National Guard commander aims to revive service tradition with new hires in rural Alaska

Gen. Torrence Saxe, Alaska National Guard commander, distributes medallions on a visit to Nome. He’s looking for a few good men and women in rural hub cities. (Lt. Col. Candis Olmstead/U.S. Air National Guard )

NOME – Maj. Gen. Torrence Saxe, head of the Alaska National Guard, is on a mission to hire new Guard members in Nome and other rural communities. 

The Guard has history in the gold rush city. With an operational armory and aviation facility in town, Saxe says it makes sense to have more Guard members here.

“I would just ask for the community support in getting the word out that we do have openings,” he said on a recent visit. “We want to hire local. We want them to drill local, and they would only have to drill back in Anchorage a few times a year. The focus really is on Nome.”

To illustrate the Guard’s connection to rural hubs, Saxe brought with him service members who are from the Norton Sound region.

Tech Sgt. Blassi G. Shoogukwruk was born in Nome and spent many of his younger days in White Mountain. He says an experience he had as a child on the Fish River inspired his Guard career.

“When I was 4 years old, we were living in our cabin nine miles up the river from White Mountain and we had a massive flood, in 1985,” he recalled. “A HU-1 (Huey) helicopter came out and extracted us from our campsite because we were flooded. We had to spend a few hours on a piece of ice up there on the bank, to stay afloat until the Army Guard came and rescued us, then brought us back to White Mountain.”

Shoogukwruk says he originally joined a Guard rescue unit to reciprocate what he and his family had been given. He is now a C-17 crew chief in the 176th Wing’s Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.

Like many Western Alaskans, Shoogukwruk has several family members who have served in the Guard. The cabin where Shoogukwruk was rescued as a child was built by a grandfather who was a member of the Alaska Territorial Guard.

“My paternal grandfather and my great uncle were down in the Aleutians fighting during World War II. My maternal grandfather was guarding the coast out in Gambell,” he said. “My mom was actually part of the first cadre of female Alaska guardsmen in rural Alaska. She was part of a pilot program that they did in the early 1970s.”

Shoogukwruk says he has a sense of pride for continuing on his family’s military heritage, and he hopes more Alaska Natives will join him in putting on a uniform to become part of the National Guard.

According to Major General Saxe, he’s looking for 12 to 15 members to be part of the Guard’s rural operations in each of the six hubs, which includes Nome, Kotzebue, and Galena. All of the slots are funded. The Guard just needs Western Alaskans to fill them.