” said Mr. Jeff Fee, chief of the JTF-AK Training and Exercises Directorate. “It helped ensure we can successfully carry out our mission, improves our collective ability to operate in humanitarian missions such as SAR and builds a framework for international cooperation.”

The team responded to a simulated aircraft crash near the Alaska - Canada border where 30 survivors were rescued.

Why this scenario and why Alaska? Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for people in Alaska to fly or boat to remote towns and villages under unpredictable weather conditions and experiencing challenging terrain. According to Air and Space Magazine, more small, private aircraft crashes occur here than in any other state.

The exercise was staged out of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, Alaska, but the exercise was conducted in the vicinity of Fort Greely, Alaska, with multiple aircraft from different units participating.

The responding aircraft included a combination of U.S. and Canadian aircraft. Helicopter participation was U.S. HH-60, UH-60, CH-47 and a Canadian CH-149. Fixed wing participation included multiple versions of U.S. and Canadian C-130 SAR and airlift aircraft, as well as a U.S. C-17. U.S. combat rescue officers, Pararescue personnel and Canadian SAR technicians responded along with U.S. and Canadian Army support personnel. The teams worked together to locate the crash site, provide necessary resources to the scene such as the Arctic Sustainment Package, rescue the survivors and render medical aid.

The Arctic Sustainment Package is a capability in development and is being exercised in a “proof of concept” status, said Mr. Paul VanderWeide, JTF-AK SAR Program Manager. The concept is to rapidly deploy survival, sustainment and medical capability to survivors in remote Arctic conditions via fixed wing aircraft in order to keep them alive until they can be rescued by helicopter or surface vehicles.

The package can keep up to 25 survivors alive for 72 hours and include life support items such as food, water, tents, generators, survival suits and medical equipment and paramedics, explained Mr. VanderWeide.

“This exercise builds on the historic cooperation between U.S. servicemembers and our neighbors in Canada to perform together, react to a tragedy, and save lives, This exercise is a superb example of the teamwork required to successfully accomplish the SAR mission in the vast and unforgiving Arctic region,” said Lt. Col. Karl Westerlund, Director of the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center.

“A robust Arctic SAR capability is essential, we are showing in this exercise a practical example of how our response capability can be used,” concluded Mr. VanderWeide. “When called upon, the Joint, Total Force Team of Alaska alongside our Canadian counterparts will be ready to answer.”

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