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National Guard tests preparedness in Nome joint exercise

3 men building a shelter on the sea ice in Nome
Airmen with the 109th Airlift Wing’s Skiway construction team employ barren land survivial techniques as they erect the first shelter at Camp Rockwell during Air National Guard Exercise Arctic Eagle 2020. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Technical Sergeant Jamie Spaulding/released)

National Guard members from multiple states, including Alaska, have landed in Nome for a pre-scheduled military exercise called Arctic Eagle. This large, statewide exercise has taken place every two years since 2012, but this is the first time it has partially been held in Nome.

Original estimates from Lt. Colonel Eric Marcellus said roughly 250 people would be coming into Nome for Arctic Eagle but that has since been updated to 150. Marcellus is the joint-task force commander for the Nome portion of this training exercise.

“It really is bringing a lot of different entities together,” explained Marcellus. “And one of the reasons you need to do that, is because the coordination piece in a real natural disaster or emergency, is going to bring all those same players together. And this is our opportunity to get to know each other and also to understand how each other operates, what we can and can’t do, and the capabilities and limitations that each has,” Marcellus said.

Marcellus highlighted the other partners that are part of this exercise, including other states’ National Guard members and other federal agencies like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA.

So far, the Alaska National Guard and its partners have assembled communications equipment, done drills and cold-weather exercises with snowmachines, as well as setup a temporary air base near the Alaska National Guard Air Hangar.

Their time in town is spent at a handful of buildings or specific areas, public affairs officer Major Chelsea Aspelund said.

“A lot of that movement is between our main points, so between NACTEC, the Recreation Center, the Armory, and then out to the airfield,” stated Aspelund. “It is important to note, there have been concerns about our movement and interruptions to trapping season or some of the subsistence areas. And all of our personnel have been given routes to follow and those routes were coordinated carefully with the LEPC and with the Nome City Council to make sure we are moving in common use areas.”

Arctic Eagle personnel were supposed to be housed at NACTEC bunk houses, but Aspelund told KNOM on Saturday those accommodations were delayed and so all members have been staying in the Nome Recreation Center. They are also getting some meals in town at local restaurants, grocery stores and dining at coffee shops like Bering Tea or Pingo.

For the impact on Nome, this means the Recreation Center’s gymnasium has been closed to the public while the facility is occupied by Arctic Eagle participants. Residents may also notice military personnel moving around town in rental cars, snowmachines, or even squad utility vehicles known as SUSVs (Small Unit Support Vehicles). There have also been daily C-130s flying in and out of Nome as they drop off some of the 150 total exercise participants.

Aspelund said there has also been a C-17 and an HH-60 helicopter fly into Nome as part of this exercise.

But the Alaska National Guard says their movements have been timed to avoid causing traffic congestion or delays. For sharing daily updates and more details on their activities, the Guard is hosting regular town hall meetings that are open to the public, Aspelund said. The next public event will be a town hall meeting at the Nome Public Safety building at 6 p.m. on March 3.

The timing of this military exercise comes during heightened tensions between the United States and Russia over the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a continuation of the COVID-19 pandemic in Western Alaska and just before one of Nome’s busiest times of the year with the annual Iditarod sled dog race.

However, this military exercise was planned out months in advance and Lt. Colonel Marcellus says the current circumstances in Nome allow for an ideal time to test the National Guard’s preparedness.

“I would argue that this is a perfect example of why we need to do these types of exercises,” emphasized Marcellus. “The military is all about preparedness; and preparedness means you are exercising, that’s where the whole term comes from, your ability to react to things. And we may need to react to natural disasters, but we may also need to react to threats. And there is a component of the exercise that deals with that.”

National Guard members and military personnel are scheduled to be in Nome through this weekend. All Arctic Eagle participants will be departing town by March 7 at the latest, according to Aspelund.

For more information, contact Aspelund via email at arcticeaglemoc@gmail.com or by phone at a landline in Nome at (907)443-8525.

Image at top: Airmen with the 109th Airlift Wing’s Skiway construction team employ barren land survival techniques as they erect the first shelter at Camp Rockwell during last Air National Guard Exercise Arctic Eagle in 2020. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Technical Sergeant Jamie Spaulding, 2020)

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