Alaska’s National Guard stands ready to help in the pandemic

The Alaska National Guard provides support to the state as requested in times of emergency, and we are currently assisting with response efforts due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the past month, we have supported Alaska’s Unified Command with Strategic National Stockpile distribution, airport passenger screening, warehouse operations and patient transfer planning, and our efforts will continue as long as we are needed.

The National Guard is a versatile military force with unique roles in which we serve our nation and state. Federally, we are a combat reserve force, while we also have a state mission as primary military responder during state emergencies upon request. We are augmented by the Alaska State Defense Force and Alaska Naval Militia, and as a team, we are called upon to fulfill missions to support our federal and state partners.

We have been preparing and planning to meet specific requests under a variety of possible COVID-19 scenarios for the past three months in order to provide support throughout Alaska as needed. Today, we have members serving with Food Bank of Alaska, Bean’s Café and the Department of Health and Social Services warehouse for supply distribution. Our personnel have also helped Anchorage and Fairbanks airports with administrative functions for inbound out-of-state passengers. We’ve positioned teams in many areas throughout the state, including several rural hubs, to better meet the evolving needs of rural communities in particular.

We have activated Guardsmen, Naval Militia and State Defense Force members in Anchorage, Bethel, Dutch Harbor, Fairbanks, Juneau, Ketchikan, Kodiak, Kotzebue, Nome and Utqiagvik; they are interacting daily with local communities as needs arise. We are in constant with local, state, tribal and federal leadership to best position our members based on constantly changing scenarios. Our personnel in these rural areas in particular provide critical feedback with “boots on the ground” and the person-to-person interaction.

In the coming weeks and months, should rural Alaska need large-scale assistance with either supply distribution or patient transport, we stand ready to assist. We have airplanes, helicopters, busses and personnel, ready for the call 24/7. Additionally, the State Emergency Operations Center, which falls within the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, coordinates our state response with Unified Command, and representatives from Alaska’s Departments of Public Safety, Health and Social Services, and others. Our number one goal is the safety and security of our fellow Alaskans, and our efforts are focused accordingly.

Speaking of having every possible tool and resource available to go forward, I’d like to thank our active duty counterparts in Alaskan Command, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army Alaska, and the U.S. Coast Guard. Our coordination in moving forward together has never been stronger. As a tangible example of “Team Alaska,” the governor and president have authorized a dual status command for one of our senior Army National Guard officers, Colonel Wayne Don. This is a first in state history and simply put, this gives a focal point for all military efforts, both state and federal, to be centered on what matters most—the protection and defense of Alaskans as we navigate through these tenuous times. Should the need arise, the might of the entire military in the state is now better poised to come to Alaska’s aid.

“This we’ll defend” is a motto we live by in the armed forces, and Alaska is our home. We are your neighbors, teachers, health care providers and friends. This epidemic is impacting all of us. COVID-19 is an enemy we can’t see, but we can certainly witness its destructive effects. We profoundly understand Alaskans are counting on us and we must deliver. We are prepared to help our fellow citizens and view it our solemn and welcome duty.

Maj. Gen. Torrence Saxe is commissioner for the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. He oversees the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, which manages the State Emergency Operations Center. He is also adjutant general for the Alaska National Guard, a force of nearly four thousand Alaskans.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email . Send submissions shorter than 200 words to or . Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries .

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