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Alaska Digest

Posted: Wednesday, June 27, 2007

U.S. Army Alaska gets new commander

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FORT RICHARDSON - Maj. Gen. Stephen Layfield on Tuesday assumed command of the U.S. Army Alaska at a ceremony marked by pomp and pageantry.

Marching to patriotic songs, including "Stars and Stripes Forever" and "It's a Grand Old Flag," Layfield took command of nearly 12,000 soldiers at a time when about 70 Alaska-based soldiers have been killed in the Middle East.

About 3,600 soldiers from the 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne) 25th Infantry Division remain on a 15-month deployment to Iraq.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Douglas Fraser, of the Alaskan Command, which oversees all military units in Alaska, including U.S. Army Alaska, said morale remains high despite the losses.

"It is always a struggle whenever we have comrades in arms in harm's way, and we're always concerned about them," he said.

He said that's why it's important to focus troops on joint training - including expanding the scope of the Pacific Alaska Range Complex near Eielson Air Force Base to become a joint tactical and strategic training ground.

"We will continue to build our joint opportunities and our ability to train and be ready to fight here in Alaska," he said. "Our intent is to ensure we train our forces here, in the states, before they go into battle."

Kenai fire victims to receive federal aid

ANCHORAGE - The federal government will pick up part of the costs of fighting the Caribou Hills fire on the Kenai Peninsula, officials said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has awarded the state a grant that allows it to recoup up to 75 percent of its emergency response costs, U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens said Tuesday.

The decision came after the acting assistant administrator of the agency determined that the Caribou Hills fire constitutes a major disaster, Stevens said.

The grant funds may be used for equipment, supplies, evacuations, shelter and firefighter health and safety needs.

Fire crews reported little activity Tuesday in the area about 15 miles east of Ninilchik, and firefighters battling the nearly 90-square-mile wildfire had it 43 percent contained, fire information officer Gary Lehnhausen said.

Firefighting efforts at the Caribou Hills fire have cost more than $1.8 million, Lehnhausen said. More than 500 personnel from across the country and Canada are battling the blaze.

The fire, which began June 19 when sparks from a grinder fell into dry grass, has destroyed 88 homes and cabins and 109 outbuildings so far.

Residents and cabin owners of the Ninilchik 40 Subdivision and the Caribou Hills Recreation Area were for the first time in almost a week able to return to their homes and cabins late Tuesday.

The road into an area will be open daily from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., conditions permitting.

Another fire burning in the Susitna Valley, north of Anchorage, remained at about 15 square miles and was minimally active Tuesday, officials said. That fire, burning around the Trapper Lake area, continues to threaten 44 structures, said Glen Holt, a fire spokesman. None has been lost, he said.

The fire was about 15 percent contained by Tuesday evening, but officials expect that number to grow in the coming days, Holt said.

Almost 250 personnel are fighting that fire, which was caused by lightning.



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