FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska -- In the early morning hours of February 28th, 2020 soldiers and marines gathered in the historic shell of Hangar 1 on Ladd Army Air Field, Fort Wainwright, Alaska for the final test of their capabilities in Arctic Edge 20 (AE20). Their mission: to conduct an air movement from Fort Wainwright and conduct an assault on a simulated enemy, in the mountainous training areas located many miles from post. This was their culminating training event for AE20.
AE20 is a joint force and international training exercise and is the largest joint exercise scheduled in Alaska this year with approximately 1,000 US military personnel working alongside members of the Canadian Armed Forces.
The soldiers and marines inside Hangar 1 began conducting their final inspections of their sleds and rucks prior to their air movement. Their flights were still tentative as extreme cold temperatures threatened to cancel the mission. “We’ve been told that they are going to call it off if it gets to -30 degrees.” US Army Captain Wesley Hineline from 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division (1/25 SBCT) stated. Continuous checks on weather apps showed the temperature continuing to drop…-27°F
Despite their doubts, leadership continued to conduct checks on their subordinates and their equipment. In such severe conditions, wearing the proper uniform ensemble and bringing the proper equipment can be a matter of life or death. Soldiers sported their white extreme cold weather boots affectionately called “bunny boots”. They also donned white pant covers and OCP camouflaged tops to properly blend in to the sub-Arctic environment they were about to find themselves in. Akio sleds were loaded down with Arctic Meals Ready to Eat (MRE’s), water, tents, and stoves. Everything they would need in order to survive for an extended period of time in the extreme conditions. Another look at the weather app… -28°F
After receiving a call on his phone, CPT Hineline walked in front of the formation, “Alright, we are a go for todays mission. Everyone stay organized in your chalks, the aircraft will be arriving shortly.” As soon as he finished speaking the hangar door slowly raised. As the bitter cold blew in, bands and ripples of heat escaping from the building became clearly visible and the once warm hangar quickly began to chill.
The vibration of the thumps of rotor blades began to be heard. Four Chinook Helicopters (CH-47s) with their dual rotors arrived from the other side of the air field. Tinted with the light of the pink sunrise and the deep blue backdrop of the clear sky, the Chinooks slowly lowered onto the airfield. As the CH-47s taxied towards the hangar, huge waves of snow and ice billowed in every direction and soon the rotor wash blocked the aircraft from view. The noise slowly softened and the aircraft became visible again. All four helicopters uniformly lined up and were ready to receive the soldiers and marines waiting in anticipation.
One by one the chalks made their way to their respective aircraft. The soldiers and marines made quick work pulling and hauling hundreds of pounds of equipment on the sleds over the icy airfield and into the aircraft. After the final headcounts were confirmed, the doors were shut and the engines of the CH-47’s began to roar again. As the rotors increased their rotations, snowy clouds concealed the Chinooks once again, until one by one they would pop up over the clouds and appear floating over the tarmac. As they headed for the mountains, one last look at the temperature… -29°F.