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
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
"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