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US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin visits Fort Wainwright, Eielson Air Force Base

Published: Jul. 25, 2021 at 10:04 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met with troops Saturday at Fort Wainwright and Eielson Air Force Base. It wrapped up a two-day visit to Alaska.

It’s the first leg in a weeklong trip by Austin to Singapore, Vietnam and the Philippines.

“We are an Indo-Pacific nation and we are an Arctic nation. Here in Alaska, those two critical regions intersect,” said Austin. “This is where we can project power into both regions and where we must be able to protect ourselves from threats coming from both places.”

Alaska is the focal point of the Pentagon’s Arctic strategy due to rising military threats from China and Russia. But the state poses its own challenges.

“It goes without saying this is a harsh environment,” Austin said.

USA Today reported back in June six Army Alaska soldiers have taken their lives this year. Army Alaska declined Alaska News Source’s request to comment on the report. But suicide in the military is front and center for Austin.

“You’ve heard me say before, one suit, one lost by suicide is too many. And while we’re working hard on this problem, we have a lot more to do,” Austin said. “And I believe that it has it has to start with removing the stigma attached to mental health issues.”

Austin said his first priority is to defend the nation, but taking care of his troops is crucial to accomplish that goal.

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