Piece of Alaska’s Air National Guard’s past still operates in the present

Inside the Gates
Piece of Alaska Air National Guard's past still operates in the present
Published: Sep. 20, 2023 at 6:21 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The fire station for the 176th Civil Engineer Squadron Alaska Air National Guard is a modest outfit when compared to city-run operations, but a piece of the past takes up a bay in the garage on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

Retired Chief Master Sgt. Bernie Kale knows the truck well — a 1987 P18 firefighting apparatus, painted safety yellow with red lettering that serves as a reminder of its former life at Kulis Fire Department.

“This water tanker — 2,000 gallons — was to resupply our crash trucks in the event of either for training or actual emergency,” Kale said. “It’s a beautiful truck.”

Kale was stationed at Kulis when the truck was freshly outfitted by Kovatch Mobile Equipment, also known as KME. While the truck is still branded as a Kulis fire engine, the former air guard base was closed in 2011 after the Defense Base Realignment and Closure Commission recommended closure in 2005.

Established in 1955, Kulis Air National Guard Base was the former home of the Alaska Air National Guard located near Anchorage Ted Stevens International Airport. After the Air Force lease was terminated, the land was returned back to the state of Alaska.

Kulis Alaska National Guard Base was closed in 2011.
Kulis Alaska National Guard Base was closed in 2011.(Alaska National Guard)

Kale considered it the end of an era.

“Kulis Air National Guard Base was — there was a lot of pride in being assigned up here, we were very active,” Kale said.

While Kulis is now a page in the history book of military operations in the state, pieces of it — like the now 36-year-old truck — continue to serve Alaska.

Most recently, the pump and roll tender made its way to Nenana to support suppression efforts in the Anderson Complex Fires burning in the Interior, after a late start to the wildfire season left state resources stretched thin.

When the engine is not actively being used for fighting fires, it serves as a training platform for guard firefighters.

It is not known how much longer the truck will be in service, as replacement parts are no longer manufactured — but Kale said the truck has the potential to serve the Division of Forestry once it finally is decommissioned by the military due to its six-wheel drive capability and overall reliability.