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Flying with the 109th - It's all about the mission with George Alston

Each crew member must have constant training.

"We have to be prepared for any mission" Alston said. "The way we do that is we train the way we fight."

On this week, Capt. Dave Zielinski, 30, of Rexford was testing to upgrade from a basic aircraft commander for a LC-130 to a ski aircraft commander (AC). He was in Greenland for 11 days flying operational missions and training for his new position.

The pilots learn how to manage fuel, weather scenarios, cargo and " most importantly " how to run a crew.

"George challenges me," he said. "His job is to do that during training, so that if I face similar challenges during an actual mission, I will be able to handle them easier."

The new members are not the only ones who need training. Each air crew member for the 109th has to have a "check ride" every 17 months to stay certified to fly. The training facilities provided in Greenland become critical because it is impossible to train for ski operations outside the polar regions.

"Greenland is focused more on training for our air crews," Norman said. "Ninety-nine percent of the missions in Antarctica [October through February] are operational, which leaves very little time for training. Greenland is about half and half."

In Greenland, the 109th has one major training asset that cannot be duplicated any other place on earth, Camp Raven.

"We have the luxury of Raven less than 100 miles away [from its base in Greenland]," Norman said. "It is a less expensive way to get our required training done. I can send a plane out to Raven in the morning and still have time for an operational mission in the afternoon."

Alston said that Raven is unique and critical for safety.

"You have the open snow area and the camp nearby. If you get stuck, you taxi over to the skiway and get airborne," he said. "We have a skiway and open snow that is consistent to train on. In Antarctica, we have both, but they are not in the same area."

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