Alaska Digest

Posted: Wednesday, August 17, 2005

More Alaska troops depart for Iraq

ANCHORAGE - More than 600 soldiers from Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks and another 100 from Fort Richardson in Anchorage boarded aircraft for the first leg of a trip to Iraq.

The troops that left Monday are part of Alaska's 172nd Stryker Brigade, which is beginning a yearlong assignment.

Alaska's 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team will replace a Stryker team from Fort Lewis, Wash., which has been in Iraq a year and was due to start arriving home Tuesday, military officials said.

The Fort Lewis team has seen 32 of its 4,000 soldiers die in combat since entering Iraq in October, according to Fort Lewis spokesman Joe Hitt. The brigade worked in and around Mosul in northern Iraq, as well as along the Syrian border, helping Marines prevent insurgents from entering the country, he said.

About 3,800 soldiers are going to Iraq with the 172nd. It will be the biggest Army deployment out of Alaska since Vietnam.

Candlelight vigil tonight at Marine Park

JUNEAU - Mourners of the more than 1,800 American men and women who have died in Iraq will hold a candlelight vigil at 7:30 p.m. tonight at Marine Park.

The event is one of more than 1,276 vigils nationwide that have been organized by True Majority, Democracy for America and the political action Web site

Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a soldier who was killed in Iraq, helped spearhead the movement. She has been holding a vigil outside President Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas.

Fairbanks opens respite breathing center

FAIRBANKS - Heavy smoke from forest fires descended on the Fairbanks, prompting officials to open a respite breathing center at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital.

The air was so thick with particulate Monday that machinery run by the Fairbanks North Star Borough could not keep up.

Health officials advised residents to remain inside, keep doors and windows closed and avoid strenuous activity until the air begins to clear.

"We're in a hazardous situation," said Dave Tyler, borough director of emergency operations.

Anyone with health conditions, breathing problems or the need for a breath of fresh air was welcome to the hospital's respite center, officials said. They also suggested taking a breathing break at the borough's main library.

The National Weather Service forecast cooler, wetter weather Tuesday and today with some showers and a wind change.

"The winds are changing, but no matter what direction they blow from, there's going to be smoke around," said assistant forecaster Ron Stuvek said. "Until we get a 24- or 36-hour rain event, it's just not going to change at all."

Stuvek said the dense smoke came from the Beaver Creek Fire, which has hampered traffic on the Dalton Highway and burned more than 85,000 acres about 15 miles east of Livengood. A similar cloud blew into the area Saturday but did not produce the particulate levels measured Monday.

Northeast winds Monday night brought a sudden change in visibility and comfort. Tyler said particulate levels were at 300 micrograms per cubic meter at 7 p.m. and 976 by 8. They tilted the machine at 1,000 by 9 p.m.

"You can tell by the smell this is pretty fresh smoke," Tyler said

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