Murkowski questions National Guard and Reserve Leaders on Arctic training

Cold Weather Readiness Training Critical to Future of our Armed Forces

U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) recently participated in a Defense Appropriations Subcommittee hearing to review the FY2020 Budget Request for the National Guard and Reserve. During the hearing Murkowski emphasized the military’s significant and evolving opportunities in the Arctic.

The Committee heard from the following witnesses: General Joseph L. Lengyel, Chief of the National Guard Bureau; Lieutenant General Charles D. Luckey, Chief of Army Reserve; Lieutenant General Richard W. Scobee, Chief of Air Force Reserve; Vice Admiral Luke M. McCollum, Chief of Navy Reserve; and Major General Bradley S. James, Commander of Marine Corps Forces Reserve.

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During the hearing, Senator Lisa Murkowski questioned General Joseph L. Lengyel on the Innovative Readiness Training (IRT) program and training opportunities for U.S. Forces in the Arctic. Murkowski highlighted not only the extraordinary benefits to the Army and Marine Corps, but also to remote island communities in Alaska, including Old Harbor, Metlakatla, and Newtok.

In response, General Lengyel explained that any opportunity for training that will help prepare our U.S. forces for real world scenarios is positive. Lengyel agreed that we should maximize the Innovative Readiness Training as much as possible. 

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Senator Murkowski went on to question the panel of witnesses on the current and future training currently taking place in Alaska, to prepare American forces to operate in extreme cold weather climates such as the Arctic.

“I would ask you all-- what are you doing now in terms of doctrine, training, equipment and anything else you might deem relevant to prepare for training opportunities to train up your units in an Arctic environment if called upon, and if so, what do we need to do from a resourcing perspective?,” said Senator Murkowski.

Multiple witnesses responded with how their respective U.S. Reserve components and the National Guard have prepared, and continue to prepare, for Arctic conditions as well as lessons learned.

“As the leader of America’s Army Reserve, as I said some 200,000 soldiers, we’re actually very acutely aware of the conditions that we might have to operate in and I acknowledge your question and I’ll tell you – we’ve made significant investments in equipping at least some portion of the forces necessary to operate in those environments, literally in terms of clothing that you are speaking of and equipment that will operate in that environment,” said Lieutenant General Scobee.

“From the Marine Corps side, the Commandant has been talking about going north for a couple years,” said Major General James. “We’ve sent some senior leaders up to take a look. I had the opportunity to go to Alaska the last three summers with Old Harbor IRT in progress, and I see a lot of benefits of going up there. From the Marine Forces Reserves side, I’ve directed an exercise up in Canada this year, tried to get it over to Alaska, but the journey and distance was just too much for our first one. So we’ll continue to develop that. It was mostly aviation based this year, but we’re going to go into the ground side and the battalions, their off years, from our Innovative Training Exercises out in the desert.”

“On the Navy, side we just took an exercise with the Harry S. Truman Strike Group, and did an exercise in the high north with our allies and partners in the late fall time frame. And in many cases we learned a lot of lessons from the past, since it had been many, many years since we had operated up there in cold weather,” said Vice Admiral McCollum. “So not only how we equip our sailors with working in cold weather, but things that happen when ice occurs, how do you break the ice, and many things. So we have a pretty exhaustive amount of lessons learned from that endeavor with that entire strike group, and the Navy’s looking at that to prepare to be very versatile and capable in cold weather domains.”

“I would just say that given the increased activity in the Arctic, you know the National Guard — not just in Alaska, but in all of the states on the Arctic Interest Council — are preparing for inevitable activity up there. Search and rescue activity, response activity when humans seem to be up there, and not only that, but as part of the National Defense Strategy, working with allies and partners in the Arctic together. We do a lot of that through Alaska and a lot of that through the Arctic Interest Council. So we think that’s a very important future mission area for the National Guard to be a part of.” said General Lengyel.

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