Roughly 700 military personnel from the U.S. and Canada are training together this week, preparing to defend our homes.

Lt. Gen. Ken Wilsbach said the annual exercise, called Vigilant Shield, is all about procedure: detect an enemy plane, evaluate the threat and respond. Detection starts at the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), the radar watching over North America.

“We need to be prepared for whatever threat comes into NORAD,” Wilsbach said.

Alaska’s size and Arctic terrain can make responding to threats risky.

“Our jets don’t have skis on them like some of the bush pilots around here do and so we have to have a plan,” Wilsbach explained.

Mid-air refueling is one way to give the jets more flight time as they track down the enemy aircraft. Some of the planes are American. Others are Canadian. They work together as one force.

“It’s not just a question of one country or the other,” said Brig. Gen. Patrice Laroche of the Royal Canadian Air Force. “It’s air forces, it’s fighter aircraft, it’s tankers.”

Ground forces are also a component of Vigilant Shield. They track incoming enemy planes and target them. Laroche said learning to speak the other country’s military language is also part of the exercise.

“To work together, to fly together, to communicate together to get the mission done is key,” he said.

“This exercise gives us a chance to do a specific mission in our homelands, to protect our homelands, which is certainly beneficial and rewarding,” Wilsbach said.

KTVA 11’s Bonney Bowman can be reached via email or on Facebook and Twitter.