I'm proud to live in a state that respects and appreciate the contributions of our military and the service members that dedicate their lives to our nation and our freedoms we hold dear. Alaskans' appreciation of our armed forces and military personnel goes beyond simple rhetoric, and I believe it is more profound here than anywhere in our country.
A leadership contingent of the U.S. Army is visiting Anchorage today to explore potential troop reductions at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. I urge residents to show up at the Dena'ina Civic and Convention Center Monday night at 5 p.m. to demonstrate the support we, as Alaskans, dedicate to our military every day.
Alaska and the military share a long and proud history. Few people know that the only World War II battles fought on U.S. soil were on two Aleutian Islands, Attu and Kiska. From these important strategic fronts, to the unmatched training facilities in Alaska where soldiers prepare themselves to defend American interests around the world, we have grown together, supporting each other to become stronger and better equipped to handle adversity.
As Alaskans, we know the simple, self-evident truths about what makes our state the best location in the world for military units to train, raise their families and fulfill their mission. Alaska loves the military and the military loves Alaska. It is essential that we, as a community, remind the officials visiting Alaska today of this perfect symbiotic relationship.
No where else in our country does the military have access to such vast, challenging training areas. Whether it's the more than 50,000 acres of training and maneuvering areas, ranges and drop zones on JBER or the Northern Warfare Training Center in Fairbanks, or the missile defense systems stationed at Fort Greely, the unparalleled training areas in Alaska provide our armed forces with the ability to be prepared for deployment anywhere in the world. These training grounds, coupled with immense military airspace, allow the military to coordinate joint training between the various branches of service to mimic wartime realities.
Here are just a few statistics: Alaska offers 65,000 square miles of available airspace, 2,490 square miles of land and 42,000 square nautical miles of sea and airspace in the Gulf of Alaska. These are but a few of the reasons that premier joint training exercises like Alaska Shield and Northern Edge can accommodate tens of thousands of soldiers, airmen, sailors and marines in realistic deployment training exercises.
Soldiers and their families love to be stationed in Alaska. Whether at JBER or Fort Wainwright, they have access to excellent schools, supportive communities and recreational opportunities that military communities outside Alaska can only dream about. This is why Alaska has such a large population of veterans -- the largest population per capita of any state. These veterans choose to make Alaska their home after active duty because of the appreciation we show the military and the wonderful quality of life they can achieve here. And, of course, the state's Permanent Fund dividend is a significant benefit for active duty troops and veterans alike.
CIRI is proud that our investment in the Tikahtnu Commons Retail and Entertainment Center has enhanced the Alaska experience for many soldiers and their families at JBER. Not only does Tikahtnu provide modern shopping, dining and entertainment facilities just outside the Muldoon gate, it also offers excellent employment opportunities for military family members with convenient access.
As we know, our partnership with the military is a two-way street. With all that Alaska offers to enhance the experience of the military, the soldiers and their families, our state and cities also receive tremendous benefits from this partnership. The economic impacts of a thriving military base, whether in Anchorage or Fairbanks, is significant. Our close ties have allowed our relationship with the military to thrive for generations. We need each other.
This is the message we, as a community, must deliver clearly and convincingly to the visiting officials from the U.S. Army. Please join me Monday night, Feb. 23, at 5 p.m. at the Dena'ina Center for the Rally for our Troops. Following the rally, there will be a listening session where community leaders will present the case against reducing troops at JBER and Fort Wainwright. Let's let them know we're all in this together.
Sophie Minich is president and CEO of Cook Inlet Region Inc, an Alaska Native regional corporation headquartered in Anchorage.
The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.