U.S. Air Force Survival Course in Arctic Wilderness

Sometimes I think we have serious survival challenges here in the U.S. And we do, for sure.

We have to be prepared for all sorts of possibilities. Including extreme weather and attacks against the electrical grid.

We need to have survival food and clean drinking water at the ready, as well as a variety of other survival items.

But then I read about the survival tests that U.S. Air Force personnel must undergo. Suddenly our challenges seem to pale in comparison.

Surviving in extreme cold

Air Force pilots fly over almost every imaginable environment on Earth. That includes oceans, tropics, deserts and yes, even the Arctic regions.

And because they never know when or where they might have to land, they must be prepared to survive in every situation.

To prepare their pilots for these possibilities, the Air Force periodically conducts training exercises.

Including one recently in Utqiagvik. It’s a city in northern Alaska. It used to be called Barrow, but apparently that name was too easy to pronounce.

Igloo building is job one

The only thing you really need to know about Utqiagvik is that it gets very cold there. During this training session, the temperature dipped to 15 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. Winds gusted up to 30 miles per hour.

Aircrew members were learning how to build shelters and flag down help in these conditions. And, you know, survive.

They watched as an instructor showed them how to build an igloo out of snow bricks. Here’s what Sergeant Garrett Wright said about that tricky task.

“It’s kind of like a puzzle. You have to have the proper pieces to fit in the spaces. Or it’s all going to collapse.”

Forget about fire

The crewmen and Army survival instructors from the Fairbanks area also received training in a variety of other activities.

Such as preventing and recognizing frostbite and setting up flares. As well as thinking through the logistical challenges of the Arctic that make simple tasks difficult.

One of the elements that makes barren land survival so difficult is that people are trying to survive above the tree line. That means no wood for fire building.

And that makes knowing how to build a shelter such as a “fighter trench” so vital. It can literally be a matter of life or death.

Do you want to build a snowman?

You wouldn’t think boredom would come into play while trying to survive in northern Alaska during the winter.

But once a shelter is built and you’re waiting for help, that’s the reality. During a recent barren lands survival training session, crewmen used free time to build snow sculptures.

Sergeant Jess Evans said that type of activity helps a stranded person relieve some of the psychological stress they’re going through.

Some of the trainees “got pretty elaborate with it,” Evans said. “Polar bears, penguins, you name it.”

Grateful for their service

This whole subject got me to thinking about how grateful I am that we have so many fine men and women serving our country on a daily basis.

It’s often difficult, unpleasant and even life-threatening. But they do it to protect us and the American way of life.

I also starting thinking something else. If our military personnel can learn to survive in barren lands where the temperature rarely reaches zero degrees, we can certainly stockpile survival food and other necessities to prepare for a crisis.

We have it easy compared to them.

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