Access to rural Alaska remains a struggle for Alaska National Guard
One of the large takeaways from his address was the critical need for better access to the Arctic.
“We have to be able to get there,” Alaska National Guard Public Affairs Director Alan Brown said. “It’s really difficult to get around in the Arctic.”
As much as 80% of Alaska is off the beaten path, with hundreds of villages hidden between mountains, tundra, and tucked alongside frozen waters ways. Many of the communities and areas the Guard may be needed to respond to are isolated from larger population centers.
“For us to really be prepared for an Arctic operation — a large-scale Arctic operation — we need access,” Brown said.
Brown said that access presents a problem when the Guard finds themselves in a remote area that has limited access.
“We don’t have the appropriate access to get there quickly,” Brown said.
During his presentation, Saxe highlighted one of the big missions that the Guard deployed on in 2022, the aftermath of Typhoon Merbok. The storms that hit Western Alaska devastated much of the coastal region, as houses were ripped from their foundations and roadways replaced by rivers. It was the largest off-road response the Alaska Guard had seen in decades, according to Saxe.
During the mission, the Alaska National Guard deployed 160 members across 2,400 square miles to assist in damage assessment, clean-up, and infrastructure repair.
While assisting, the Alaska National Guard, recognized large problems that they were encountering.
“What we learned in Typhoon Merbok is that we needed to use our hub communities in Western Alaska and then fan out from there,” Brown said. “So, in a military operation, in a large-scale military operation, if we were to ever be somehow invaded from another country through Alaska, that’s really going to be a pretty significant constraint for us.”
Having limited runways could create restraints on how much time the Guard would have to act.
“We need access, and that means runways that are likely 8,000 feet or so long,” Brown said.
Currently, Brown said, there are only three communities in Western Alaska that offer them the necessary runway length: Kotzebue, Nome and Bethel. During Typhoon Merbok, they had to use these communities as a hub and move outward from there. In order, to have a quicker response time, Brown said the Alaska National Guard said they need to have those additional runways.
“Whether it’s the National Guard, whether it’s the active duty, we need to expand those runways in the area of the Arctic region in order to respond effectively and quickly,” Brown said.
Brown said that longer runways would become a critical component in making the Arctic front ready if the military services would ever need to deploy for combat or a mission.
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