JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska --
Enduring and operating in arctic environments like Alaska is critical in maintaining unrivaled Arctic Warfighters– such as the tactical air control party specialists assigned to Detachment 1, 3rd Air Support Operations Squadron at JBER.
The Airmen of the 3rd ASOS recently put their arctic skills to the test as they embarked on Operation Agipen 2. An unsupported mission in the Alaska wilderness, the operation is designed to test the capabilities of the Airmen and equipment in extreme-cold long-distance movements. They started their approximately 130-mile trek along the Denali Highway, Alaska, on Jan. 29, 2023.
Operation Agipen has been conducted in the past, but never at this scale. Airmen from the 3rd ASOS spoke about the extremities they would face and emphasized the distance they would cover on this cross-country ski movement.
In preparation for Operation Agipen 2, the team trained five days a week over the past two months. A typical training day was anywhere from three to 12 miles on cross country skis, wearing a small backpack and increasing the weight carried as time progressed.
“We’re estimating around 127 to 130 miles, depending on how far they’ve plowed,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Travis Hunt, a tactical air control party officer with Detachment 1, 3rd Air Support Operations Squadron. “We do overnight training missions frequently throughout the year, but this is the first time we’re doing a multi-day sustained arctic mobility exercise.”
The operation tests the effectiveness of equipment used by the 3d ASOS and identifies potential issues, reducing complications when in a real-world situation. Operation Agipen 2 is the perfect stress test to prepare them for the austere conditions of Alaska.
“Everything is more difficult in the arctic, with the snow and ice,” said Hunt. “Everything you do [must be] deliberate and planned through, especially being as remote as we are, without operational vehicles.”
Only the bare necessities are packed and carried into the field, from repair kits and backup equipment to portable field stoves for cooking food and boiling snow into water. This is all then loaded onto a sled and is pulled by the service members themselves.
“We’re showing proof of concept of us doing this without that support, with what we can carry ourselves,” said Hunt.
These special warfare Airmen train endlessly for operations like this one to ensure they can support the units they are paired with.
Currently, they assist the 11th Airborne Division and are the only airborne-qualified TACPs that support them. They will also work with the Soldiers of the 11th ABN during the upcoming Joint Pacific Multinational Readiness Center exercise, where Soldiers and Airmen will spend 10 days testing combat capabilities in the austere conditions of central Alaska.
Operation Agipen is a true test of the 3rd ASOS’s capabilities and projects joint forces with other mission partners and ally countries. NATO ally countries such as Norway are familiar with training in austere environments similar to what we have at JBER. The Airmen from the 3rd ASOS have learned important cold weather lessons from them that have improved arctic mobility over the years.
“If we have to enter an area on a mission and the only way to do that is to enter the area on skis for 100 miles quietly, we have to be prepared for that,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sergeant, Trent Collins, strike team non-commissioned officer in charge, also assigned to the 3rd Air Support Operations Squadron.
The Department of the Air Force Arctic Strategy highlights the importance of Alaska and the Arctic as a result of its unique location. Training exercises like Operation Agipen are an example of how Alaska’s service members give the U.S. Air Force the edge they need to operate as part of the most lethal combat force on the planet.