OLD HARBOR, Alaska -- A newly extended runway was opened here August 7, 2018, marking the completion of a six-year Innovative Readiness Training (IRT) project.
Soldiers from the Alaska Army National Guard's 207th Engineer Utility Detachment (EUD) joined service members from active and reserve components of the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps and Navy, said Sgt. 1st Class Jack Carlson, readiness noncommissioned officer for the 20th EUD.
The IRT is a Department of Defense program connecting military units in need of training with underserved units in need of compatible services. "This is a great opportunity. Members of other components have come from all around the country, but for us it's a chance to help one of our own local communities," said Sgt. 1st Class Seth Gordon, brigade engineer operations sergeant for the Alaska Army National Guard's 297th Regional Support Group. "I've been out here for all four years that we've participated, and it's been awesome working with my counterparts from other services.
Training included heavy equipment operation, surveying, and vehicle maintenance and repair, said Gordon.
"Everyone in the Army knows how to do basic equipment maintenance when you have a shop and a ready supply of parts," he said. "It's a completely different game out here. We worked with Marine mechanics to diagnose and repair problems that we've never run across before with this equipment. They've gotten very good at diagnosing problems over the past six years of working out here."
Service members working on the project have become close friends with the local community, and pitched in their spare time to help with other community projects, such as repainting the church. Marine Gunnery Sgt. Brandon Watson, project coordinator for IRT Old Harbor, became the fire chief every summer for the six years of the project. "I'm a firefighter in my civilian career, and I love it, so I guess it was natural for me to play that role for the community here," Watson said.
The runway extension is just one component of a multi-stage development plan for Old Harbor, said Rick Berns, Mayor of Old Harbor. "We're trying to build more infrastructure. We realize that a lot of people are leaving our community because of a lack of opportunity, and it's our goal to provide opportunities so our young people can stay here and work."