Navy Brings “Backpacker’s Mindset” to Arctic Ice Camp

The Navy’s 60-person encampment built on an ice floe in the Arctic Ocean is a nearly zero footprint camp.

“It’s very much a backpacker’s mindset,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Casey Shumway, a culinary specialist from Submarine Squadron 11 who is managing the Ice Camp Queenfish dining tent. “If you backpack it in, you backpack it out. We’re trying to preserve the natural resources and beauty of the Arctic.”

Ice Camp Queenfish consists of eight berthing tents, a command center, restroom hut and 2,500-foot-long aircraft runway in addition to Shumway’s dining tent. It’s the forward operating camp for the Navy’s Ice Exercise (ICEX) 2022, an approximately three-week exercise designed to research, test, evaluate and improve operational capabilities in the Arctic region.

And when the Navy packs up at the end of the exercise, the 10-foot-thick ice chunk where the Sailors and Arctic researchers were living for three weeks will barely know ICEX 2022 ever happened.

The relatively lightweight tents – held up by aluminum, carbon fiber and inflatable beams – will be folded up and removed in just a few days. Trays are kept under any equipment that could drip oil. Even human waste from the restroom hut is absorbed in a non-toxic powder, bagged and transported back to the mainland United States for sanitary disposal.

“We’ve refined the camp so we’re able to remove everything off the ice,” said Howard Reese, director of the Arctic Submarine Laboratory, the San Diego-based organization leading the coordination, planning and execution of ICEX.

“If we can live to that level, then we should,” he continued. “We owe it to the environment to not be leaving things on the ice.”

Ice Camp Queenfish has a minimal discharge of graywater – non-potable wash water from a sink or seawater treatment unit – as permitted by federal environmental regulators. Additionally, Ice Camp Queenfish uses biodegradable soaps, ensuring the little graywater that is discharged is as clean as possible.

Shumway’s dining tent will use single-use recyclable plastic-ware to reduce the amount of graywater generated for washing dishes and will separate compostable food waste, which will be transported back to the mainland along with any other trash – like notebook paper or food packaging – discarded at the camp.

“This expeditionary mindset is more environmentally friendly, because it’s a much smaller footprint,” said Shumway, noting the same advances that make the camp green also make the camp more agile and mission-ready.

“If push comes to shove and we have to pack up, we can move a lot faster,” he said.

ICEX 2022 is a joint combined exercise that takes place over the course of a month north of the Arctic circle, with personnel stationed at the temporary Ice Camp Queenfish, as well as in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, and two operational U.S. Navy submarines. ICEX allows the Navy to assess its operational readiness in the Arctic, increase experience in the region, advance understanding of the Arctic environment, and continue to develop relationships with other services, allies and partner organizations.

ICEX 2022 is taking place in the Arctic region at the same time as U.S. Northern Command’s Arctic Edge, a biennial exercise designed to provide realistic and effective training for participants using the premier training locations available throughout Alaska, ensuring the ability to rapidly deploy and operate in the Arctic. Arctic Edge takes place over the course of three weeks and will have approximately 1,000 participants, including U.S. and Canadian service members, U.S. Coast Guardsmen, and government employees from the U.S. Department of Defense and Canada’s Department of National Defence.

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