Airmen support remote arctic operations

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Rose Gudex
  • 21st Space Wing Public Affairs Office
Located just 508 miles from the North Pole and 1,140 miles north of the Arctic Circle, Canadian Forces Station Alert and its small contingent of personnel provides signals intelligence there and for its detachment stations.

Due to its remote geographic location at the northernmost inhabited location on earth, CFS Alert requires a bi-annual resupply mission to sustain the inhabitants so the mission can be completed and they can make it through the harsh Greenlandic winter.

Every year since 1956, Operation Boxtop has been tasked with the mission of providing fuel and dry goods to the remote military sites in Greenland and northern Canada, as well as support for several Arctic scientific sites. Boxtop is a bi-annual operation, typically taking place in April and September each year.

This year, from Sept. 18 to Oct. 3, the Royal Canadian Air Force partially took over Thule AB for Operation Boxtop 2. Thule AB is an ideally-located central location for the mission because it has the only runway large enough in the Arctic Circle and is only about 440 miles from CFS Alert.

The mission was completed with the help of 95 personnel from the 821st Mission Support Group at Thule AB and 38 personnel on the receiving end at CFS Alert. During the two-week mission, three RCAF C-130J Hercules and a C-17 Globemaster III aircraft worked around the clock, five days a week to deliver 412,200 pounds of dry goods and about one million liters of fuel to CFS Alert and Eureka Research Station, Nunavut, Canada.

Due to the limit of how much cargo each aircraft can carry, they have to make many trips from Thule AB to CFS Alert. During Operation Boxtop, air traffic controllers with the 821st Support Squadron helped manage departure and arrival times with the help of weather reports from the 821st SPTS weather operators.

"We have an airspace dedicated to Operation Boxtop," said Master Sgt. Rashad Shelton, 821st SPTS air traffic control complex chief controller. "Our job is to control the aircraft and vector them to the correct airspace to keep them separate from non-participating aircraft."

While the air traffic controllers are essential to the mission of Boxtop, the aircraft couldn't make the trip without the help from the weather operators making sure the path is relatively clear for departures and arrivals.

Master Sgt. Barney Burr, weather operations chief with the 821st SPTS, said over the course of the mission, weather operations provided 250 products, including observations and hourly weather reports, to the pilots of the aircraft and air traffic control.

"The weather conditions at Alert were bad," Burr said. "They were bombarded with snow and low clouds. Even with the bad weather, by giving reports and windows in the weather, the aircraft had an opening to get through. We got 100 percent of the mission complete."

With the combined teamwork of the Airmen at Thule AB, the RCAF personnel and those at CFS Alert, the mission was completed ahead of schedule and didn't need to work around the clock during the second week. Everyone received the supplies needed to make it through the harsh Arctic winter.

Operation Boxtop will kick-off again in April 2015 and continue to provide assistance to our Canadian allies so they have the support needed to sustain their personnel and accomplish their mission.