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Thule receives critical resupply shipment only once a year

The Rising Star operates out of Thule Air Base, Greenland to assist cargo vessels supplying the air base July 18, 2019. The tugboat is operated during the less than three months per year the port is ice free. For the remainder of the year, the vessel is pulled up on the beach.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Alexandra M. Longfellow)

The Rising Star operates out of Thule Air Base, Greenland to assist cargo vessels supplying the air base July 18, 2019. The tugboat is operated during the less than three months per year the port is ice free. For the remainder of the year, the vessel is pulled up on the beach. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Alexandra M. Longfellow)

THULE AIR BASE, Greenland --

Pacer Goose Sustainment is the Air Force’s annual resupply mission for Thule Air Base in Greenland. This is the only time of the year when the Airmen of the 821st Air Base Group are provided with critical supplies.

“We receive construction materials, vehicles, Army and Air Force Exchange Service shipments and other supplies needed to sustain the base and carry out the mission,” said Capt. Sylvan LaChance, 821st Support Squadron logistics flight commander.  “Along with cargo that may be too large or heavy for airlift, the annual resupply delivers fuel—the lifeblood of the base. Fuel is required to power the base and the aircraft that land here.”

The annual mission is conducted any time after the last week of June until the second week of August. However, the timeframe for unloading can vary greatly depending on the demand in any given year.

“Port season is limited due to weather and ocean conditions,” LaChance said. “The resupply must take place after the bay ice has melted and must be finished before the bay freezes over again in the fall.”

The resupply mission ships out this time of year because the ice at the port of Thule is at its weakest and an icebreaker can be used to clear the path for cargo ships.

Thule receives between nine and 12 ships during port season. This wouldn’t be possible without several units working together. For U.S. cargo, shipments are coordinated through the Defense Logistics Agency Distribution Norfolk, Virginia, the 21st Logistics Readiness Squadron at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, and Thule’s logistics flight.

Pacer Goose isn’t the only resupply mission for Thule. Weekly aircraft missions take cargo and personnel from McGuire Air Force Base, New Jersey to Greenland. Aircraft bring rations, mail, critical upgrade and construction materials, power plant equipment and household goods.

“Because Thule receives two aircraft per week, there is a tendency for units and contractors to rely on aircraft instead of cargo ships,” LaChance said. “The result is under-utilization of Pacer Goose. We encourage customers of the transportation system to plan a year in advance and send material via the cargo ship, but contractual and financial timeliness sometimes prohibit this.”

The annual resupply mission is essential to the mission and those living at Thule because it plays a critical role in war planning and acts as a force multiplier for contingency plans.

“The port season is an extremely unique opportunity for Air Force personnel to experience,” LaChance said. “It is probably the only time in our careers that we will be able to play a role in seaport operations. Getting to witness this annual resupply not only enhances understanding from a logistical perspective, but also offers a window into the challenges of operating in the Arctic.”

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