National Guard meets to focus on Arctic preparation

Arctic Interest Council brings attendees from 16 states to Golden

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There are all sorts of scenarios that may require the National Guard to respond to the Arctic.

The Arctic is a source of economic opportunities, which could possibly cause conflict, said Maj. Joe Bryant of the Colorado Army National Guard, who lives in Monument. Perhaps a cruise ship to Alaska has an accident or there is an oil spill that requires major cleanup efforts.

The National Guard has to be properly trained and equipped to be able to respond to those types of emergencies and more, Bryant said.

“As parts of the Arctic become more accessible, there’s more (human) traffic” there, Bryant said. “And if something happens, that’s when we come in.”

About 50 Army and Air National Guard members gathered in Golden June 25-27 for the National Guard Arctic Interest Council’s annual conference.

“Colorado has Arctic-like conditions,” Bryant said. “There’s a lot of things going on in Colorado that can provide perspective.”

The National Guard Arctic Interest Council was established in May 2017 to address the rapidly changing Arctic environment and the National Guard’s interest in that region, said Elena O’Bryan, the state public affairs officer for the Colorado National Guard, which is headquartered in Centennial.

The National Guard has three main missions, O’Bryan said. They are: deployment to fight in wars, homeland defense and forming partnerships with other states and countries, O’Bryan said.

“As the Arctic changes, we’re learning how that (the changes) affects military operations,” O’Bryan said. “We have to do all of our missions, even in the harshest of environments like the Arctic.”

The National Guard Arctic Interest Council is made up of 16 U.S. states — all had representation at the conference in Golden — that have capabilities and resources to deal with Arctic environments.

“All the states (signed on to the council) have exercised and trained in extremely cold conditions,” O’Bryan said. “They have the experience.”

During the conference in Golden, which was headquartered at the American Mountaineering Center, the National Guard men and women discussed tactics for operations and survival skills, including personal recovery and search and rescue, in extremely cold weather with deep snow and ice.

Conference attendees got briefings from subject matter experts, such as scientists from Boulder’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), the U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) in Colorado Springs and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden.

One such briefing was on the Arctic’s thawing permafrost, and its causes and effects on the environment, O’Bryan said. Some of the local organizations hosted the conference attendees on tours of their facilities, O’Bryan added.

The council also discussed some of the shortfalls the National Guard currently faces when responding to emergencies in the Arctic, Bryant said. Some of these include proper uniforms for sub-zero temperatures — gloves and boots, for example — medical response and communications equipment, Bryant said.

Conference attendees learned about some of the research going on now, such as NREL’s research on technology for solar-powered batteries for radios and other communication devices, that could possibly solve some of the shortfalls, Bryant said.

The National Guard Arctic Interest Council’s conference takes place in a different state each year. Colorado National Guard’s assistant adjutant general, U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Laura Clellan has lived in Golden for about 14 years and was one of the main advocates to have this year’s conference headquartered in Golden.

“We wanted to have the conference in Colorado (to be) in proximity of key agencies, including U.S. Northern Command and the scientists studying the arctic who work at NOAA, NCAR and NREL,” Clellan said. “It is a pleasure to showcase the town to our fellow National Guard participants from across the nation.”

The conference helps members plan for future conferences, and throughout the year, members of the council participate in various training exercises that take place in worldwide locations, O’Bryan said.

“We’re not just reactionary defense. We’re doing the best we can to prepare for the future,” Bryant said. “In an emergency, timeliness is everything. The faster you can get there, the more lives that will be saved.”

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