Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Former defense secretary Mattis says Alaska has growing role in national defense

Former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said that Alaska’s role in military defense is growing as the Arctic warms and the Pacific becomes the “primary theater in a tumultuous century.”

“Geography is reality, and Alaska’s reality is that it will play a key role if we’re to hang on to the promise of democracy in this world,” Mattis, a retired U.S. Marine Corps four-star general, said in a speech before the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce. (Read his speech here.)

Mattis was the keynote speaker and guest of U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski at the 2022 Military Appreciation Banquet June 11. The annual banquet, sponsored by Alaska businesses, recognizes and celebrates service members and their families in Interior Alaska.

Department of Defense forces across Alaska number more than 22,000 active military personnel, as well as nearly 5,000 guardsmen and reservists. The figures do not include tens of thousands of military dependents — the spouses and children of service members.

As the senior senator representing Alaska, Murkowski had the role of inviting a guest of honor to serve as keynote speaker at the Fairbanks banquet, organized by the chamber. The banquet has taken place yearly for more than a half-century.

“It was a true privilege to have Secretary Mattis join us and speak directly to so many active-duty service members here in the Interior region,” Murkowski said. “I was honored to welcome him back to Alaska — and particularly to Fairbanks, a community that cares so deeply for military members and their families.”

She noted that more than 700 people attended the banquet. “You could have heard a pin drop the entire time Gen. Mattis spoke,” she said. “Secretary Mattis is a man of principle, a leader, a patriot, and a true American hero.”

“We are grateful he made the trip to spend some time with us and share such words of leadership.”

The address by Mattis recognized Alaska military families, as well as all American troops who’ve died in military service. “The honor roll of veterans and their families’ devotion is why we meet this evening in safety and in freedom in the great state of Alaska,” Mattis said.

His speech to chamber guests also highlighted Alaska’s strategic importance in national defense and in protecting democracy against adversaries

Mattis noted the role of the Army’s 11th Airborne Division and the reflagged 1st and 2nd Brigade Combat Teams.

U.S. Army Alaska recently was renamed the 11th Airborne Division to build a more cohesive team around a shared mission.The new 11th Airborne Division is the U.S. Army’s second paratrooper division.

The 1st Brigade Combat Team at Fort Wainwright and the 4th Brigade Combat Team at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage were re-designated the 1st and 2nd Brigade Combat Teams.

Mattis told the audience in Fairbanks that the extreme-weather training and Arctic mission of the soldiers “send an unmistakable message about America’s awesome determination to defend ourselves” and further defines the U.S. as a Pacific power in the Arctic region.

He also noted the challenges of the current global geopolitical situation and referenced the “barbarity we see in the Russian assaults on the Ukrainian people.”

His appearance in Fairbanks took place as communities in the Interior and across Alaska have welcomed Ukranians fleeing Russia’s war.

Refugee Assistance and Immigration Services, a program of Catholic Social Services, estimated last week that 150 Ukranians have arrived recently in Alaska.

The agency projects that about 500 Ukrainians will resettle in Alaska in 2022.

“Fleeing the only home you’ve ever known to an unfamiliar land half a world away is scary and overwhelming. Together, we can provide a network of services so that new arrivals find the support they need,” said Robin Dempsey, executive director at Catholic Social Services.

Recent federal legislation enables the agency to provide resettlement assistance in Alaska to the new arrivals from Ukraine.

By:  Linda F. Hersey
Source: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner