Even a hard rain could not keep Juneau from celebrating Alaska National Guard Day with a picnic at Sandy Beach Monday afternoon.
Monday marked the first annual observance of the state holiday, passed into law by the Alaska State Legislature with Gov. Sean Parnell’s signature earlier this year.
The picnic, sponsored by businesses including Alaska Marine Lines, Sealaska Corp., The Home Depot, Alaskan Brewing Co., Hecla Mining Co. and others, drew members of the National Guard both current and former, along with family members and elected officials.
“This event here was totally paid for by Juneau businesses,” said Duff Mitchell, a veteran of the Guard who served from 1978 to 2008 and helped organize the picnic. He pointed out both Guard members in uniforms and “old-timers” at the event, adding, “This celebration here is not just for the guys that recently served.”
One of the “old-timers” at Sandy Beach Monday was Assembly member Randy Wanamaker, a veteran of both the Alaska National Guard and the Washington National Guard who served during the Cuban missile crisis.
Wanamaker, who was listed as a sponsor of the picnic, said he had reached out to an extended network of friends and veterans, including people he served with during his time in the Guard from 1961 to 1967, ahead of the event.
“There’s something about the National Guard that draws people to it,” Wanamaker said. “It’s a community thing, and you’re serving with people that you know and work with and see all the time. It’s different from the regular Army. It always has been different. It’s a true community organization, in a sense.”
Benjamin Guritz, an Iraq War veteran who has served in the National Guard for 11 years, was among the uniformed soldiers at the picnic.
“The way I see it is that a lot of these guys are not full-time active National Guard guys, so for them to drop everything, you know, at the will of the governor or the federal government … it’s nice to recognize their sacrifice,” Guritz said. “Because their families, you know, their businesses … have to suffer at times during deployments.”
Parnell made a similar point in a brief speech.
“We’ve seen the sacrifices made. We’ve seen the months spent away on deployment. We’ve seen the nights where you’ve taken off in weather worse than this to lend your hand and your skill to rescuing Alaskans in need,” said Parnell. He thanked the Guard “for defending our liberty both here and overseas.”
After delivering his remarks, Parnell said he hopes to see continued support in Juneau for an event commemorating Alaska National Guard Day in future years.
“National Guard Day is certainly going to be an annual event where we honor our National Guard members, and my hope is that the Juneau community will choose to do that, in some way, every year. And I think this is a great start to that tradition,” Parnell said. “I think we need a chance to say ‘thank you’ to our Guard members and their families. … I’m thankful for them, I want them to know Alaska’s thankful for them.”
Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau, and Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, were also present at the picnic. Egan served in the Alaska National Guard from 1967 to 1974.
In addition to Wanamaker, Assembly member Jesse Kiehl showed up “to say ‘thank you,’” in his words, and Mayor Bruce Botelho read out a proclamation by the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly recognizing the holiday and expressing the Assembly’s “admiration and appreciation” for the Guard. Wanamaker and Kiehl flanked him as he read it.
Mayoral candidate and former Assembly member Merrill Sanford, himself a veteran, also attended the event with his wife Patti.
• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.