Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Military service celebrated with glitz and glamor at annual banquet

A $600-a-table banquet at the Carlson Center on Saturday honored military members with glitz, glamor, a dinner of beef tenderloin, awards, speeches and live music by the band Avalanche.

Jim Mattis, who served as defense secretary under former President Donald Trump from 2017-2019, was the keynote speaker.

The banquet drew a U.S. Senator, a former Alaska governor, state legislators, local leaders, political candidates and some of Alaska’s top military brass among the 700 people in attendance.

“Good Lord willing, one day you too will be veterans,” Mattis told the members of the armed forces, who were hosted by civilians. “We are most indebted to the veterans who fell.”

The 71-year-old retired general was introduced by U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who declared herself a “fan girl” as she shared his accomplishments.

Mattis retired from the U. S. Marine Corps in 2013 as a four-star general after commanding forces across the globe, including the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq.

His appointment as defense secretary broke with tradition. Mattis received a waiver from Congress of the National Security Act of 1947 which requires a seven-year waiting period before retired military personnel can assume the role of secretary of defense.

Mattis resigned from the Trump Administration over policy differences and later became a target on Twitter of the one-term president.

He delivered a message of hope and gratitude but also referred to “this tumultuous century.” He talked about war, saying the U.S. military is too small in numbers. Mattis prepared his remarks on Memorial Day, he said. At one point, the retired general reflected on the state of civil discourse.

“We all live free in this land by our own choice,” he said. “It is our responsibility to show respect and genuine friendship to each other.”

Mattis called on people to “turn over to the next generation a republic in better shape than we received it.”

Mattis’ advice to young soldiers? “Know your history.”

Among the multiple military members honored was Mattis’ friend, retired Lt. Gen. Keith Stalder, who commanded the U.S. Marines in the Pacific and who received the Hometown Hero Award. Stalder lived in Fairbanks as a child and served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1972-2010.

In her speech, Murkowski mentioned her support for a new physical fitness center at Fort Wainwright.

“It’s my No. 1 project as a senior appropriator,” she said.

The senator stressed the need for the military to maintain physical readiness year round. The lack of an indoor track at the current facility is “inexcusable,” she said.

Murkowski is also working on other endeavors to improve quality of life for soldiers and their families, including getting them grocery delivery service from the commissary.

Other dignitaries at the banquet were former Gov. Bill Walker; state Sen. Robert Myers, R-North Pole; state Sen. Scott Kawasaki, D-Fairbanks; state Rep. Bart LeBon, R-Fairbanks; state Rep. Mike Prax, R-North Pole; Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Byrce Ward; and North Pole Mayor Mike Welch and his wife, Aino, a city councilwoman.

Former leaders in attendance included former Borough Mayor Luke Hopkins and former state Sens. Gary Wilken and Ralph Seekins.

U.S. Army Garrison Alaska Commander Nate Surrey was among the top military brass at the banquet along with Col. Michael Griesbaum and Lt. Col. Christopher Stutz.

The military appreciation banquet was one of multiple speaking engagements this year for Mattis, who serves or served on multiple boards of directors, including defense contractor General Dynamics and Theranos, a controversial company that dissolved in 2018 after claims of advanced medical technology didn’t pan out.

In March, Mattis spoke at the The Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach where he “urged Americans to put aside their political differences and present a united front to the world” with respect to the war in Ukraine, according to the Palm Beach Daily News.

Also in March, Mattis was a speaker at a lecture series at Washington State University in Pullman, his birthplace.

Washington State University characterized his remarks as emphasizing ”the importance of cooperation, compromise and the necessity of free speech as a means of ensuring that ideas can be debated in good faith.”

In April, Mattis spoke at the University of Maine on the “The Importance of American Leadership in a Dangerous World.”

The annual Military Appreciation Banquet, in its 52nd year, is hosted by the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce and resumed this year after a two-year hiatus due to Covid-19.

By:  Amanda Bohman
Source: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

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