ANCHORAGE - Alaska's military will be shouldering a bigger role in military actions around the world, according to the state's top military officer.
Alaskan Command Lt. Gen. Howie Chandler said more will be asked of Air Force and Army forces based in Alaska, including National Guard units with citizen soldiers on leave from regular jobs.
The role will grow as a new infantry brigade using the new eight-wheeled Stryker vehicles ramps up over the next year at Fort Richardson and Fort Wainwright, Chandler said. He also pointed to the new global missile defense site under construction at Fort Greely, the expected arrival of eight mammoth C-17 cargo aircraft in 2007, and expanded patrols for the U.S. Coast Guard.
"Today more than ever the military in Alaska is involved in the global war on terrorism to a degree that we probably haven't seen in the past," he said Thursday, while talking to journalists at Alaskan Command headquarters on Elmendorf Air Force Base.
One aspect will be longer deployments and greater commitment from some of Alaska's 3,700 guardsmen and reservists.
"I think we all understand that we're asking them to do more than we've ever asked them to do," he said. "It's tough on guardsmen, it's tough on their families, it's tough on their employers that signed up to support the guards and reserve.
"What it shows us is they're a huge part of the total force. We rely a great deal on their capabilities. I would add, too, that the active force is stretched as well. I don't think anybody is getting a break."
Chandler, a three-star general and fighter pilot who often flies F-15E jets in weekly training runs, has completed his first year as the state's top commander of military forces and the Alaskan North American Aerospace Defense Command.
Chandler said the military has as much as $1 billion in construction under way throughout Alaska for range upgrades, new facilities and equipment. The Alaskan Command also has been working with local and state government planners on expansions of the Port of Anchorage and the proposed Knik Arm Crossing.
Driving much work is an expanding role for Alaska in U.S. defense.
Chandler said missions now under way range from about 25 civil engineers from Elmendorf's 611th Air Support Group helping repair Baghdad International Airport, to 800 soldiers from Fort Richardson's 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment in Afghanistan.
In time, hundreds of Alaska's citizen soldiers will be joining them, or have already, according to National Guard officials.
"They're all traditional National Guardsmen - two days a month, two weeks a year - and they're all being called up," said Army National Guard Sgt. Ken Denny, in an interview later in the day. "These are the meat cutters and the people that sell tickets in the movie theater. These are the folks that work at their regular jobs."
About 100 pararescuers and support staff from the 210th Rescue Squadron of the Alaska Air National Guard have been in Afghanistan since June, Denny said. Another 73 soldiers from the 207th Aviation group are now in Georgia and will soon fly to Kosovo to provide air support for peacekeeping forces.
On Saturday, three Alaska pilots from 207th Aviation left for Iraq to fly C-23 cargo planes in support of coalition forces. Another 130 to 150 Alaskans will be called to active duty in the 297th Infantry next year, then spend up to a year on patrol in Afghanistan.
"They're not going for just summer camp," Denny said. "This is the real deal."
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