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Colorado hosts Golden opportunity for the National Guard in the Arctic

By Elena O’Bryan, Colorado National Guard Public Affairs | JFHQ-Public Affairs | Aug. 7, 2019

Centennial, Colorado —

Only a month before a dome of extreme heat caused massive melting of Greenland’s ice sheet, the Department of Defense released its 2019 Arctic Strategy.

The strategy calls for building Arctic awareness, enhancing operations, and strengthening partnerships in order to protect U.S. national security interests in the region.

To execute that strategy, The National Guard Arctic Interest Council met in Golden, Colorado, June 25-27, 2019. The NG AIC consulted with local experts on environmental changes occurring at the North Pole and charted a way forward to “identify capability gaps and pursue potential sourcing solutions.”

The NG AIC, per its charter which 17 states and the National Guard Bureau signed in January 2017 in Utiqavik, Alaska, enables representatives and subject matter experts from states with Arctic interests, capabilities and resources to conduct joint planning while coordinating with DoD, interagency and international partners.

The Colorado National Guard is the NG AIC member state leading the development of specialized equipment for U.S. forces deployed in extreme cold weather with deep snow or ice.

“How are we going to deliver land, sea, and air forces to the Arctic?” The Adjutant General of Colorado U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Michael Loh said at the NG AIC. “We must transform.  This is about strengthening alliances and partnerships.  You have to have the local relationships to train up there.”

“The National Guard is the best option to put force structure in the High North,” Maine National Guard High North Action Officer U.S. Army Lt. Col. Darryl Lyon said.

The National Guard has experience gained from training in extreme cold weather conditions during exercises like Arctic Eagle in Alaska in which hundreds of Army and Air National Guard members and personnel from partner agencies conduct field training exercises in sub-zero temperatures. Additionally, National Guard members in northern and mountainous states spend a career in and around these conditions.

The National Guard also has a primary mission to build partnerships locally and across the globe, such as through the National Guard State Partnership Program, which links states with designated partner countries through long-term relationships that improve interoperability and enhance military capabilities and the principles of responsible governance.

The CONG’s relationships in the local community yielded speakers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, all based in Colorado.

“We wanted to have the conference in Colorado in proximity to key agencies including U.S. Northern Command and the scientists studying the Arctic who work at NOAA, NCAR and NREL,” Colorado’s Assistant Adjutant General, Army U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Laura Clellan said.

These agencies provided insight into Arctic conditions and the rapid changes occurring there, which National Guard commanders must consider when planning military operations in that region.

For example, during a site tour of NOAA, in Boulder, scientists described how sea ice migrates with the wind and briefed about the ever changing maps available from the National Ice Center which chart sea ice down to the kilometer.

NOAA experts also pointed out that permafrost daily melts and refreezes, but no means exists to monitor permafrost by satellite.

“Permafrost affects (the) stability of the ground,” NCAR Senior Scientist Dr. David Lawrence said.

Fluctuating Arctic temperatures could, therefore, impact infrastructure built on ice and permafrost, impeding military operations.

Lawrence also said: “(The) Arctic (is) warming at more than twice the rate of the rest of the world.”

He said: “Sea ice extent and thickness are declining with implications for global climate, Arctic ecosystems, and shipping.”

According to the DoD’s Arctic Strategy, the shortening of sea routes will provide economic opportunities for nations who rely on goods transported by ship, leading to even more great power competition.

“Russia can control sea routes. Russia has the largest land mass in the Arctic,” U.S. Navy Rear Admiral John Fuller, director of strategy, policy and plans at USNORTHCOM in Colorado Springs, Colorado, said.

China, also, has much at stake in the Arctic.

“Despite having no territorial claims in the Arctic, China is looking for opportunities to increase their shipping. China has tremendous resource needs,” he said.

According to Fuller, due to changes in the Arctic, which spans multiple combatant commands, “North America is no longer a sanctuary.”

“We are doing our best to prepare for what may come.  We are looking at lessons learned,” Operations Officer for the 168th Regional Training Institute, Colorado Army National Guard U.S. Army Maj. Joe Bryant said.

He said rapid change in the Arctic region means those plans will be needed soon.