By Maj. David Mattox, 1/25 SBCT Public AffairsApril 2, 2014
The 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division demonstrated its ability to provide assistance to state and local emergency agencies in Alaska during the state-wide emergency response exercise, Alaska Shield, this week.
Soldiers assigned to B Company, 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment were alerted early on Tuesday to respond to a notional natural disaster and provide humanitarian aid supplies to isolated population centers in Alaska, as part of the exercise.
The mission was part of an exercise and not real-world, however, the Soldiers of B Company were ready and worked to deliver the notional emergency supplies as if it were a real emergency. After receiving the early-morning alert call, the Soldiers loaded Ahkio sleds with more than 100 lbs each of equipment and supplies, donned their 45-lb packs, waxed their skis and strapped their snowshoes on.
"Our equipment is heavy, but we are up to the challenge," said 2nd Lt. James Gallagher, a platoon leader with B Company and native of Gaithersburg, Md.
Before 9 a.m. the company manifested their personnel and equipment and stepped off toward their objective, which was 10 kilometers away across snow, ice, and varying hills and valleys. The objective was the top of Fort Wainwright's Birch Hill ski slope.
Three weeks prior to this exercise, B Company was deemed the battalion's "ski company," a new concept to the 1/25th this year; to maintain at least one company per battalion that is expertly proficient at skiing and other maneuver techniques in the snow, along with the arctic skills already performed by the 1/25th Soldiers.
"We have been skiing now for about three weeks and that is a big part of this assessment, to ski down Birch Hill successfully as a company," said Gallagher.
Though the B Company Soldiers spent the day skiing and snowshoeing, it was far from a recreational activity. Forget the fact that they were carrying packs and protective gear while pulling Akhio sleds, the conditions on Birch Hill were such that no recreational skier would ever take on. The recent warm temperatures and long exposure to the direct sunlight melted patches of snow to reveal dirt and gravel. The areas that were still covered in snow were turned to a sheet of hard, packed ice, making gripping in snowshoes or catching an edge in skis while going uphill and downhill very difficult.
Despite the conditions and terrain, the Soldiers proved their worthiness as the ski company and made it to the top of Birch Hill with the emergency relief supplies and skied to the base of the hill through a downhill slalom course to complete the mission.
"As the ski company we can snow shoe up a mountain and we can ski down a mountain to get to the objective a lot quicker," said Gallagher.
This emergency deployment exercise gave the unit an opportunity to practice emergency response procedures and how they fit into the Joint Task Force-Alaska disaster relief plan in support of the other state and local emergency agencies.
The 3-21st, along with the rest of the 1/25th, have demonstrated, through multiple readiness exercises, their ability to rapidly deploy units from Fort Wainwright to anywhere in the Pacific in response to the needs of the Department of Defense. Alaska Shield proved unique in that Joint Task Force Alaska requested the unit deploy to their back yard and conduct disaster relief and humanitarian aid, versus the traditional combat operations abroad that a Stryker brigade combat team may be called to conduct.