The Greenland Ice Cap is one of the most remote places on Earth. When scientists doing cutting edge research on climate change need supplies or personnel, only the Air National Guard's 109th Division out of Scotia can deliver. They are the only outfit equipped to navigate to this unstable and dangerous place. Capital News 9's "Destination Greenland" series highlights this incredible journey and takes you to meet the crew of pilots in the air and the scientists on the ground who depend on them.
If you've ever seen the white plane with orange trim flying low over the Capital Region you've spotted a plane belonging to the National Guard 109th airlift wing out of Scotia. When it comes rumbling over the rooftops, the plane is most likely completing a very long journey, a journey from far away: from the country of Greenland to be exact. Reporter Kaitlyn Ross and videographer Victor Lopez made the trek to the ice country back in May to find out what the one hundred and ninths mission is all about.
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For the National Guard, patriotism runs deep.
"Once you start doing something like this, you really just want to keep doing it," says pilot Jaime Maunz.
For the men and women of the 109th airlift wing it runs long as well. Every summer the almost 1,500 members of the unit travel to Greenland to support the National Science Foundation. Federally funded, the NSF sends scientists to the coldest places on earth to conduct atmospheric research. And how do they get there? Enter the 109th.
“What we do is so unique. Supporting the National Science Foundation, it's really hard to beat I think."
And in this instance, this mission is just as unique as the people who complete it. Like Jaime who lives in Denmark, works in Schenectady, and reports for duty in Greenland.
"For me it's nothing new. It feels weird not moving around."
While he's the farthest, he is far from the only member of the unit that commutes. Men and women from all over the country are part of the 109th. Florida, Georgia, Washington, D.C., and Texas are home to some of the guardsmen who make the drive every 45 days for the mission. But when they get up on the ice cap, that trip can get a whole lot longer.
"I personally have had to spend a night at the South Pole based on the weather The air's thin, and it's really cold," said mission commander Chris Sander.
Sander has a short drive to work from Lake George to Scotia but out on the ice there's no telling how long the mission might last.
"The conditions make it so you just can't take off again. The landings, without wheels, it's just much different."
A crew once got stuck at the North Pole for more than a week with no way out, no commute at all. They slept on the plane, in the cold, until conditions cleared up again. And when you put it that way, maybe Denmark to Scotia to Greenland isn't that bad after all.
"It's something that's hard to describe, but once you see it, and you do it. You can't help but keep coming back for more!" said Maunz.