FAIRBANKS - Alaska Army National Guard personnel would handle any emergency use of missile defense testing sites in the state under plans being considered by the Defense Department.
Maj. Gen. Phil Oates, National Guard commander in Alaska, told the Washington bureau of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner that officials have not formally decided to make the test system capable of defending against incoming enemy missiles.
However, plans are being made with the assumption that the testing site at Fort Greely, just outside Delta Junction, will have emergency capability by 2004.
The Defense Department plan would assign 85 full-time Guard members to the effort for the next several years, according to reports earlier this week in a Washington, D.C., publication that follows Army news.
Maj. Mike Haller, spokesman for the Alaska Guard, said 67 of those positions are expected to be in Alaska.
Fifty-two jobs would go to military police, Haller said. The remaining 15 would prepare to launch the test missiles in any "emergency defensive operations."
Congress provided $6.7 million for the positions in the current fiscal year. Haller said the Guard has begun recruiting to fill the jobs.
The Defense Department plans call for the Guard to handle the missile defense duties through at least 2009, if the emergency function is approved.
"Right now it is nothing more than a test bed," Oates said Thursday. "There has been no decision, to my knowledge, to make it an operational deployment, but the plans are such to give the Department of Defense the ability to have some limited capability if the nation decides it needs that."
Oates said Guard personnel often are well suited to such technical work because they stay in one place long enough to build skills.
"The active duty generally has a lot more rotation than the National Guard," he said.
"The other thing is, these missions are performed in the homeland," he said of the missile defense operations. Using Guard members "allows the active-duty military to be more expeditionary and mobile."
The military does not plan to add more full-time Guard positions, so the new jobs would come at the expense of existing part-time positions. Oates said some of the part-time positions eliminated could be in Alaska.
However, he said, he wants to make sure part-time members are trained in the missile operations so they can back up the full-timers and move into those positions when they open. Some recent Guard unit transfers from the Northeast will give him the ability to cover "existing mission requirements" while also getting part-timers involved in missile defense work, he said.
Guard members, when working at the missile test sites, would be under the U.S. Army Space Command and Space and Missile Defense Command, Oates said.
The Alaska National Guard has about 3,700 members, roughly split between Air and Army forces.