JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- Members of the Alaska Department of Military and Veterans Affairs visited Nome, Alaska, Dec. 17-18, as part of the department’s new rural operations hub concept to strengthen the department’s ties with Alaska’s rural communities, in an effort to grow upon disaster response measures and capabilities.
Maj. Gen. Torrence Saxe, Alaska National Guard commander and adjutant general, and commissioner of the DMVA, took a team that included representatives from the state Office of Veterans Affairs, Air and Army Guard recruiters, members of the joint staff, the Alaska Military Youth Academy, Counterdrug Support Program, and the Alaska State Defense Force.
During the Nome trip, a sixth site visit in support of the hub concept, the group met with Nome Mayor Richard Beneville and other city leaders, tribal council and Native corporation members, and key personnel from Nome schools, the port, harbor and hospital. Plans to grow rural operations in Alaska have also included stops in the Alaska communities of Bethel, Kwethluk, Napaskiak, Galena, and Kodiak, and future visits include Utqiagvik and Kotzebue.
“We want to get back to having strong relationships in the community, have more folks from this area who are serving in the Guard, and prepositioned to respond to emergencies and natural disasters when called upon to assist,” said Saxe. “And in order to help the community respond as quickly as possible, we need Guardsmen already in place.”
Saxe expressed the intent to ensure Guard readiness and capability in Nome, and to build on relationships to better understand unique needs for emergency management and response.
“The one thing I don’t want to do is introduce ourselves for the first time in a crisis, so that’s in part why we are here,” said Saxe.
In the meeting with Beneville, Saxe said DMVA personnel will visit Nome on a regular rotation, with a desire to grow the National Guard in the area.
“We’re looking to hire local, and to have folks work local, here in Nome,” said Saxe.
The mayor applauded, followed by others in the room who shared memories from when there was a stronger military presence in the community, and that they would like to see that again.
“I want the Guard to be for all Alaskans, and if you recruit from all areas of Alaska, … you’re going to have a Guard that reflects the state, so that is my sincere intention,” he said.
“We have a recruiter, we have the positions, we have an armory and aviation facility, a historical presence, and a desire to provide jobs and training here,” said Saxe. “This is where I truly need the help of the community, if you know someone who wants to join the Guard or is even just thinking about it, please let me know and let our recruiters know.”
The Army National Guard has had a full-time recruiter in Nome since May, who just finished teaching a leadership and citizenship class first semester at Nome-Beltz Jr/Sr High School. Staff Sgt. Christopher Thomas taught “Guard Your Future,” a civics-based curriculum offered by the Army National Guard that teaches life skills and volunteerism. Next semester, he will instead be available to substitute teach at the school, continuing to provide a military perspective and help develop students to understand more about discipline, character and service.