Military News

Thursday, April 16, 2015

297th BFSB conducts training in Bethel

by Sgt. Marisa Lindsay
ANG Public Affairs

4/16/2015 - BETHEL, Alaska -- Alaska Army National Guardsmen with the 297th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade conducted their two-week annual training in Bethel and outlying villages last month, concluding April 1.

The region's ice-covered tundra and frozen river provided an ideal environment for arctic air and land training operations.

With a population of over 6,000, Bethel - located at the mouth of the Kuskokwim River 40 miles from the Bering Sea - lies in the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge, 400 air miles from Anchorage.

The Guardsmen received guidance on how to safely use arctic specialty equipment under harsh winter conditions, while simultaneously protecting themselves and each other from the elements.

"We saw this exercise as the perfect juncture to get reacquainted with our primary mission, and that's supporting Alaska regardless of the weather conditions we may be up against," said Maj. Aaron Kelsey, tactical command post officer for 297th BFSB. "With Alaska and its vast weather system, you never know the type of circumstances and situations you'll be facing -- this is our way of preparing our Soldiers for the what-if scenario, and what better place to engage them than Bethel's delta system."

A vital component of arctic operations and Soldier safety is the proper use of their specialty cold weather gear. The Guardsmen trained on and tested their gear for days at a time, including sleeping in tents while evening temperatures dipped to single digits.

Small unit support vehicles, unique to Alaska, played a crucial role - used to reach smaller villages as the Soldiers acquainted themselves with the 10,000-pound, heavy duty vehicle.

Terrain in Alaska can be extreme, and even more challenging depending on the region and time of year, Kelsey said. Some areas aren't accessible in the summer because travel depends on ice-covered rivers and lakes.

SUSVs help Soldiers overcome these challenges, and are an important asset to the Alaska Guard's inventory.

SUSVs were also used to transport ground-support Soldiers to create a drop zone, located on the outskirts of Bethel, and test for safe weather conditions for airborne operations.

Community awareness and involving the rural villages that surround Bethel was a priority for the exercise. Guardsmen interacted with the residents of Nightmute, Napaskiak, Toksook Bay, Kwethluk, Akiachak and Akiak. The villages each average a population of about 500 people.

"Because we conducted our annual training in Bethel, it created a long overdue opportunity for residents in rural communities and our Guardsmen to interact as a common group, to interact as Alaskans," said Sgt. 1st Class Kyle Wait, the operations non-commissioned officer for 297th BFSB. "The community and village outreach were made possible during this one training event, and the positive reception received from the greater Bethel area was overwhelming."

Students at ZJ Williams Memorial School in Napaskiak, a town approximately seven miles downriver from Bethel, received an impromptu visit and presentation by Soldiers during a break from their SUSV training on the Kuskokwim River.

A cultural day was held at the Yupiit Piciryarait Cultural Center and Museum in Bethel, where community leaders spoke with the Soldiers, to include a visit from the Alaska National Guard's adjutant general, Brigadier General (Alaska) Laurie Hummel.

During a one-day arctic training event in Nightmute, Guardsmen conducted funeral honors for Alaska Territorial Guardsman, Moses Tulik, and his family.

"All of these opportunities were made possible by one training event," Wait explained. "With future training and eager communities, the National Guard's presence in rural Alaska is surely to increase. We look forward to reconnecting and strengthening that relationship," he said.

Support organizations who helped to make the annual training possible included the 207th Aviation Regiment, meteorologists with the Oregon Air National Guard, and airborne drop assistance from United States Army Alaska; 176th Wing, Alaska Air National Guard; 167th Airlift Wing, West Virginia National Guard; Brigade support staff and sustainment; Veterans Affairs and various civilian organizations.

"It's not just about us," said Kesley. "It's about learning to work in tandem with a team of organizations and with the residents of our great state."

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