Alaskans helping Alaskans: National Guard returns from Western Alaska mobilizations

Inside the Gates
The Alaska National Guard mobilized 165 personnel to assist 30 different Western Alaska villages recently.
Published: Oct. 5, 2022 at 6:20 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The wicked winds, harsh rainfall and intense flooding of Typhoon Merbok caused houses to be ripped off their foundations in dozens of Western Alaska villages. Many streets now face erosion problems, leaving the villages that span over 1,300 miles of coastline of Alaska in need of repairs — and people to complete them.

That’s why the Alaska National Guard mobilized 165 personnel to assist 30 different Western Alaska villages recently.

“That was just beyond the scope of what the communities were able to do as they were attempting to repair their own homes, we were attempting to repair all the damage that had happened to their own facilities,” said Lt. Col. Matthew Kirby with the Alaska National Guard. “Our guardsmen were able to come in and provide that extra — just that extra help that the communities desperately needed.”

During the course of the 10-day operation, the National Guard was able to remove 200,000 pounds of debris from the recent storms. They also placed 15,000 pounds of rock and sandbags to help reinforce vital infrastructure, bolstering the community physically and emotionally.

“We rebuilt some stairs at the City Hall and the mayor of Golovin was actually really appreciative of that because that’s where people go to vote,” Alaska Air National Guard Sgt. Blassi Konelaq Shoogukwruk said.

For Schoogukwruk, who grew up just 15 minutes outside of Golovin, this mission was different from past deployments. This assignment meant going back home to serve his people and the area he called home.

“Initially when I first got there, it was really hard to see,” Konelaq Shoogukwruk said. “As a boy in Golovin — I grew up 15 miles away from Golovin, just up the river — and when I first got there, the lower part of town is where my friends and I used to play all the time, and to see all that debris and destruction and people houses moved, and people’s food and their freezer’s and stuff, it was really hard.”

He was not the only Guard member who found themselves taking a trip back home during this deployment. Staff Sergeant Wanda Solomon-Parsons also grew up in rural Alaska and to her, this trip represented Alaskans helping Alaskans.

“It was like I went back home to be with my people, help my people,” Solomon-Parson said. “It was Alaskans helping Alaskans.”

Schoogukwruk thinks that seeing help come from those in their own communities bolstered many of the locals begin the healing process following this natural disaster.

“I think it was some sort of a sigh of relief to see somebody from there going back to help,” Schoogukwruk said.

Spc. Harlan Thomas Hartman with the National Guard said he feels that deploying during a natural disaster allows them to help spread hope amongst the community.

“After a natural disaster, you’re not looking at a whole lot of bright things. So when something bright or green comes around and helps out your community voluntarily, that brings a lot of goodwill back to the people,” Hartman said.

At the same time, Hartman and others said, everyone in the community made them feel very welcomed.

“We never needed our MREs,” Sgt. Dempsey Woods with the Alaska National Guard said.

Instead of heating up a packet of food, locals provided them with meals and cots to sleep on, in addition to thank you cards for the Guard made by village children.

“You guys made us smile. We had a lot of fun over there,” Wood said.