SPEECH: Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce Military Appreciation Dinner

I am so honored to join with all of you this evening, in the presence of Governor Walker, our new Adjutant General Laurie Hummel, and the distinguished military leaders who join me here on the dais.

This evening we are also honored by the presence of Senator Dan Sullivan.         

Four months into his Senate career, Dan Sullivan is making his mark on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Senator Sullivan has been designated by his committee chairman, John McCain, as lead Senator for matters involving Asia and the Pacific. He recently returned from a whirlwind tour of US military operations in the North Pacific. The first of many visits to the region.

There is no doubt in my mind that Dan Sullivan’s expertise will return big dividends to Alaska and the nation in the years to come. Coupled with my seniority on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, Alaska could not be better positioned to influence national security issues.  Welcome, Senator Sullivan and thank you for your service.

Tonight we gather for the 47th consecutive year to carry on the legacy of Jim and Rosemary Messer. Serving in Alaska involves certain sacrifices. Our men and women in uniform, who come to Alaska from all corners of this nation, are geographically separated from their extended families by thousands of miles.

The Messers were determined to give our service members a family in Alaska by having them over for dinner at the Messer House. We carry on that tradition this evening as members of our community host those in uniform at their tables.

The Messers were entirely altruistic in their motives. But little did they know that their random acts were the first step in building a respected and enduring brand for our Golden Heart City.

Here in Alaska we take great pride in the suggestion that Alaskans treat our military families better… Better than they are treated anywhere else in the United States.  This is our brand. We grow the brand every year with your acts of support and kindness. We defend that brand with great conviction. And for good reason.  The military accounts for one of the three legs of Alaska’s economy.

Interior Alaska is proud to host our nation’s ground based missile defenses. The batteries of interceptors at Fort Greely protect our entire nation from a potential nuclear attack. We host strategically essential radars at Clear Air Force Station down the Parks Highway.

Earlier this year we turned out in large numbers to defend the Stryker Brigade at Fort Wainwright. Tonight I have very exciting news to share with you. While the Army has not made an announcement regarding the future of the Stryker Brigade, it is now official that we will be getting 24 new Apache combat helicopters. The first 17 to 18 will arrive this September and the Apache unit will grow to a size of 24 not later than September 2016.

While the 6-17 Cavalry will be deactivated we will be standing up a new flag -- the 1st Attack Reconnaissance Battalion -- consisting of 408 soldiers and about 800 dependents.

Read that however you choose to -- but the tea leaves tell me that the Army isn’t sending 24 new helicopters to Fort Wainwright only to eliminate the Stryker Brigade. This is very, very good news for the Army’s future in Interior Alaska.

But enough about the Army, let’s talk about the Air Force. Tonight we celebrate the fruits of a decade of effort to secure a future for Eielson Air Force Base.

During the 2005 BRAC round and again in 2012, we were forced to fight for the future of Eielson Air Force Base. On both occasions this community rose to the challenge.

We demonstrated to the Air Force that Alaska remains the most strategic place on the planet when it comes to projecting power abroad. Our training grounds are world class and unsurpassed. But it is our people that really make the difference.

President Kennedy noted that victory has a thousand fathers and mothers. Everyone in this room played a role in helping the Air Force to understand the advantages of growing its presence in Interior Alaska.

We are all grateful that the Air Force agrees with our community’s assessment.  For the first time since the 2005 BRAC round we have a pathway for Eielson’s future. And, General Robinson, we embrace that future with great enthusiasm.

It is my honor this evening to introduce our special guest, General Lori Robinson, Commander of Pacific Air Forces.  It is General Robinson’s responsibility to ensure access for America’s airpower to this most important region. General Robinson is aided in this mission by 46,000 airmen under her command in in Japan, South Korea, Guam, Hawaii and yes – Alaska.

It is no secret that our military forces are in the midst of a strategic rebalance to Asia and the Pacific. With an area of responsibility that is said to stretch from Hollywood to Bollywood, General Robinson occupies what is possibly the single most strategic job in the Air Force.

She is the first female four star commander of combat forces. I cannot imagine a more exceptional individual to undertake this essential role.  Please extend a warm Golden Heart welcome to our special guest, General Lori Robinson.