Alaskan News

Army Leaders: Partnerships are key as Alaska's strategic significance grows

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The U.S. military has not always been a positive force for the Alaskan natives, but as the world changes, leaders both inside and outside the service hope to continue to change that.

"I think there has been a renewed partnership and communication with the state military in the past three years since 2017," said Julie Kitka, president of the Alaska Federation of Natives, at a press conference at the AFN's annual conference, this year digital took place. "It's driven by what's going on in Alaska and in the world."

Chaired by Major General of the Air Force, Randy & # 39; Church & # 39; Kee, now the Executive Director of the Arctic Domain Awareness Center, the heads of all major commandos in Alaska met as part of the AFN Panel on Strategic Security.

(Correct: The military may apologize for the bombing of the Alaskan villages.)

"We are going back to our roots with General Billy Mitchell, who named Alaska the most strategic place in the world," said Lt. Gen. David Krumm, commanding general of the Alaska NORAD Region, Alaskan Command and the 11th Air Force. "All of you know that it is difficult to operate in the Arctic, and in Alaska in particular. The cold, the wind, the waves, the ice."

The changing fiscal environment, global demand for resources, and technological advances are all driving forces behind the call for greater emphasis on military operations in Alaska. According to the Alaska Command website, there are nearly 27,000 Department of Defense employees in Alaska. And that number is expected to grow as these drivers turn Alaska from a buffer into a road for an enemy force.

“From a military point of view, the Arctic was a natural buffer for us. But with technological advances, the Arctic is now an approach for our home countries, ”said Krumm. “We need to invest in a foundation for operations in the Arctic. It means we need to train more. It means we need to participate more. But make no mistake, we have to do this with our partners. "

Marines and Sailors from Task Force Denali attend the USS Anchorage commissioning ceremony in Anchorage, Alaska, on May 4, 2013. (US Marine Corps / Lance Cpl. Cody Haas)

Sea routes and arctic warfare

As the United States refocuses on operations in the High Arctic, the Army begins to shift its priorities from warfare in the deserts of the Middle East to operations in the snow of Alaska. One of the Army's Stryker Brigades recently returned from a deployment in Iraq and Syria, said Alaska's commanding general, Maj. Gen. Peter Andrysiak.

"The army is currently building and delivering strategies for the Arctic after the holidays," Andrysiak said. "We have been meeting significant requirements around the world for several decades and it has taken its toll."

The army, whose capabilities have been largely homogenized by nearly two decades of war and counterinsurgency, must refocus on operations in the Arctic, says Andrysiak. One of America's arctic superpower competitors, Russia, recently conducted an exercise that involved more than 10,000 soldiers in combined arms formations both effectively and adaptively, Andrysiak said, and America must relearn how to do the same.

"If we do operations in the Arctic, there is still a lot of work to be done," Andrysiak said. "US. The Alaska Army used to be that part of the Army that thrived in the toughest conditions of the year."

The ground troops aren't the only ones with a rotating mission. The melting of sea ice and relocation of fish stocks have increased the presence of Russian and Chinese fishing fleets and armed forces in violation of international laws and regulations, Krumm said.

(Former CIA director David Petraeus comes to Juneau)

"I am concerned that there are some who break the rules," said Krumm, citing Russia and China. "We have seen other parts of the world where these two countries ignore the rules."

Russia's takeover of Crimea and China's construction of artificial islands in the South China Sea are examples of predatory economic and political practices. With China being labeled an Arctic power and Russia's willingness to disobey laws, the situation in the Arctic is becoming increasingly difficult, Krum said.

"As a Marine, we need to keep an eye on this," said Counter-Administrator Stephen Barnett, commander of the US Navy Northwest Region, headquartered in Washington and responsible for all of Alaska. "We're trying to support a stable region. We want to support a rule-based region."

Even the most visible branches of the military on the Alaskan coast do not sleep on watch. The Coast Guard continues to work actively with coastal communities to ensure regulation, safety, and search and rescue. Their ocean-going vessels are also working to maintain the sovereignty of the seas and enforce fishing regulations as fishing fleets from countries in the south stingily watch the massive fish stocks.

“We all know that China is the largest seafood importer here in Alaska. Their strategic goal to feed their massive population is to get more fish protein, ”Kitka said. “They (China) have massive fishing fleets that are moving to other parts of the world to feed their people. We need to learn about these things so that we can have a seat at the table and contribute to the security of our country. "

The Coast Guard, the most active maritime service in Arctic waters, will be even more visible in a month when the Polar Star, the Coast Guard's medium icebreaker, begins a deployment in the Bering Strait from November to February, District Commander Rear Adm Matthew said Bell Jr. And in a few years 'time, the Coast Guard will have more icebreakers on their list than the Polar Security Cutters, the United States' answer to growing fleets of Chinese and Russian icebreakers. The first PSC should come out of the shipyards in 2024.

"The Arctic is known to have trillions of dollars in natural resources – one of the last natural resource wells in the world," Kitka said. "The change in the weather, the change in the climate, the opening of the sea lanes, the increasing competition for these resources, the increasing competition with China and Russia and the increasing power to assert themselves have the chance to move into the Arctic."

Building partnerships and infrastructure

More forces and operations in Alaska require more infrastructure. That falls into the bailiwick of the Army Corps of Engineers. Colonel Damon Delarosa, the Alaskan District commander of the Corps of Engineers, emphasized the close ties with the Alaskan tribes and businesses.

"We will continue to see an increase in community partnerships across Alaska," Delarosa said, as erosion and permafrost loss require work.

The Corps awarded $ 232 million in contracts to Alaska Native-owned companies, Delarosa said – 86% of the funds awarded. The plan is to strengthen national security through long-term infrastructure solutions and to work with local communities and businesses in Alaska wherever possible.

“We have a trustworthy relationship with the military. We no longer look at the world from the equatorial point of view. We look at the world from a polar center, ”said Gregory Razo, member of AFN. “Alaska is a strategic place. You heard Sen. (Dan) Sullivan speak about the $ 1.6 billion coming to Alaska for strategic development. You name it, Alaska Native Corporations do it. If this money is to be available, we want to compete for it. "

The National Guard is currently staffing this partnership, Maj. Gen. Torrence Saxe, Alaska's adjutant general, said.

"Alaska is our area of ​​operation," said Saxe. “The rescue mission continues unabated. We have about one rescue a week. "

Saxe said the National Guard needs to more accurately reflect the makeup of the state and recruit more from the off-road system. Saxe is committed to increasing the number of National Army Guardsmen in rural communities outside the Anchorage and Fairbanks hubs. More than 100 of these guardsmen are currently employed to support public health initiatives and surveys in communities in need of assistance. And at least five armories have been handed over to communities to aid their coronavirus response, Saxe said.

"We need to understand our relationship with the military," said Razo.

Razo said that as Alaska becomes more strategic, it must be ready to deal with adversaries operating in the waters and airspace around Alaska. To do this, the partnership must work on both sides.

“The technological changes are new and different. The US used to be protected by the oceans. There was a buffer. You said that due to technological changes, such as hypersonic gliders and ballistic missiles, threats to our country are from all over the world, ”said Kitka. “There is a role for Alaskans. Native communities and native leadership have the task of protecting the country by participating in it. "

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at (757) 621-1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.

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