“George challenges me,” he said. “His job is to do that during training, so that if I face similar challenges during an actual mission, I will be able to handle them easier.”
The new members are not the only ones who need training. Each air crew member for the 109th has to have a “check ride” every 17 months to stay certified to fly. The training facilities provided in Greenland become critical because it is impossible to train for ski operations outside the polar regions.
“Greenland is focused more on training for our air crews,” Norman said. “Ninety-nine percent of the missions in Antarctica [October through February] are operational, which leaves very little time for training. Greenland is about half and half.”
In Greenland, the 109th has one major training asset that cannot be duplicated any other place on earth, Camp Raven.
“We have the luxury of Raven less than 100 miles away [from its base in Greenland],” Norman said. “It is a less expensive way to get our required training done. I can send a plane out to Raven in the morning and still have time for an operational mission in the afternoon.”
Alston said that Raven is unique and critical for safety.
“You have the open snow area and the camp nearby. If you get stuck, you taxi over to the skiway and get airborne,” he said. “We have a skiway and open snow that is consistent to train on. In Antarctica, we have both, but they are not in the same area.”
Greenland is also relatively close to Schenectady in polar terms. A six-hour flight in a Herc will get the planes to the 109th’s base of operations in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland. The settlement is a former U.S. Air Force Base that was turned over to Denmark and now is a hub of commercial transportation, by Greenland standards. During the summer, the 109th and a Greenlandic government-run logistics
agency, Kangerlussauq International Science Support (KISS), set up operations to support ice sheet research across the country.
“It is exciting to be part of the science here,” Alston said.“ It is an incredibly important mission. This science could change the world.”