On the north coast of Alaska, the temperatures are in the negatives and a bone-chilling wind sweeps across the desolate white plains. High above, the Northern Lights dance across the sky and change colors like a thousand rainbows against a backlit canopy of stars. In this beautiful setting was the last thing one might expect to see in such a serene and remote location: a Satellite Transportable Terminal, part of a Command Post Node package, deployed in support of Exercise Spartan Pegasus, in February 2015.
The exercise broke new ground for the Signal Corps. This small command post package, and
a small team of Soldiers from Charlie Company, 307th Expeditionary Signal Battalion, from Joint Base Elemendorf-Richardson, marked the first successful establishment of Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T) systems, north of the Arctic Circle.
The large-scale exercise, designed to validate Soldier mobility across frozen terrain, involved several military components including U.S. Army Alaska, or USARAK, the Air Force, the Alaska National Guard, and the state of Alaska.
"When I joined the Army, I never imagined I would be conducting an operation in the Arctic Circle, much less ever go there in my lifetime," said 1st Platoon Leader 1st Lieutenant Philip Glandon, "It was awesome!"
As with any first experience, the Soldiers faced numerous challenges and anxiety of the unknown.
"The talk among everyone was that it couldn't be done...it was too far north" said Sergeant John McCollam, the CPN team lead. "We sensed a lot of doubt among others in the company, but I'm an NCO and my job was to make it happen. We were so excited when we established a link and made a Voice over IP call to the battalion commander."
The team was able to successfully pass robust amounts of data and make clear phone calls from their CPN as mission commanders have come to expect in any other location or theater.
The significance of this cannot be understated. This validation proved that brigade combat teams can deploy above the 70th parallel and utilize all of their mission command systems effectively. This will allow those BCTs to conduct sustained operations with unprecedented amounts of information superiority in this region of the world.
The strategic implications of climate change such as the opening of new shipping lanes and increased access to natural resources in the arctic provide many reasons to demonstrate military capabilities to secure and defend territory. As international awareness of these impending changes increases, neighboring nations continue to invest in their ability to project influence within the Arctic Circle. As in the State of Alaska's motto, Army leaders in Alaska are ever appreciative of support and resources sent "North to the Future." According to Army Signal leaders here, increased availability of satellite systems will ensure Signal units and personnel can effectively continue serving as the "Voice of the Arctic" in the last frontier.
During the exercise, paratroopers from the 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division conducted an airborne insertion to secure an objective and deliver supplies for the exercise near Deadhorse, Alaska, which is about 900 miles from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. This was the second time U.S. Army Alaska attempted and successfully conducted airborne operations this far north, and the largest operation supported, within the past 10 years.