Three Humvees stormed over the Douglas Bridge Monday evening, combat helmets poking from gun turrets on top. Soldiers in camouflage uniforms carrying M16’s and packsacks walked the Juneau streets on Tuesday.
It wasn’t a government imposed action to speed up the Legislature, as one caller to the Empire jokingly thought, nor bear control as another claimed with a laugh. It was part of the Alaska National Guard’s Operation Overwatch, a response exercise in case a natural disaster befalls the Capital City.
“We are the National Guard unit you would see out at UAS,” Juneau resident and Staff Sgt. James Zuelow said, referring to the 297th Military Police Company and their armory cache that shares a joint space facility at the University of Alaska Southeast. “What we are doing now is essentially collecting data on important facilities around the state.”
The idea behind the data collection is if the National Guard were called in for a natural disaster, or any other event that would require their presence, and the Juneau Guard soldiers were not in the area, a detailed collection of strip maps and grid locations would exist in a data base.
Data such as road maps leading to and from various port facilities or office buildings in town, location of the Capitol and federal buildings, and points of reference for rendezvous or storage locations.
“If soldiers from Anchorage who had never been to Juneau showed up, they would be able to operate effectively here in Juneau,” Zuelow said.
The exercise being conducted in Juneau this week is also being conducted simultaneously in various locations throughout the state, including Ketchikan and Valdez where members of the 297th are collecting data.
Zuelow, Nani Toeteu, and Gerardo Lopez are the only local soldiers in the exercise here. Toeteu just finished advanced training and hopes to make a career of the military.
“It is kind of weird but I know a lot of people here and they come up and say ‘Hi,’” Toeteu said. “It’s pretty good, we would probably look less intimidating without our weapons.”
Lopez also hopes to find a career.
“It is nice to be back after training,” Lopez said. “You learn respect and discipline.”
Roughly 20 soldiers new to Southeast are helping collect data in a grid pattern made by walking up, down, and across the downtown area.
The result is an information-gathering exercise that is also a physical training tool.
“We are not doing anything tactical,” Zuelow said. “You won’t see us doing security. We do have our weapons with us just because that is how we train. We are trying to be as low key as we can but obviously we attract attention.”
Zuelow stated they were studying the shipping docks to see if major Navy vessels could dock here and if the Guard could offload supplies. They also analyzed truck access to the cruise docks, the ferry terminal, Northland Services and airport capabilities.
“It’s a long term plan,” Zuelow said. “It won’t be accomplished in a week but we will gather lots of information. It is actually more of a mission than an exercise.”
The mission is part of the Guard’s annual two-week training and is scheduled to go through the week and encompass the Juneau area. The prior week the 297th was at the U.S. anti-missile system at Fort Greely, 100 miles south of Fairbanks.
The Alaska National Guard company headquarters is in Wasilla. A detachment of 30 soldiers is based in Juneau. The Guard consists of more than 2,000 Army guardsmen and 2300 Air guardsmen.
If concerned citizens have questions they can call the Juneau National Guard Office at 523-4000.
• Contact reporter Klas Stolpe at 523-2263 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.