Students' hands shoot up to ask questions of visiting Alaska National Guard members at the Galena Interior Learning Academy here Oct. 4, 2019. The Guard members were part of a small team visiting this Yukon River community to provide outreach services to veterans and build relationships for possible future Guard operations. (Photo by Maj. John Callahan)
GALENA, Alaska -- Brig. Gen. Torrence Saxe, commander of the Alaska National Guard and commissioner of the Alaska Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, visited this remote Yukon village Oct. 4 as part of a new initiative to strengthen his department’s ties with Alaska’s rural communities.
“For more than a half-century, the Alaska National Guard has played a critical role in responding to natural disasters,” Saxe said. “My goal here is to take our readiness to the next level, and find ways to ensure that our support to rural Alaska remains strong.”
To that end, Saxe has been reaching out to communities with large airfields -- ones that can be used as regional hubs for the movement of personnel and supplies in the event of a natural disaster. Until 1994, Galena was the site of a small U.S. Air Force base, and its airfield is still in good shape.
“I appreciate the visit,” said Galena Mayor Nolan Aloysius. “We are very multicultural here, and when the base here was open, we always had an excellent relationship with the military. We would like to rebuild that, and I look forward to the possibilities I see coming available not just to Galena but to all the villages.”
The mission to Galena is the fourth taken in support of the new initiative -- previous stops included the Southwest Alaska communities of Bethel, Kwethluk and Napaskiak. Saxe’s aides are currently looking at scheduling additional trips to Kodiak, Nome and Utqiagvik.
“To respond quickly and efficiently, we can’t just activate everything at the last minute and hope nothing goes wrong,” Saxe explained. “Here, we are reaching out in advance to assess local capabilities and, most importantly, build the relationships that will be needed in the event that we need to rapidly mobilize on short notice.”
The Alaska National Guard has been leveraging the missions to do additional outreach as well, said Lt. Col. Hannah Sims, director of the Alaska National Guard’s Manpower and Personnel Office, who was one of the organizers of the trip.
“Rural Alaska has a long history of supporting and participating in the Alaska National Guard,” Sims said. “And in Galena in particular, many of their veterans lost their paperwork back in 2013, when the Yukon River flooded and destroyed ninety percent of their homes. So we want to go out not only to thank the veterans for their service, but also to give them the opportunity to meet with a Division of Veterans Affairs representative and get their paperwork and benefits restored.”
The mission also included a small group of aircrew and recruiters, who spoke with local students about opportunities in the Guard.
“The Alaska National Guard is here to serve Alaskans -- it’s really important that we, as an organization, have members from all parts of Alaska,” Saxe said. “And to make that happen, we need more outreach to rural Alaskans. Our state’s unique nature, with its size and remote communities, presents a real challenge to recruiting fairly from all areas. We’re trying to find ways to overcome those challenges and build a really healthy, diverse team of military professionals