Although his camouflaged uniform and the maps and computers that fill his Juneau office suggest the seriousness of his job, Maj. Fred Gamble of the Alaska Army National Guard has a relaxed, cheerful air about him.
"My mother always told me to smile, or people will think I'm up to something," he said, a grin stretched across his face.
What he's up to is managing the 3rd Battalion of the Alaska Army National Guard. He supervises 22 full-time soldiers in the battalion, and organizes the training of 320 traditional civilian guard soldiers who drill for one weekend a month.
Gamble also acts as the administrative assistant for Lt. Col. Tim Koeneman, the 3rd Battalion commander. Koeneman is a traditional National Guardsman, meaning he serves one weekend a month and two weeks a year. As Koeneman's full-time assistant, Gamble handles the day-to-day duties of the commander.
"I'm destined to run the whole state," Gamble said, still smiling, as he pointed out that Alaska stretches from Frederick Sound in Southeast to Gambell on St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea.
The fact that his first name is on one end of the state map and his last name, though spelled differently, is on the other, is only fodder for a laugh, he said.
Born in Chicago in 1970, Gambell moved to Alaska at the age of 3 and said he's about as Alaskan as one can get. He played football for Dimond High School in Anchorage and made all-conference and all-state teams, but gave up dreams of playing in the National Football League when he graduated from high school weighing just 130 pounds.
"I just didn't have the booty to go pro," he said. Instead, he went to military school.
He spent two years at the New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell, ("I'm actually an alien," he joked about the town's legend), and two years at Southwest Texas State in San Marcos, where he earned bachelor's degrees in physical education and business. The degrees have served him well as he fulfills his passion for military service.
"I'm doing exactly what God put me on the planet to do," Gamble said, this time with a serious tone.
Gamble looks young for his 32 years - he was recently asked for proof that he is over 18 while picking up a prescription for his wife - but he is briskly climbing the National Guard hierarchy.
The Alaska Army National Guard's 3rd Battalion is an infantry scout battalion that stretches from Southeast Alaska along the Gulf of Alaska and includes Anchorage. It is the largest in personnel of the five battalions in Alaska.
Most Alaska National Guard operations - such as operation Noble Eagle, which places soldiers in airport security positions - occur in Alaska. The unlikelihood that Gamble would be called to duty outside of the state is one of the reasons he chose the National Guard over the regular Army.
"I have no desire to go gallivanting around all over the place, unless I need to open a can of whoop-butt," he said.
Alaska, the home of Gamble's mother, father and older brother, will remain his home and that of his wife and children, if Gamble has his way.
He said fortune is the key to his success.
"It's all about timing," he said. "The right place at the right time. Anyone can go to military school and make rank like I've done - as long as they're good-looking and smart."
Maj. Matthew Magsino, who held Gamble's position for the four years before Gamble assumed it last summer, said there's more to the job than luck.
"Yes, to a certain degree Fred's being selected was a matter of it being a logical solution," Magsino said. "But it is not just luck. He's a very talented young man and this organization thinks very highly of him."
Phillip Oates, adjutant general for the Alaska National Guard, has worked with Gamble for four years. He said Gamble has traits - energy and initiative - that can't be taught.
"You combine that with intelligence and terrific skills as a leader and a manager and you've got someone who will be a terrific leader for this state," Oates said.
Though defending the U.S. Constitution is a job requirement for military service, Gamble's support of America and love of Alaska are evident.
"It's all about equality for everybody," he said. "What a great thing."
He tells a story of a time when a drunken person started insulting the National Guard in a Haines bar.
"The thing is," Gamble said, "we would go to war and take a bullet for that person, for him to have the right to say it again tomorrow."
Equal to his love of the United States is Gamble's love of his family. He is happy his position allows him to spend time with his wife, Toni, and their three children, Christopher, 5, DeShayla, 2, and Alexa, 5 months.
Gamble goes to plays with his family, watches baseball games, attends church, and hopes his kids grow up to be just like him.
"They don't have to be in the military," he said. "I just want them to be really good at whatever they want to be."
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