National Guard Beefs Up Presence With Director’s Visit and New Unit

by Lakeidra Chavis on January 19, 2016

Bravo Company landing in Bethel on Thursday. (Photo by Dean Swope / KYUK.)

Bravo Company landing in Bethel on Thursday. (Photo by Dean Swope / KYUK.)

A new National Guard unit has been established in Bethel days after the Director of the National Guard visited the community and a nearby village last week.

It was the third time national leaders visited the community in the past half-year but the first time in recent that the Director of the National Guard, Timothy Kadavy, was among them.

Last Tuesday Kadavy visited Bethel and the nearby village of Napaskiak. He says the issues the guard faces in the state can be summed up in three obstacles.

“Time, distance and weather seem to be the biggest issues in Alaska,” Kadavy said. “We’re here to ensure that we provide at the national level the right capacity [and] capability in every state and that includes Alaska.”

The goal of the trip was to connect the Guard’s national overseers to the needs and constraints of rural Alaska communities. It’s important, officials said, because they set the guidelines for everyone else.

“We think that by educating the folks who are the gatekeepers,” Kadavy said, “that they will start to understand that perhaps we need to look at things a little big more broadly.”

Alaska Adjunct General Laurel Hummel made the day-trip as well. She says more streamlined guidelines for Guard services in recent years has not included some of the realities that may prevent people in rural communities from signing up.

There’s a litany of other potentially restricting regulations. Federal travel rules don’t allow the guard to pay for a soldier’s travel from their home to their drill duty. For soldiers coming from far away villages, this rule might make relocated for training or work more difficult. Some rural communities might also not have complete medical records, especially when compared to hospitals in major cities. This list goes on.

“For instance we may need to lessen the standards for hearing. There are people in rural areas that have hearing losses because of being around engines all the time.”

Hummel says it was important for officials in Washington to see first hand some of the challenges Alaska faces.

“There’s a really rich history of military service in this area,” Hummel said, “and also a history of service in the Alaska National Guard in the community armories, and that’s dwindled over time.”

The Alaska Territorial Guard helped fight during the Vietnam War. The all-volunteer force’s primary goal was to assist with the Alaska National Guard.

To help the Guard’s initiative, Gov. Bill Walker included an item for the guard in his proposed budget. The over $1 million item aims enhance the National Guard is rural areas.

It’s an effort that Hummel acknowledges won’t be overnight.

“While we are trying to set conditions for increase in the National Guard, we know that this is going to take time,” she said.

Kadavy said he will remember at least one thing from his trip to Bethel and Napaskiak– driving on the river.

“I think riding around up and down the frozen river was a once in a lifetime thing for me, and I truly enjoyed it,” Kadavy said, adding that it was probably his last time traveling on a river as well.

Later in the week, the Guard announced a new unit in Bethel, the Second Signal Detachment. Officials say the unit will “provide satellite communications from Bethel to the Joint Operations Center on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson,” the military base in Anchorage.

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