ELMENDORF AIR FORCE BASE - Nearly a fourth of the military forces based in Alaska are currently on missions outside the state, but more than enough remain to deal with a major disaster here, Alaska's top military official said Thursday.
About 5,200 active duty and reserve forces are serving elsewhere, particularly in Iraq, leaving another 16,000 personnel to respond to a large-scale emergency in Alaska such as a catastrophic earthquake, said Lt. Gen. Howie Chandler, head of the Alaskan Command.
"I don't think we'll ever see too many forces and not enough missions here," Chandler said in a meeting with reporters at Elmendorf Air Force Base.
Military officials here also would have the option of asking for additional forces from outside Alaska if needed in extreme cases, Chandler said.
Most of the departed forces are from the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team. About 3,800 brigade members recently left for duty in Iraq in the largest deployment from Alaska since the Vietnam War.
About 300 Alaska National Guard personnel also are seeing action in the Middle East, with another 70 flying out Wednesday to Fort Dix, N.J., for final training before they ship out to Iraq by the end of the year, said Guard spokeswoman Kalei Brooks.
A couple dozen Guard members also have been sent out for hurricane relief efforts in the Gulf Coast.
"No doubt we're asking a lot of our Guard and reserves," Chandler said. "No doubt we're asking a lot of our active forces."
Next year, as many as 800 more could be deployed, but Alaska won't be left without adequate protection, Chandler said.
Officials in the Gulf Coast have been criticized for leaving hard hit states Louisiana and Mississippi with a shortage of Guard members, who were in Iraq when Hurricane Katrina hit land, leaving a path of death and destruction in its wake.
Chandler made his comments during farewell meeting with reporters. He is preparing to leave the state to take up his new post at the Pentagon as deputy chief of staff for Air Force operations.
Chandler said he expects to leave in October pending the confirmation of Air Force Maj. Gen. Douglas Fraser, who was nominated by President Bush to take over as head of the Alaskan Command.
Fraser currently is director of air and space operations at the Air Force Space Command at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado. He also is former commander of the 3rd Wing at Elmendorf.
"He knows his way around Alaska," Chandler said.