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NEWS | Jan. 28, 2014

Alaskan Command/Joint Task Force-Alaska and U.S. Army Alaska Host Arctic GO/FO Conference

By Tech. Sgt. John Gordinier Alaskan Command Public Affairs

Alaskan Command/Joint Task Force-Alaska and U.S. Army Alaska hosted an Arctic General Officer/Flag Officer (GO/FO) Conference Jan. 7-11, which included distinguished guests from the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, U.S. Coast Guard, Alaska National Guard and Canadian Forces, to strengthen partnerships, discuss future Arctic challenges and joint capabilities.

"The purpose of this GO/FO is to increase capabilities, bringing forces together from a variety of different components, joint and coalition, and to increase our collective capability," said Lt. Gen. Russell Handy, commander of Alaskan Command and Joint Task Force-Alaska. "That way, if a situation happens in the future, we are not figuring out what those capabilities are and teaching each other. It will make us better prepared to support each other and work together."

ALCOM/JTF-AK hosts GO/FO conferences quarterly, but this is the first time Canada has been a part of it.

"What is unique about this GO/FO is that we have invited our Canadian friends to come with us," said U.S. Coast Guard Rear Adm. Thomas Ostebo, commander, 17th Coast Guard District. "The Coast Guard works very closely with the Canadians and it is a good opportunity to have (them) in the joint fight and training. The Canadians are our closest partners and if we have a situation in the Arctic or on the borders, whether it is a security issue or a search and rescue issue, it will most likely involve the Canadians. Sharing our techniques, tactics and procedures at the flag officer level is very important."

The conference itinerary included a tour of JBER's 176th Operations Group whose missions include combat search and rescue, tactical and strategic airlift, and air defense. The attendees viewed types of Arctic sustainment packages SAR Forces use in crisis scenarios. For energy management, they toured JBER's Landfill Gas Power Plant where they convert methane expelled from the landfill into electricity, which is then used to power the installation.

"We produce enough energy with this plant to meet about 25 percent of JBER's power requirements, all from a previously unused resource, significantly offsetting the installation's electricity costs," said Dan Gavora, president of Doyon Utilities.

The GO/FO flew to Deadhorse, Alaska, for a tour of Alaska Clean Seas, which is an oil spill response cooperative whose membership includes companies that engage in oil and gas development on the North Slope of Alaska.

ACS provides personnel, material, equipment and training to its members for responding to oil spills on the North Slope, said C. Barkley Lloyd, ACS president and general manager. The tour informed the GO/FO on oil spill response resources, training and safety.

There is a lot of capacity on the North Slope and throughout interior Alaska with state, local, and in many cases, corporate entities that have extensive experience in the Arctic, Handy said. That experience may very well be transferable.

"Learning and understanding their capabilities makes us better prepared to assist them during a disaster," Handy explained.

After the ACS tour, the GO/FO visited USARAK's Northern Warfare Training Center's Black Rapids Training Site for briefings and classes on Arctic resources and survival. They received instruction on: how to be mobile in the Arctic environment with snowshoe and ski equipment; small unit support vehicle transportation; Arctic tents, shelters and stoves; and capabilities/limitations of snow machines.

"The Northern Warfare Training Center is the premier cold-weather training center in the Army, and our instructors are experts at working and fighting in extreme cold weather regions," said Maj. Gen. Michael Shields, USARAK commanding general. "Students trained here leave with the skills to not only survive in these harsh conditions, but to overcome them and successfully complete their mission."

"The training was great," Ostebo said. "We have a cold weather maritime training area in Kodiak, but we don't have the land survival portion. If one of our planes went down, how would our crews survive? The solution is we can send our air crews (to BRTS) for Arctic survival training."

"We are sharing a very important dialogue," said Royal Canadian Navy Rear Adm. W.S. Truelove, commander of Maritime Forces Pacific/Joint Task Force Pacific. "I think any well-prepared military needs to be able to operate in all the conditions they may face in defense and security of their nation or abroad. We are both Arctic nations, so it's important we have the capabilities to be combat effective in order to operate in this environment. Search and rescue is also very important up here; responding to crisis in these harsh conditions requires us to think and work together."

"These conferences are always so valuable to get to know who the leaders are and to be able to meet and shake hands," Truelove continued. "You always want to build those relationships well before any disaster situation so you aren't talking for the first time in a moment of crisis. I really appreciate the opportunity and thanks to everyone that put this together. It's been a great experience to be able to share with my colleagues."

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