By Staff Sgt. Mike R. Smith, Guard Times Staff
LAKE PLACID, NY – Whiteface Mountain manager, Jay Rand, stands in a clearing at the base of Whiteface Mountain on a September morning looking with anticipation towards the eastern Adirondack skyline. Directly aside Rand is a ten-ton spool of cable so thick in diameter, and you could not wrap both hands around it. Roughly eight miles away and 3000 feet above him is the summit of Whiteface.
“They should arrive soon, I called…” said Rand.
As if in reply, and barely audible, the double thump-thump sound of a CH-47 Chinook slowly emerges through the fall foliage and cold morning air. The NY Army National Guard has arrived, and although their progress grows slowly louder, the helicopter breaks the tree line suddenly and unexpected. It cuts toward the clearing, hovers above the spool, then turns toward the mountain’s peak, climbing and shrinking until it blends and disappears. But soon it returns, this time to land. Kicking up soil and debris, the wheels touch ground and the propellers start to slow, then stop altogether.
Soldiers from Detachment 1, Gulf Company 137th Army Aviation Support Facility #2 in Rochester, NY, landed at Whiteface Mountain Sept. 29 to repair a damaged power cable at its summit and support New York State’s Olympic Regional Development Authority and Department of Conservation.
The project was part of the New York National Guard’s GuardHELP program, which provides non-emergency support to communities through its unique skill, equipment, and capabilities.
“GuardHELP allows our troops to serve their fellow New Yorkers not just in time of war or emergency but throughout the year,” said Maj. Gen. Thomas P. Maguire Jr., Adjutant General. The General added that projects like these provide the Guard with an opportunity to perform their military training and, at the same time, make a lasting contribution to community projects throughout the state. “GuardHELP is another example of how the Guard in New York State is more active, ready and relevant than ever before.” And Whiteface Mountain shows that NY National Guard can fight abroad and serve the homeland simultaneously.
“Incredible force,” said Rand when speaking of the CH-47. “If anything was more impressive than the chopper, it was the crew’s ability to get the job done,” he added.
The CH-47 crew included Chief Warrant Officer 5 Frank Rotella, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Timothy J. Hadsall, Staff Sgt. Michael Labelle and Staff Sgt. Daniel Krebs. Their job was to lift the cable and place it atop the mountain.
“It was intense,” said CH-47 pilot, Chief Hadsall.
“Every member of this crew had a very particular responsibility to ensure the successful outcome of this lift.” He explained that the drop area allowed for next to zero error in load placement, and he stressed the complexity of being at the helicopter’s maximum gross weight, along with high altitude and mountainous terrain, made the challenge much greater. “We were no longer than seven minutes attempting to place the load, but it felt like a lifetime considering…” he said.
At four thousand eight hundred and sixty-seven feet tall, Whiteface Mountain is the fifth highest mountain in the Adirondacks, and it’s the only Adirondack high peak with road access to its summit—a WWI veteran’s memorial highway descends eight miles into the town of Wilmington, NY.
Built during the Great Depression and dedicated by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the mountain’s overlook allows a 360-degree view of the surrounding Adirondack wilderness. Additionally, the mountain was devoted to the Army’s 10th Mountain Division upon opening as a ski area in 1958.
“The original cable was installed just prior to the 1980 Olympic Games,” said Rand. He went on to say that the 1,200-foot cable supplies all electrical power to the mountain’s summit, which includes its elevator, restaurant and Atmospheric Science and Research Center. “Electrical energy is provided to a number of repeaters,” which are used by Federal and State agencies. “The project was extremely important to the safety and welfare of the citizens of Northern New York,” said Rand.
“The training benefit of this mission was invaluable,” said Chief Hadsall. “This was a real test of our aviation skills and a great confidence builder for crewmembers.”
GuardHELP has not just climbed mountains at Whiteface this year. Soldiers from the Third Battalion 142nd Aviation Regiment, Latham, also provided airlift with a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, removing abandoned vehicles from the Pine Bush Nature Preserve.
“It’s great when the Guard can help the local communities through GuardHELP as we did here…” said Chief Hadsall.
“I am extremely proud that even with the many missions we have performed and continue to perform since September 11th we are still able to honor our commitments to these very worthy GuardHELP projects,” said Maj. Gen. Maguire.