FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska – Approximately 1,200 climbers are expected to attempt to reach the summit of Denali this year, and their efforts are supported in part by the Sugar Bears of Fort Wainwright, a company of CH-47F Chinooks. Two helicopter crews from the company flew approximately 7,000 pounds of gear up to Kahiltna Glacier on Denali last week to help establish two base camps for the National Park Service, which oversees the climbing season.
Formally known as Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 52nd Aviation Regiment, the Sugar Bears have a decades-long relationship with the National Park Service in Alaska.
According to ranger Joe Reichert, every year since the late 80’s that the unit has not been deployed—and with the exception of 2020, due to the cancellation of climbing season because of the pandemic—the unit has assisted with delivering the gear to mountain.
“It helps these guys to be able to come to the park and train at altitude. They do some stuff in the eastern Alaska [mountain range] group on Deborah, Hess, and Hayes, but then they can come here and go to 14,000 and 17,000 feet on Denali. It’s kind of an exchange—they get their training, and we get some help every year,” Reichert said.
Not only do the Sugar Bears help deliver the gear—which includes medical supplies, camping gear, and other equipment—and retrieve it at the end of the season, they also train to assist with high-altitude rescues throughout the Arctic.
Mission coordinator Chief Warrant Officer 4 Francois Collard said his crew members were staged out of Talkeetna all week, flying in the National Park each day to “train at different altitudes with different weights on board to really fine-tune our skills and our performance planning for these helicopters.”
The Sugar Bears have provided critical assistance numerous times over the years on occasions when National Park Service assets were not available or incapable of accomplishing the mission. The last time the unit assisted was in 2018 when a flightseeing aircraft crashed into a mountain in the vicinity of Denali.
In addition to delivering the supplies and training at high elevations, the Sugar Bears also supported community relations by hosting groups of elementary school students from Talkeetna Elementary each day.
On the day of the base camp set-up mission, the morning started with a visit by a first-grade and second-grade class. Students swarmed the helicopters, climbing inside and looking underneath, asking questions the whole time, such as “What is that zipper thingy, how much did this cost, do you bring dogs in here, and is there real-life Army-man stuff in here?”
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Bobby Webb was an outstanding tour guide, providing plenty of engagement for the children and answering the questions to the best of his ability.
For the record, his answers to the above questions were as follows: a storage pouch; he wasn’t sure exactly; yes, sometimes; and “this whole thing is filled with real-life Army-man stuff.”
Provided Army commitments do not take the Sugar Bears out of the area and the weather cooperates, the unit will return in August to retrieve the gear from the mountain for the rangers, saving them many trips in much smaller aircraft.
|Date Posted:||05.02.2022 19:23|
|Location:||FAIRBANKS, AK, US|
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