Lt. Col. Richard Scott, the commander for 1st Squadron, 40th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, uses the Cold Avenger face mask after parachuting into Deadhorse, Alaska, on Feb. 25. (Sgt. Eric-James Estrada/Army)
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About 40 paratroopers from 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division jumped into Deadhorse, Alaska, on Tuesday for the unit’s first airborne operation north of the Arctic Circle.
Deadhorse is almost 500 miles north of Fairbanks in Alaska’s North Slope Borough. The temperature with wind chill on Tuesday was 35 degrees below zero.
During the exercise, nicknamed Operation Spartan Pegasus, the soldiers parachuted in to help civilian authorities conduct a search and rescue mission for a downed aircraft.
The paratroopers, from the brigade’s 1st Squadron, 40th Cavalry Regiment and led by squadron commander Lt. Col. Rich Scott, parachuted into Deadhorse from an Alaska National Guard C-130 aircraft. The soldiers jumped with their arctic equipment, including skis and layers and layers of winter gear.
Once on the ground, they linked up with two Small Unit Support Vehicles and skijored — that’s a real thing — to the simulated crash site, said Maj. Mark Wade, the brigade’s operations officer.
“They had two tow lines coming off the SUSVs, the soldiers are on skis, and the SUSV pulls them to the simulated crash site,” Wade said.
Once at the site, the soldiers recovered the crew of the downed plane and, with the help of a couple medevac crews from the Alaska Guard, evacuated them to safety in Deadhorse, Wade said.
The exercise allowed the brigade to demonstrate and practice its ability to operate in arctic conditions, Wade said. This included the ability to deploy an advanced team of engineers and jumpmasters to clear and prepare the arctic jump zone, and operate in freezing conditions.
Average winter temperatures in Deadhorse range from 23 degrees below zero to minus-11.
The record low for February is 57 below zero.
The brigade’s mission is unique, with an area of operations that stretches from the Arctic Circle to the southern reaches of the Asia-Pacific region.
Just the week before, paratroopers from 4th BCT parachuted in to participate in the Cobra Gold 2014 exercise in Thailand, where the temperatures spiked in the 90s with 90 percent humidity, Wade said.
The two exercises “demonstrate the great capability the brigade has,” he said. “And the airborne brigade in Alaska is showing we can assist the state in times of need or crisis.”
The Alaska Guard is active in the state, often responding to downed planes or stranded snowmobilers, Wade said. Soldiers from 4th BCT likely will only be called upon in cases of extreme emergencies or disasters, when additional first responders are needed, he said.
To prepare for Deadhorse, the soldiers bundled up in vapor barrier boots, also known as bunny boots or Mickey Mouse boots, Generation III extreme cold weather equipment, two balaklavas, goggles, glove liners and arctic mittens, Wade said.
“The big thing in dealing with these temperatures is you make sure every ounce of your skin is covered,” he said. “We do a lot of pre-checks and inspections to make sure soldiers have the right equipment and everybody’s going to be safe.”
The exercise went well, Wade said, with clear skies and good winds for the parachute jump. The soldiers made it to the ground without any injuries, and they successfully arrived at the simulated crash site and recovered the crew, he said.
Wade said the brigade likely will do more of these arctic exercises in the future as the brigade hones its unique mission set.
“While everyone trains in the basics, this brigade has to train one step more and be prepared for operations in the Arctic environment as well,” he said. “Environmentally we have to be prepared to do this in Alaska and, as we’re aligned with [Army Pacific], we have to be able to train with our partners there as well.”