Major General Laurie Hummel, the Adjutant General of the Alaska National Guard and Commissioner of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, is touring through Western Alaska this week, along with her military entourage from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.
The team has many goals for their visit, some of which include bolstering National Guard forces in rural Alaska as well as seeking out veterans. Colonel John James, the Commander of the Alaska State Defense Force, or ASDF, said:
“One of the things that we wanted to accomplish while we were here is talking to elders, community leadership, about starting and establishing an Alaska State Defense Force attachment here at the armory in Nome.”
Colonel James said emergency preparedness and response is a major component of ASDF:
“It is the mission of Alaska State Defense Force to augment, to enable, to be a force multiplier for the Alaska National Guard during emergencies, and we are also building a domain awareness capability and capacity,” James said. “We want to do that throughout the entire state of Alaska. So we are looking specifically for veterans or retirees in the community. We greatly appreciate folks who are trained, and we also appreciate the contributions of non-priors, so we’ll train those folks up.”
In addition to recruiting more National Guard members, the purpose of Hummel and her team’s visit to Nome, Brevig Mission, and Teller, is to survey inactive National Guard facilities.
According to the Major General, there used to be 86 armories in operation throughout Alaska, but that number has dropped.
“As of today, we have 17 active armory facilities around the state,” Hummel said. “And so the facilities at Brevig Mission and Teller are two of the facilities that have been earmarked for repurposing. Repurposing someday for the use by communities, or other state agencies — really whoever has the ability to maintain them and wants to use them.”
The operations and training officer for the Alaska Army National Guard, Colonel Lee Knowles, spent years of his life serving and living in Nome. He recalls that not only were there more active facilities in Western Alaska but more active servicemen and women too:
“There used to be a substantial footprint of soldiers here in the Norton Sound region in past years. Unfortunately, because of changing global security environment and requirements for national security, the size of the army, that force structure kind of shrank and went away. And one of the reasons why we’re out here right now, is to try to reinvigorate that to the extent that resources will allow us to do so.”
Verdie Bowen, the Director of Veteran’s Affairs, concurs with Colonel Knowles and also pointed out that the Alaska Territorial Guard (ATG) originated in the Norton Sound region.
Bowen is traveling with the entourage to reach out to some of the 1,600 ATG veterans that have not yet been given their honorable discharges.
“It’s quite an arduous task, because number one: there’s a lot of family members that aren’t there. Number two: some of the villages are gone,” Bowen said. “And the last part is, that when they disbanded them — actually here is where they did the disbandment, here in Nome — the issue that we ran into was there really wasn’t a very good record of who they were, and so it took us several years to get that master list certified and accredited through the United States Army so they would go ahead and issue those discharges.”
According to Bowen, once his office has finished contacting all ATG veterans on the master list, there will most likely be a couple thousand names who were not included on the list, but his team won’t give up until 6,400 members are properly discharged.
For veterans of the Alaska Territorial Guard to receive an honorable discharge, Bowen said only a birth date or date of death needs to be put on file in order to find a record of military service.
Bowen, Major General Hummel, and the Colonels, along with the accompanying service men and women, plan on visiting elders and school children during their stop in Brevig Mission and Teller today.