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Airmen Provide Light in the Night for Remote Alaskan Village

By Petty Officer 3rd Class Gail E. Dale, USCG
Special to American Forces Press Service

RED DEVIL, Alaska, Aug. 22, 2005 – Air Force engineers brought a gift of light to this remote Alaskan village last week.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Greg Eckroth, of the 611th Civil Engineering Squadon, aligns a light during installation of a portable runway lighting systems in Red Devil, Alaska, Aug. 17. The deployment of the system was part of the Alaska Shield/Northern Edge 05 exercise, a massive homeland defense/security exercise. The exercise is the first opportunity within the state to integrate local, state and federal government response to a series of simulated emergencies including natural disasters, terrorist attacks and mass casualty scenarios. Photo by Petty Officer Second Class Michael Hight, USN

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

In the small village of Red Devil, 250 air miles west of Anchorage, air travel is the sole means to enter and leave the town. The 4,750-foot gravel airstrip lined with orange cones is essentially the town's lifeline to the rest of the state. This lifeline was significantly strengthened Aug. 17 when airmen from the 611th Civil Engineer Squadron, based at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, installed a runway lighting system.

Red Devil, along with 62 other communities, qualified for the portable runway lighting system through the state's Rural Alaska Lighting Program because its airstrip was inadequately lit for aircraft operations at night. The portable system is ideal for the quiet village because a fixed, in-ground system would be destroyed by ice sheeting from an adjacent hillside in the winter and flooding of the Kuskokwim River in the spring.

"Many small villages don't have roads out of town, so if someone gets injured they're stuck," said Carl Siebe, Alaska Department of Transportation acting deputy commissioner of aviation. "Once the system is in place, the lighting kit will allow an aircraft to land at night, load up a patient and take off to get that person medical attention," he said.

The deployment of the system took place Aug. 17 as part of Alaska Shield/Northern Edge 05, the largest homeland defense/homeland security exercise conducted in Alaska. The exercise provides an opportunity to integrate local, state and federal government responses to simulated emergencies. For the purpose of the exercise, the lighting system deployment was part of a scenario in which Juneau's runway lights were damaged by an earthquake.

A 517th Airlift Squadron Blackhawk helicopter appeared through a haze of smoke from a nearby wildfire to deliver the lighting equipment to the small village.

Within minutes of touchdown, the engineer crew assembled a metal ramp and unloaded the portable lighting system from the belly of the helicopter onto a small trailer.

Approximately 40 minutes after unloading the system from the Blackhawk, the four-person engineer team distributed the 40 lights around the runway. Even in the middle of the day, it was easy to see how useful the system would be during night hours as the green lights glowed around the airstrip.

Deploying the system to a remote location not only benefited the small village, but the military units as well.

"It's a totally new environment for everyone involved," Air Force Tech Sgt. Gregory Eckroth, with the 611th CES, said. "The training is more realistic when dealing with transporting and setting up the system in a remote location."

The Red Devil residents said they were thankful to have the new system. "Red Devil doesn't have a clinic, so in the event of an emergency at night we will have a more restful feeling knowing night operations are possible," said Theodore Gordon, tribal administrator of the Red Devil traditional council. "We are extremely grateful to the military, not only for bringing us the lighting system, but also for demonstrating how to set it up."

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