Kentucky Air Guard airlifts building materials for housing in the Arctic Circle > 123rd Airlift Wing > Article Display

More than 20 Airmen from the Kentucky Air National Guard deployed here in April to airlift 15 tons of home-building materials to the North Slope of Alaska to support communities in need.

The mission, which enables the construction of affordable housing in the Arctic Circle, was part of a Defense Department program called Innovative Readiness Training that provides service members with real-world deployment experience while offering lasting benefits to civilian populations, explained Maj. Nick Dobson, a pilot from Kentucky’s 165th Airlift Squadron.

“Right now we’re on track to save roughly $1.4 million in transportation expenses for three building locations — a duplex in Nuiqsut, a duplex in Kaktovik and a single-family home in Wainwright,” Dobson said.

Airmen from the Kentucky Air Guard began developing load plans in November, with aerial porters analyzing the composition of building materials to ensure they met military airlift requirements. Those materials — including insulation, bathtubs, electrical wiring and drywall — were then trucked here from Palmer, Alaska, for staging before Aerial porters from Kentucky’s 123rd Logistics Readiness Squadron palletized the cargo in mid-April.

In the final step of the operation, aircrews from the 165th Airlift Squadron flew the cargo aboard a Kentucky Air Guard C-130J Super Hercules aircraft to Deadhorse, Alaska, where Kentucky aerial porters offloaded the supplies.

Master Sgt. Charles Wilding, air transportation superintendent for the 123rd LRS, said the mission was a valuable training experience for his troops.

“Opportunities like this ensure we have the time and missions to properly accomplish training,” Wilding said. “Getting the chance to help villages on the North Slope was also extraordinary — definitely a highlight of my career.”

Guard members of all ranks honed their skills during the mission, from cargo reception, palletizing and netting, to load planning, staging and uploading, said Senior Airman Colton Edlin, an air transportation specialist from the 123rd LRS.

One unique scheme used in Alaska was Combat Offload Method B, typically employed only in austere locations where specialized cargo-handling equipment like K-loaders are unavailable.

Using this method, Kentucky Airmen carefully rolled palletized cargo off the aircraft and onto steel barrels resting on their sides on the flight line. This technique requires precision, patience and communication between crew members, Edlin said, giving aerial porters enhanced expeditionary skills.

“The fact that we flew with the cargo and we used method B offloading was what made the mission unique for the aerial port, because I had never done either of those things before,” Edlin said. “I’m glad to have had the opportunity.”

The mission proved equally valuable for aircrews, Dobson said. Pilots operated from austere locations and had to navigate a blizzard with significantly reduced visibility and severely high winds. That necessitated interaction with National Weather Service meteorologists to formulate a plan that allowed them to transport cargo while adapting to harsh conditions.

“Aircrew members got great training out of this because they were flying on gravel runways in remote locations while operating and performing combat offloads,” Dobson said.

Innovative Readiness Training normally supports civil engineering projects or medical care, Dobson added. This mission, however, marked the first time that IRT was paired with Mission Readiness Airlift to transport goods for the civilian sector.

The effort was designed to help alleviate a shortage of affordable housing on the North Slope, where transportation expenses often account for 60 percent of the cost of a new home, Dobson said. The Tagiugmiullu Nunamiullu Housing Authority currently has a backlog of 430 single-family homes that can’t be built affordably.

Master Sgt. Corey Ciarlante, an air transportation specialist with the 123rd LRS, said the IRT provided experience he couldn’t get at home station, substantially enhancing his ability to perform his job in deployed environments for real-world taskings.

“This IRT mission provided critical five- and seven-level training to members to ensure mission readiness and effectiveness while also enhancing our job knowledge and proficiency by forcing us to think outside the box to build up complex cargo,” Ciarlante said. “This mission was unique for us as an aerial port due to all the limiting factors we faced, such as method B offloading, which I have never seen before in my 13-year career.”

For Airman 1st Class Elijah Stansberry, the mission also provided a great deal of personal satisfaction.

“It feels great that we were able to help out people who are in need of homes, especially in such harsh weather,” said Stansberry, an aerial porter with the 123rd LRS. “This was my first trip with the port, so this was something I’ve never done before, and I was honored to do it.”