JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. — Members from the 62nd Airlift Wing teamed up with Soldiers for Exercise Arctic Pegasus, held March 11 to 14 in Alaska.
During this four-day exercise, Airmen assigned to the 7th and 8th Airlift Squadrons braved bitter winds and freezing temperatures transporting approximately 30 Soldiers and Interim Armored Strykers using C-17 Globemaster IIIs.
“A lot of what we’re doing these days operationally is all joint exercise,” said Capt. Alex Hoffman, 7th AS pilot. “[Working with other branches helps in] figuring out how we can work out our different, unique assets or strong points together.
“It’s not just the Air Force or Army doing their own thing, everything is interconnected,” he continued. “Realistically this is what we’ll be doing – taking the Army. It’s always good to train with the actual people and not just simulate dropping them off.”
Working frigid conditions was a new experience for many of the Airmen participating in the exercise. However, flying and unloading cargo in cold weather while the Army simulated an operation provided critical training helps maximize full-spectrum readiness. Team members recognized the value of this training to maintain rapid global mobility capabilities.
“This exercise was to see how we’re able to handle arctic conditions and to work with the Army to build our relationship with them,” said Airman 1st Class Samantha Martino, 7th AS loadmaster. “I really enjoyed it, I thought it was a cool experience to go up as far north as we can and work with the Army.”
For the Army, working with the Air Force in joint exercises provides an opportunity to sharpen their skills on procedures involving aircraft.
“[Loadmasters and aircrews] have a level of expertise on the procedures necessary for us to deploy our platforms with aircraft,” said Army Sgt. 1st Class Philip Piennette, Crusher Company 321 platoon sergeant. “Due to the type of operation this was, everyone in my organization is now better from learning how that goes.
“Everything from the inspection process, to the cleanliness of the vehicle, to how it’s chained down, how it’s loaded and off loaded – they’ll use that for the rest of their career,” he continued. “The Stryker platform and C-17 probably aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, so learning how to deploy both of them in conjunction with one another is exceedingly valuable for the young Soldier.”
In addition to the joint training advantage, the temperatures offered a unique environment. With a respective average high and low temperature of -7 and -21 degrees the environment provided an ideal location for Airmen and Soldiers to practice cold weather operations.
“It’s something we don’t see very much, for sure,” Hoffman said. “Depending on what sort of situation the U.S. may find itself in, it’s definitely good to train in those environments to see how our equipment and people work and all the stuff that gets affected by cold weather.”
Once Airmen and Soldiers arrived the location, the loadmasters pulled on their protective layers and stepped into the freezing temperatures to unload the Strykers on their aircraft.
“When we’re opening up we want to try and get everything on and off as fast as we can so we’re not freezing,” Martino said. “It was warmer than I thought it would be but the engines were still running and blowing snow everywhere making it super difficult to see. You want to try and do everything fast so you don’t have to be outside.”
The low temperatures also created potential icing hazards. To help mitigate those hazards the engines were kept running while the team was on the ground.
“The outer rim of the engines have hot air running through them, so that’s protected, but the actual fan blades themselves can build up ice,” Hoffman said. “If you get a big chunk of ice and it breaks off and goes into the engine, it’s bad. So we [run the engines] every once in a while to get them hot and moving to avoid that.”
Innovative approaches to accomplishing operational objectives support the Air Mobility Command’s mission – Prepared Today, Ready Tomorrow, and exercises such as Arctic Pegasus help Airmen be ready for any situation.