Alaska rural guard due to ship out this summer

Reserves based in Juneau may be called for duty overseas

Posted: Monday, April 03, 2006

ANCHORAGE - America's intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan will hit home to Southwest and Western Alaska this summer.

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Dozens of members of the Alaska Army National Guard from remote villages are scheduled to leave their homes and families for yearlong tours.

The soldiers follow about 300 other Army Guard members who have shipped out over the last year for duty. The wartime call-ups are the first for the Guard since World War II. The summer call-up will be the largest in its history, with an estimated 670 people statewide.

Previous call-ups have largely centered on Alaska's cities and road-system towns.

In Kongiganak, a Yup'ik village of 167 about 80 miles southwest of Bethel, Guard families are trying to prepare.

"We had a big village meeting," said longtime resident Eric Phillip. "Six boys are going out from this small village."

Phillip, who has a wife and two sons under age 6, will leave for the war. He said he asked the village to help provide meat and fish for his family, since he'll miss several important hunting seasons.

"That's how we live. Whenever I catch walrus or seal I cut it up and serve it to the village," he said. "So hopefully that will happen."

Phillip said his bigger concern is who will help his wife when household problems arise.

Karen Phillip said Guard officials have encouraged families to "create our own networks" of support in the villages. She said she was initially offended by how simple they made that sound, but has since come to appreciate that the Guard is at least trying to reach out to families. It has not always been that way with the military, she said.

"So now there's an 800 number I can call to help solve my problems," Phillip said.

"She doesn't want me to go at all," said her husband. "She might move to Bethel (while I'm away)."

Guard officials are still preparing their final roster for the deployment so a list of all the villages affected is not available. Two activated companies with about 120 people each are based in Bethel and Nome and have many village members, said Guard spokesman Maj. Mike Haller.

The other companies are based in Juneau and Anchorage, he said. It's been six decades since any of the units were called up for even an out-of-state assignment.

"The gravity of this call-up is significant," Haller said. "It's huge. ... It's important for community members and community leaders to step up and support their Guard members and their families."

About 600 soldiers will go to Iraq and the other 70 to Afghanistan. The troops are to start shipping out in July for three months of training at Camp Shelby, Miss., and then head overseas for a year, Haller said.

Larry Arnariak, 20, of Togiak, said he learned the news at a training session in February. Arnariak said he just joined the Guard last year after being inspired by the drills he saw at the local armory as a kid.

Arnariak said he had a hard time with the heat at basic training in Georgia and expects the situation to be even worse overseas. He said 70 degrees is considered a heat wave in his village.

Eric Phillip said he joined the Guard in 1985 for the adventure, extra income and because there weren't many choices in his village. He had planned to quit when his 20 years were up.

"But we were being called, so that 20 years is going to be a little over 20 years," he said.

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