ANCHORAGE - The Army presence in Alaska will grow this year with another 570 soldiers assigned to Fort Richardson, partially offsetting the economic effects of overseas deployment.
The additional soldiers are part of a new unit called the 3rd Maneuver Enhancement Brigade. The brigade will be staffed with military police, engineers and transportation officers who assist combat personnel.
About 70 percent of the soldiers based at Fort Richardson have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan and will not return to Anchorage until 2010.
Counting soldiers deployed from Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks, Alaska has lost in excess of 9,000 residents - more than the population of Sitka.
The mass deployments mean less money for businesses clustered near Fort Richardson.
Maurilio Velasco, who runs a Qdoba Mexican Grill in Muldoon, doesn't need to read local headlines to figure out there's been a big deployment, he said.
"We can tell every time," Velasco said. He estimates that Anchorage soldiers and airmen make up 70 to 80 percent of his clientele.
"It's not just about (losing) the money. It's the customers. You get to know their faces and their names," he said.
When they deploy, "It's almost like starting the business all over again," he said.
At Muldoon Pizza, owner Steve Schwarz said soldiers are a big part of his business.
"We feel the effect," he said.
When the soldiers are in town, they often appear in crowds of up to 20 and order plenty of the house beer.
The soldiers who remain in Anchorage sometimes say "hi" to Muldoon Pizza staff on behalf of their buddies overseas, Schwarz said.
The deployments also reflect the tremendous growth at the post. More soldiers have deployed from Fort Richardson than were stationed there in 2003. In the last six years, the population of active-duty soldiers has doubled, according to the Army.
The military remains a growth industry for Anchorage, said state economist Neal Fried.
Military construction is one of the few spots in Anchorage's otherwise lagging construction industry. Hundreds of millions of dollars for construction has been approved for the next three years.
This month, the post is opening a 35,000-square-foot medical clinic. Federal stimulus money will provide $30 million to repair roads and fix roofs at the fort.
"We are kind of bursting at the seams," said Col. Steve Apland, the Army deputy chief of staff for Alaska.
Nearly 8,000 family members of Fort Richardson soldiers remain in Anchorage and 8,700 in Fairbanks, according to the Army.
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