FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska - About 70 research and development experts participated in the Alaska National Guard's Arctic Eagle 2020 exercise in Fairbanks to explore innovative ways the military and emergency responders can do their jobs in arctic conditions.
With over 600,000 square miles of diverse terrain and weather, Alaska presents numerous challenges for military members and first responders.
"I think the dynamic weather is a factor that makes Alaska special and challenging," said Robyn Barbato, soil microbiologist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory. "Add the logistics to bring things places; it's wide open here, the terrain is very different."
Experts from the Chemical Biological Incident Response Force in Maryland; Federal Emergency Management Agency in California and Nevada; Defense Threat Reduction Agency; Department of Health and Social Services; Research Institute of Environmental Medicine; U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command, Alaska; International Personnel Protection; U.S. Army Corps of Engineers CRREL; Construction Engineering Research Laboratory; Canada TF-1; 39 Canadian Brigade Group; and 8th Homeland Response Force observed the CBRN Response Enterprise, Search and Extraction venue at the Combined Arms Collective Training Facility on Fort Wainwright Feb. 23-26.
Some observers assessed how well equipment and processes worked in cold weather, while others tested new equipment and processes.
U.S. Army Maj. Adrien Humphreys, chief of CBRN operations for the Alaskan North American Aerospace Defense Command Region, explained the importance of inviting researchers and scientists to the exercise.
"The benefit of having the observers is that they get to see the capabilities of what they've worked on and how Soldiers are using them," Humphreys said.
One of the challenges for researchers is getting hands-on experience with the equipment and the people they are creating it for.
Barbato said her goal was to understand what military members are going through when working in the field.
"We wanted to know what Soldiers do and how [we can] tailor our research to real needs," Barbato said. "Because we can dream up all these ideas, and we're really good at generating ideas. But the opportunity to see a mission exercise, to engage with the military, is invaluable."
Jared Sapp, a science adviser with the CCDC, explained how field exercises like Arctic Eagle 2020 provide unique opportunities to evaluate new technology and refine innovative ideas.
"These are some of the best venues to get equipment in the hands of our Soldiers, Marines, and Airmen," Sapp said. "With exercise participants dedicated to supporting that exercise, you can find time to use the equipment, to see how it functions, to get a first look at how technology might perform in the hands of a Soldier."
New dry decontamination procedures were tested to confirm their effectiveness in cold weather.
"Typically, we use a whole lot of water," said Marine Cpl. Stephanie O'Brien from the CBIRF. "But here in the Arctic, that's not possible without causing unnecessary harm to our casualties and ourselves."
Another challenge faced by CBRN teams is the decontamination of K-9 search-and-rescue dogs.
"For this exercise, we [conducted] dry DECON, which is a combination of vacuuming and wiping," O'Brien said.
Although researchers and participants faced multiple challenges working in Alaska's cold weather, that didn't dampen their spirits.
"The interactions with the different entities and having those one-on-one conversations, in addition to the other research observers, was fantastic," Barbato said. "I really use the word invaluable because I can't put it into words the knowledge I've gained by observing the exercise."