Northern Edge 2000 is the premier joint military training exercise held in Alaska annually and tests the metal of each service in it's respective way. Some 3,000 service personnel representing all branches of the Armed Forces participate during the two weeks of training.
Arctic soldiers training in cold weather tactics maneuver in snow-covered tundra while flyers from the Air Force, Navy and Army attempt to coordinate air attacks in defense of a simulated country in need. The Navy secured the coastal waters of Southeast Alaska, headquartered in Sitka.
It was here in Sitka that the Southeast Composite Squadron of the Alaska Wing Civil Air Patrol was employed to assist in coastal surveillance and harbor security. The Juneau Squadron deployed three aircraft from Juneau to Sitka in response to the threat to Alaska's security from a foreign power. Two CE-172's on wheels and one DHC-2 DeHavilland Beaver on floats were directed by the Navy to fly surveillance flights in the Sitka Sound area of operations. In addition to the simulated tactical mission, the Juneau CAP was used to screen the intended landing areas for any marine wildlife habitats that may be affected by maneuver damage during the exercise. During the training exercise, the herring migration of the Sitka Sound began, which drew with it a plethora of marine mammals in pursuit. Sea lions, seals, humpback whales and sea otters along with a myriad of birds all trying to find the swarms of herring to feed on.
The USS Comstoke transported tens of thousands of pounds of material and equipment for use during the exercise. Aggressors in the form of Navy Seals were used to harass and make disturbances in an attempt to disrupt communications and naval activities. Fleet security was of paramount concern when the USS Ohio, a Trident nuclear-powered submarine, surfaced. The Beaver was used as overhead watch looking for any unauthorized advance toward the submarine.
Small inflatable boats with large outboard engines were used by the bad guys as a means of fast attack. During the airborne patrols, the CAP spotted many of these small vessels and their positions relayed by radio to headquarters. Thus, the rapid reaction forces stationed ready to respond to such a threat foiled the impending attacks.
During this period of training, live ordinance from the Second World War were discovered in the waters near Ketchikan. The Naval command was tasked with rendering these very real explosives harmless and the CAP was utilized as means of transporting the Explosive Ordinance Detachment Team of four with their gear to Ketchikan. Flying the 200 nautical mile trip required the Beaver to transport the passengers and a portion of the gear, while on CE-172 was used to fly the teams remaining gear. This real world mission required two round trips of nearly 400 nautical miles and four hours flying per aircraft. After two days the EOD personnel required back haul to Sitka and again the CAP was there to accomplish the mission. The aircrews had great satisfaction after realizing they had assisted in defusing this potentially dangerous problem.
Upon returning to Sitka, it was learned that small fishing vessel had signaled distress and it was reported that a crew member was injured. Again the CAP was called into action to find this vessel and safely evacuate the crewman to medical care. Once the order was given, the medical personnel and their equipment were loaded on board the Beaver and the search began. Hand flares were used to signal the aircraft and once on the water, the rendezvous was complete with the aircraft tied alongside the small vessel. Fleet medical was out assessing the condition of the injured person, while the crew stabilized the aircraft and boat. The injured crewman's left arm and leg were placed in splints to immobilize the limbs. The crewman was lifted out of the boat and into the Beaver. Within less that an hour from the time the call for help was made, the injured person was being attended to by qualified Naval medical personnel.
Halfway through the exercise, the Navy hosted a distinguished visitor's day. On Sunday, March 4, State of Alaska Representatives Harris and Coghill needed to be transported from Juneau to Sitka. A brand new CE-172 was dispatched to accommodate the transportation needs of these two state representatives. After the fanfare and demonstrations for the state officials concluded, the CAP again was called upon to return Representatives Coghill and Harris to the state capital.
The venerable DHC-2 Beaver was nearly 50 years old, making it the oldest piece of equipment in the exercise. Yet the Beaver proved herself a valuable tool in this era of high-tech and high-speed travel. The float Beaver is one of those aircrafts that has been mainstay in Southeast and other remote areas throughout Alaska, doing only the things it's unique abilities enable it to do. During this training exercise the Juneau Squadron flew nearly 70 flight hours, 135 passengers, 63 sorties and hauled over 2,000 lbs. of cargo.
The valuable training and flight experience gained during Northern Edge has improved the proficiency of the Southeast Composite Squadron readiness and ability to perform it's real world SAR mission. Enabling it's crews to get the valuable training and hands on experience needed to be proficient and safe.
Proper credit must be given to the U.S. Navy for their generosity in funding the CAP's flight time, messing and lodging. Having this type of training and cooperation between the different organizations the CAP may be called on to support is invaluable and our thanks goes out to the U.S. Navy and their kind and generous support of the Juneau CAP.