By Scott Prater
During their tours of duty 750 miles north of the Arctic circle, Airmen assigned to Thule Air Base, Greenland, live in a part of the world most people will never see. Arctic winters present some of the harshest climate conditions on the planet.
Nevertheless, Thule Airmen fulfill a critical service to the Air Force and the world. The base conducts a variety of Air Force missions, one of which is operating an Air Force Satellite Control Network tracking station. The 23rd Space Operations Squadron Detachment 1, for example, conducts more than 22,000 satellite contacts annually and is a prime supporter of National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration satellite command and control operations.
During off-duty hours, winter time conditions prevent Thule Airmen from doing much outside. The summer season, however, brings sunlight, warmer temperatures and the opportunity to experience abundant outdoor activities, like exploring ice caves, riding all-terrain vehicles, scuba diving and go-kart racing.
It’s also a more opportune time to explore the ocean around northwest Greenland. This past September, several base leaders including, Maj. Jarrell Lawson, 23 SOPS Det. 1 commander, had the opportunity to join several Thule AB leaders on a tour of a Royal Danish navy patrol vessel.
“The HDMS Knud Rassmussen enforces Denmark’s sovereignty in the area, provides search and rescue operations as well as environmental protection and fishery inspections among other missions,” Lawson said. “We were treated with outstanding hospitality and provided an extensive tour of the ship.”
Lawson and air base leadership, including Col. Todd Diel, 821st Air Base Group commander, Lt. Col. Stacy Clements, 821 ABG deputy commander, Chief Master Sgt. Michael Garrou, 821 ABG chief enlisted manager, Maj. Jeff Brandenburg, 821 ABG support squadron commander, and Maj. Chris Castle, 12th Space Warning Squadron director of operations, boarded the ship for a day-long tour.
The tour included a five-hour journey out in the Arctic Ocean and was divided into five phases.
First, they toured the main and lower decks of the ship including the engine rooms, armory, medial bay, kitchen, fitness areas, and living quarters. Next, they toured the ship’s bridge, where they sat in the captain’s chair and navigated the ship around massive icebergs.
The Knud Rassmussen crew then anchored the ship and the tour party boarded the ship’s search and rescue vessel. Diel was permitted to pilot the much faster craft out to sea.
“We zipped around the world’s most picturesque icebergs, and were fortunate enough to witness an iceberg crack enough to where an enormous ice block crashed into the sea causing a mini-tsunami,” Lawson said.
Once the group arrived back at the ship, the Knud Rassmussen crew then performed a search-and-rescue exercise where they executed a man-overboard scenario.
“It was amazing to see how quickly they were able to turn the ship, deploy the rescue vehicle and recover the mock person from the sea in just three minutes,” Lawson said.
After passing on their personal gratitude to the crew, the group departed with a greater appreciation for their current assignment.
“Having the opportunity to tour one of the Royal Danish Navy patrol vessels operating in the Arctic area was an incredible experience,” Clements said. “As Air Force officers, it was a chance to get a small taste of a maritime mission. It also gave us an opportunity to see professionalism in action from our Danish military counterparts, and underscored the importance of Thule Air Base as a platform supporting strategic partnership in the Arctic for air, space and maritime missions.”