Alaska Command chief sees new units in state's military future
Alaska has a key role to play in support of national defense, and recent developments may enhance that, Lt. Gen. Norton Schwartz, commander of the Alaska Command, told state legislators in Juneau on Jan. 29.
Schwartz also urged lawmakers to be understanding of the need for future base closings even as they support continued operations of Alaska military installations. There are things Alaskans can do to strengthen arguments for maintaining bases here, he added.
An important new development enhancing the mission of Alaska’s military is the location of a C-17 airlift group in the state, Schwartz told a joint meeting of the House and Senate Military and Veterans’ Affairs Committees.
"One of the challenges we’ve had is that while we have a major asset with airspace for training, the costs of transportation in moving people and equipment here is a liability. Having a C-17 unit here, which can help efficiently move units from the Lower 48 and Pacific region here to train, will be a big help," the general said.
In addition, the U.S. Army’s consideration of moving a medium-force brigade to Alaska could mean, because of the C-17s also stationed here, an ability to quickly project force to virtually any region in the western Pacific, he said.
Also, if the current disposition of forces in the Asia and western Pacific regions are realigned, it’s likely that some of them will wind up being repositioned in Alaska, Schwartz said.
The general urged Alaskans to be supportive of the need to close redundant military installations, because the operations and maintenance costs take money away from the facilities, personnel and equipment that are retained.
"Ten years ago we had 2.1 million people in uniform. Today we have 1.4 million. We’re one-third smaller, yet we’ve had no significant decrease in our infrastructure. We have airbases, but no aircraft," Schwartz said.
In the next round of base closings, "Alaska cannot be immune. But we will make a compelling case for the mission of the bases that are here," he said.
One thing that would help Alaska in the next round of closings would be for training access and strategic importance to be given as much weight as cost in the formulas used in consideration of base closings, Schwartz said.
When the base closings process began 10 years ago the major focus was on cost of underutilized facilities. In future rounds there will likely be a broader perspective, and Alaskans could encourage training and strategic value be factored into the formula used by the base closings commission, he said.
Overall, Schwartz was upbeat about the military’s future in the state. There is about $1 billion annually in military payroll paid in the state. One in five Alaskans have some connection to the military, through a family member, friend or neighbor. In Anchorage the ratio is tighter, one in three, he said.
Training exercises also bring a lot into the economy. Cope Thunder, the air exercise near Fairbanks held four times a year, brings $2 million into the region, the general said.
Southeast Alaska communities also benefit. The maritime part of the annual Northern Edge exercise was based in Sitka last year and brought $500,000 into the community, Schwartz told legislators. Ketchikan will play that support role in this year’s Northern Edge, and will enjoy a similar economic benefit, he said.