JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska – Covering more than 2,000 miles of Alaskan territory in five days, the National Guard’s top enlisted leader met with the Alaska Guardsmen at the front gate of the Arctic and forefront of the Defense Department’s Arctic Strategy.
Senior Enlisted Advisor Tony L. Whitehead, the SEA to the chief of the National Guard Bureau, visited Alaska Guard units in Anchorage, Clear Space Force Station, Eielson Air Force Base, and Fort Greely Feb. 1-5, 2023.
“I could not have picked a better time to visit our outstanding Guardsmen in the Last Frontier,” Whitehead said. “I am so impressed with their complex and consistent daily work to keep our homeland safe.”
Part of Whitehead’s role at the highest enlisted leadership level is to provide direction for the enlisted force and represent their interests. To be an influential voice at the higher National Guard level, he circulates to meet Guardsmen where they work and live.
The Alaska Guard’s senior enlisted leader said the winter weather could reach depths of 70 degrees below zero here with wind chill.
“However, our troops still must go out,” Command Sgt. Maj. Julie Small said. “They still must man the perimeter. When you think of Alaska, people often think we focus on Anchorage. We want to change that perspective by bringing SEA and our state’s top senior enlisted folks out to some of our remote locations and letting them know how proud we are of the work they do daily to keep our homeland secure.”
Starting in Anchorage at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, the SEA met with the ‘Arctic Warriors’ assigned to the 176th Wing of the Alaska Air National Guard, toured the 212th Rescue Squadron.
Since 1994, Alaska Rescue Coordination Center has tracked over 6,000 missions and nearly 3,000 lives saved by the 176th.
Whitehead also saw the route many 49th Missile Defense Battalion Soldiers travel to work on Fort Greely 100 miles southeast of Fairbanks in Alaska’s vast interior.
“By taking the long drive to Fort Greely, we were able to showcase the challenges our Guardsmen and their families face when they need to go to a doctor’s appointment or get everyday household supplies such as milk, eggs or dog food, due to the hour and a half hour trip they have to make,” Small said.
Alaska is known as the back door of America. It shares the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command’s Ground-based Midcourse Defense mission with other agencies and Guard units in Colorado and California.
Guardsmen in the 49th Battalion and the 100th Missile Defense Brigade in Colorado Springs work around the clock to defend the homeland from long-range ballistic missile threats, using defensive ground-based interceptors at Fort Greely and Vandenberg Space Force Base, California.
These Guardsmen are the only servicemembers charged with this mission. Military Police also protect Fort Greely’s missile defense complex, where 40 of the nation’s 44 GBIs are emplaced underground.
A unique benefit of serving in the National Guard is that it allows members to train close to home while maintaining civilian careers or pursuing education. However, for those wanting to learn a new mission, explore a new place, and make new connections with the other Guardsmen, there are opportunities to transfer interstate to Alaska and be a part of a presidentially directed homeland defense mission.
“We have started a tristate board that sits all the states command enlisted leaders and is an authorized mission of understanding,” Command Sgt. Maj. Jeremy Christenson, said 49th Missile Defense Battalion enlisted leader. “We have had Guardsmen come and want to stay longer.”
Whitehead met with Guardsmen at the 49th who had moved from Puerto Rico, Guam and other warmer locations to serve in the frozen snowscape of the Alaska Interior.
“It is a testament to their leadership,” said Small. “We have got great commanders and great senior enlisted leaders, and they care. You can see that when they take you around and show you what their Soldiers and Airmen do. When the troops get that interaction, feedback and recognition, how cool is that? They will remember this for the rest of their lives.”
As part of every field visit, Whitehead recognizes outstanding Soldiers and Airmen for their achievements in uniform.
“I have been in the Air Force for 23 years,” said Senior Master Sgt. Jeremy Maddamma, a pararescueman with the Alaska Air National Guard’s 212th Rescue Squadron.
“Reading the SEA’s bio and his accomplishments, it is like, ‘Wow’, you can keep going a lot farther and significantly impact our force. To be coined by somebody that continues to have an impact for as long as he has been doing it is a big deal.”