GFAFB hosts ‘YETI,’ prepares for ND winter

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Phyllis Jimenez
  • 319th Reconnaissance Wing Public Affairs

It’s a common experience for airmen arriving for duty at Grand Forks Air Force Base to be welcomed with stories of winters past. But those stories alone are not enough to fully prepare airmen, especially those who have never lived in a winter climate, for what’s in store.

Here, the winter feels like it lasts most of the year, and the snow, ice and wind can make for hazardous conditions outdoors and on the roads.

The 319th Reconnaissance Wing takes the welfare of its airmen and their families very seriously, so when the days get shorter and temperatures begin to drop, the wing shifts its focus to preparing airmen and their families for the physical and mental challenges of the long, cold North Dakota winter.

In 2015, the wing held the first formal winter-preparedness training event, which it named the year end training initiative, or YETI. Since then, the annual event has expanded to include briefers from multiple organizations both on- and off-base.

The 2022 YETI, held Oct. 7, featured presentations from the 319th Medical Group mental health flight, Balfour Beatty, and North Dakota State Highway Patrol.

“Knowledge is key,” said Tech. Sgt. Temujin Gutierrez, a 319th RW occupational safety technician. “Along with other helping agencies, we brief at events like the YETI to give people, especially ones who have never experienced extremely cold weather, as many tools as possible to help prepare for the winter.”

The briefers advised attendees of several physical and mental stressors they may encounter and provided advice for how to mitigate winter's impacts.

Briefers advised attendees to:

  • Plan ahead. Don’t wait for cold weather to arrive. Start gathering food, warm clothes and other needed items before it’s too late.
  • Build an emergency automotive kit. Winter storms can impact emergency response. Having food, water, warm clothing, extra fuel and emergency equipment will help stranded drivers hold out until emergency responders or snow plows can arrive.
  • Drive slower. Winter weather can create multiple driving hazards – slippery roads, decreased visibility, etc. – slowing down allows more time to safely detect and respond to hazards.
  •  Don’t follow too closely. Stopping times are drastically impacted by snowy and icy roads. Give yourself enough time to safely stop in an emergency. Maintain at least 5-7 car-lengths distance between your car and the one in front of you.
  •  Dress appropriately. When it’s cold and windy, make sure you’re wearing enough layers. Layers allow you to better regulate your body heat, especially when engaging in activities. Just don’t wear base layers that trap moisture, which can ruin the clothes insulative properties and increase risks of hypothermia.
  •  Don’t be afraid to ask for help or find additional resources. North Dakota and Minnesota departments of transportation have multiple online resources regarding safe winter travel. The mental health clinic also has references regarding Seasonal Affective Disorder, a type of depression brought about by changing seasons.

“When I found out I was going to Grand Forks AFB, I did some research to mentally prepare myself,” said Airman 1st Class Makaio Wakeley, a 319th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron radio frequency systems technician. “Hearing other people’s experiences and attending formal training where leadership and community partners are actively involved was reassuring. Now, I feel more prepared.”

Service members, contractors, civilian employees, and their families can stay prepared by downloading apps, which announce  delays, closures and latest road conditions.

 “We should all have road apps and the Grand Forks AFB app on our phone,” Gutierrez said. “They are some of the biggest resources for winter driving and safety.”

The Grand Forks AFB app, accessible on both the Apple Appstore and Google Play, provides real-time information on base delays and closures. The Grand Forks AFB Facebook page will also feature the latest winter updates.

A video of the 2022 YETI training can be viewed at (link).