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Alaska National Guard serves on many fronts with skill, courage and integrity

  • Author: Maj. Gen. Laurie Hummel
  • Updated: 6 days ago
  • Published 6 days ago

Guardsmen load a HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter into a C-17 transport plane Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017, at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. The 210th Rescue Squadron, part of the Alaska Air National Guard 176th wing, is deploying to the Middle East on a combat search and rescue mission. (Loren Holmes / Alaska Dispatch News)

Nearly 4,000 airmen and soldiers serve in the Alaska National Guard. We hail from communities throughout the state, from Utqiagvik to Bethel to Ketchikan. Alaska Guard members are deployed overseas, deployed in support of domestic emergencies, deployed in place here in Alaska on missions to defend the nation, and training here at home. We are active in our communities, enabling us to develop valuable relationships with local, state, and interagency partners.

The Alaska National Guard is an all-volunteer force, sworn to support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Alaska, the only component of the U.S. military with this dual mission. As we train to fight wars, we use those warfighting skills for emergency response at home. We conduct active federal missions daily in air defense, rescue coordination, space warning, and missile defense, and on-call missions in air-to-air refueling as well as search and rescue. We routinely provide fixed wing and rotary wing airlift for the Army's 4-25 Infantry Brigade at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, enabling jump training for the only airborne unit in the Pacific. And we stand constantly ready to assist our fellow Alaskans during times of greatest need.

I am honored to be part of this great organization. Alaskans can be proud of what their National Guard does every day.

We have been busy lately, but this is the standard operations tempo of your Alaska National Guard. Guardian Angel pararescuers saved people and pets in the aftermath of hurricanes Harvey and Irma. We are helping Puerto Rico restore power and communications capability. The men and women of the Air Defense Squadron, Space Warning Squadron, and Missile Defense Battalion are ever vigilant in keeping Alaskans secure from strategic threats. Service members reach out to the community at venues statewide, from the Alaska State Fair and the Alaska Women's Show to the Native Youth Olympics, the Bear Paw Festival and Sitka Days. We keep advisers with our partner Mongolian Armed Forces units deployed to Afghanistan while members of our 176th and 168th wings are in Southwest Asia as well. Soldiers and airmen in our Counter Drug Support Program conduct outreach and training in drug demand reduction and distribute potentially life-saving medicine in rural communities.

This year we became one of 17 charter members of the National Guard Arctic Interest Council, whose mission is to advocate within Department of Defense for updated Arctic policy and a commitment to Arctic forces, training and exercises. Appropriately, as the U.S.'s only Arctic state, the Alaska National Guard was elected by its peers as chair. We recently hosted representatives from 24 countries for the U.S. Pacific Command at the Pacific Environmental Security Forum in Anchorage. How we address climate change, in collaboration with other countries in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region, is a priority topic for identifying how our militaries support environmental programs along with civilian communities.

We also recently hosted a visit to Alaska by the U.S. ambassador to Mongolia — our 14-year state partner in theater security cooperation activities.

How can we do all of this? Our soldiers and airmen are driven by strong core values. They are ethically fit and combat capable. Our priority is to shape and sustain a healthy culture. Integrity, honor, and professionalism are our essential ethos. Good character, honest choices, and a bold commitment to excellence are vital to our organization. Our Rural Engagement Initiative, seeking to broaden our membership base, embraces all of these values. An inclusive force not solely focused along the road system is stronger, more resilient, and capitalizes on the skills of all Alaskans. The famous 1964 photo of post-earthquake Fourth Avenue shows soldiers from rural communities. Their presence allowed us to respond immediately to assist Alaskans.

The Alaska Guard continues to develop its non-commissioned officer (NCO) corps, the backbone of the military. For the first time, we have a full-time senior enlisted leader, my right hand. Command Chief Master Sgt. Paul Nelson is committed to mentoring a corps of NCOs with initiative who will help foster high-performance and a strong military ethic at all ranks. He and State Command Chaplain Col. Richard Koch are leading the development of an Alaska Guard professionalism and ethical fitness line of effort. This spring, they hosted a two-day training and first-ever professional development conference for all of our midlevel NCOs, who influence junior and senior members alike.

Here's a hypothetical scenario to illustrate what the Alaska National Guard is prepared to do every day in concert with our mission partners. Our Guardsmen and women of the 176th Air Defense Squadron detect an incursion into Alaska air space and trigger the launch of a pair of U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptors from JBER for intercept. As the pilots take off, Air Guard members on shift at the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center and the Air Guard rescue triad — the 210th, 211th, and 212th Rescue Squadrons — are prepared to save their lives if needed. Meanwhile, the Guard's 168th Wing launches a KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft to provide fuel to and from the intercept mission. If, during this time frame, a bad actor launches an intercontinental ballistic missile against the United States, airmen of the 213th Space Warning Squadron will detect and track it so that soldiers of the 49th Missile Defense Battalion can launch interceptors to destroy the threat. And all the while, other men and women of the Alaska National Guard — our citizen soldiers and citizen airmen — remain poised and ready to launch in support of any kind of natural or human-made emergency threatening any of our communities, or for activation and deployment to combat in defense of our nation.

We have been relentless in assuring compliance with regulation and law, transparent in our decision-making actions, fair and determined to continue in the same way. From Department of Military and Veterans Affairs town halls to organizational leadership summits, these non-negotiable requirements are reinforced. We embrace externally administered surveys and audits to measure how we are doing. We maintain a persistent vigilance for any deviation from these practices.

The Alaska National Guard works hard for Alaska and the United States. Our airmen and soldiers are diverse, skilled and capable. We fight in America's wars, protect our homeland, help our fellow citizens when disaster strikes and build global and domestic partnerships. I am proud to say with conviction that we truly are: Always Ready, Always There.

Maj. Gen. Laurie Hummel is adjutant general of the Alaska National Guard and commissioner of the Alaska Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary@alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@alaskadispatch.com. 

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