Alaska as a whole is a very military-oriented state, with one of the highest percentages of military membership in the nation, but that trend doesn’t extend out to the Aleutians. At least not yet. The commander in charge of Alaska’s Army National Guard is in Unalaska this week, scoping the possibility of forming a unit in the community. Brigadier General Mike Bridges says the trip started with an invitation from Unalaska Mayor Shirley Marquardt:
“The National Guard has never been in the Aleutians throughout the history of the territory and state of Alaska, and so putting all the pieces together logistically, and timing with the community leaders, and school in session and all that, we’re here to do an initial community visit, survey, assessment – all of the above – at the invitation of the mayor and the City Council.”
General Bridges and two of his colleagues gave a presentation at City Council Wednesday night and spoke to students at Unalaska high school on Thursday. Bridges says getting the community to support the idea is the first step in starting a unit.
“The National Guard doesn’t just show up and exist. If a community brings forward its young people, men and women, and they’re eligible and want to enlist and serve in the National Guard, and we get enough people in a community that’s big enough to form a National Guard unit, then we will, from the state headquarters, come in and work with the community, we’ll reach externally to DC and the Pentagon, to stand up and federally recognize and form a National Guard unit in a town.”
At least 15 people would have to enlist in order for that to happen. So far in 2012, only two people from the region have enlisted in any branch of the armed services – and none in the National Guard. But Bridges says Unalaskans have been fairly enthusiastic about the idea, especially the high school students.
“Often the kids will just sit, they’ll slump down in the chair, and they’ll slouch and not one word will come from them. Today was just a completely different dynamic than anything I’ve ever experienced, frankly.”
Bridges says the community could benefit from the experience and training of Guardsmen, especially in light of the region’s frequent natural disasters.
“And also we [would] have a footprint here then, in the community, [so] that if the Governor needs to tell me or the adjutant general, ‘send the Guard out to Dutch Harbor because they’ve had a tidal wave, or an earthquake, or a volcano [sic],’ I’ve got somebody here who can prepare for us to bring in surge additional support.”
Out of the 38 Guard units in the state, the closest one to Unalaska is in Dillingham.