BETHEL, Alaska – U.S. Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Sara McPherson, the decontamination NCO and acting noncommissioned officer in charge with the 12th Civil Support Team (CST) out of New Hampshire, set up a sick call for local native Alaskans to seek medical treatment in Bethel, Alaska, on Feb. 29, during exercise Arctic Eagle 2020.
The CST exercise scheduled to take place in Bethel Feb. 29 through March 1 was canceled because of near-whiteout conditions. However, even in inclement weather, Staff Sgt. McPherson and the, approximately, 29 other Alaska National Guard, Alaska State Defense Force, and 12 CST personnel continued their domestic operations mission to support the people of Bethel.
“We had to adjust fire due to inclement weather,” McPherson said. “A lot of our berms [decontamination equipment] were extremely icy. We had to gameplan in our head ‘It’s super slippery, how do we mitigate that for safety.’”
Undeterred by the weather, the CST conducted critical site surveys of the armory, port, water treatment facility, and grocery store. Traveling throughout the town of Bethel in a Small Unit Support Vehicle provided the opportunity to successfully test their cold-weather, decontamination and communications equipment and long-range communications equipment in subzero temperatures. The team also helped the armory manager perform maintenance on his Humvee after it was damaged plowing snow.
“We didn’t get to do the key leader meeting,” McPherson said. “But we weren’t miserable. The commander got us pizza, we watched a movie together. It wasn’t awful, we’re still going to do cold-weather training outside. We’re still building the comradery and our bond ”
Alaskan weather can be unpredictable. Winter temperatures can rapidly drop below -40 degrees. In Bethel, it is not uncommon for a blizzard to blow through unexpectedly causing the town to become isolated and logistics challenging.
To boost morale, Alaskan State Defense Force Col. John James took personnel on a tour of the local area in a SUSV. The town of Bethel has no roads leading in or out. Individuals have to either fly or arrive by boat. In the winter, when boating becomes impossible and the river freezes over, locals and the military personnel utilize the frozen waters as a sort of improvised highway.
Training alongside AKNG and ASDF personnel provided McPherson and the rest of 12 CST an incredible opportunity to test new equipment, refine sick-call and decontamination procedures while developing invaluable relationships.
“We’re trying to utilize as much time as we can here while we’re in Alaska,” Lt. Col. Brian Ferdandes, 12th CST commander, says. “This is an opportunity that many people don’t get. Even if they get a chance to go to Alaska, they’re on a cruise ship or coming on vacation, so doing true arctic training in Alaska with native Alaskans is a once in a lifetime chance.”