Defense Department News

Service Members Help Isolated Alaskan Village


Alaska National Guard soldiers from the 207th Engineer Utility Detachment have teamed up with service members from across the Defense Department to participate in an Innovative Readiness Training runway extension project here.

Army Pfc. Amanda Schmidling, a horizontal construction engineer with the Arizona National Guard’s 259th Engineer Platoon, drives local students around during their visit to an Innovative Readiness Training runway extension project at Old Harbor, Alaska, April 20, 2017. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Balinda O’Neal Dresel
Army Pfc. Amanda Schmidling, a horizontal construction engineer with the Arizona National Guard’s 259th Engineer Platoon, drives local students around during their visit to an Innovative Readiness Training runway extension project at Old Harbor, Alaska, April 20, 2017. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Balinda O’Neal Dresel
Army Pfc. Amanda Schmidling, a horizontal construction engineer with the Arizona National Guard’s 259th Engineer Platoon, drives local students around during their visit to an Innovative Readiness Training runway extension project at Old Harbor, Alaska, April 20, 2017. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Balinda O’Neal Dresel
Service members unite to provide assistance to isolated village in Alaska
Army Pfc. Amanda Schmidling, a horizontal construction engineer with the Arizona National Guard’s 259th Engineer Platoon, drives local students around during their visit to an Innovative Readiness Training runway extension project at Old Harbor, Alaska, April 20, 2017. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Balinda O’Neal Dresel
Photo By: Staff Sgt. Balinda O'Neal Dresel
VIRIN: 170420-Z-CA180-0038

Led by U.S. Marine Forces Reserve, this year’s project is part of a civil and joint military program to improve military readiness while simultaneously providing quality services to underserved communities throughout the United States. Participants include active and reserve component service members from the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps and Navy.

Now in its fifth year, IRT Old Harbor’s mission is to build a 2,700-foot extension of the airport runway to expand the community’s economy. From firefighting and medical personnel to engineering and transportation of goods needed to sustain the camp, the project requires a variety of occupational specialties.

“Out of the eight soldiers here, I have four heavy equipment operators, two mechanics, a cook and an electrician,” said Army Sgt. 1st Class Seth Gordon, 207th EUD readiness noncommissioned officer. “Our soldiers look forward to the opportunity to come out here every year to complete training while making a difference for the local community.”

Project Benefits Fishing Industry

Old Harbor, a small community on Kodiak Island, is highly dependent on the fishing industry. To support economic expansion, the Old Harbor Native Corporation, the City of Old Harbor and the Old Harbor Tribal Council have been working to establish infrastructure needed to start a fish processing operation in the community.

“The long-term plan is to put in a cannery and hydroelectric plant, and a longer runway will be needed to accommodate the larger aircraft,” explained Gordon, a three-year veteran of the Old Harbor IRT mission. “It’s a win-win situation; we get to travel to a remote location [and] operate out of a small camp much like a forward operating base and get training on equipment that is needed to complete this project.”

The Alaska guardsmen are familiar with heavy equipment that they operate and maintain in Anchorage, such as the D7 bulldozer and roller compactor, and they have the opportunity to work with motorized scrapers, excavators and rock trucks, equipment they do not have.

“We are getting trained on equipment we do not usually operate and can train other soldiers in the unit how to use them so we are more versatile in any environment that we go to,” Gordon said. “Our electrician is learning a lot about generators and powering the camps, and our cook is getting the opportunity to train for the first time since he completed his initial job training.”

Unique Training Environment

The unique training environment of an IRT provides participants opportunities to share best practices among the different military services, which is similar to the experience of multiservice collaboration during many deployment scenarios.

Project coordinator Staff Sgt. Randy Graftema of Marine Forces Reserve’s 6th Engineer Support Battalion said the best part of the training mission is getting everyone to work together as a team.

Students from Old Harbor School visit the Innovative Readiness Training site in Old Harbor, Alaska, April 20, 2017. The visit included a tour of the camp and worksite, along with rides in equipment being used to expand the existing runway. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Balinda O’Neal Dresel
Students from Old Harbor School visit the Innovative Readiness Training site in Old Harbor, Alaska, April 20, 2017. The visit included a tour of the camp and worksite, along with rides in equipment being used to expand the existing runway. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Balinda O’Neal Dresel
Students from Old Harbor School visit the Innovative Readiness Training site in Old Harbor, Alaska, April 20, 2017. The visit included a tour of the camp and worksite, along with rides in equipment being used to expand the existing runway. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Balinda O’Neal Dresel
Service members unite to provide assistance to isolated village in Alaska
Students from Old Harbor School visit the Innovative Readiness Training site in Old Harbor, Alaska, April 20, 2017. The visit included a tour of the camp and worksite, along with rides in equipment being used to expand the existing runway. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Balinda O’Neal Dresel
Photo By: Staff Sgt. Balinda O'Neal Dresel
VIRIN: 170420-Z-CA180-0007

“We see a lot of military members that do not get to work with the other branches very much,” he said, adding that the cohesion is an important part of training, because service members are deployed in joint environments.

In addition to moving material, this year’s mission also focuses on blasting, which requires a special skill set from quarry specialists.

“We have two blasts over on the west side [of the runway], and we will be blasting the north hill possibly, too,” said Graftema, who explained that the blasting depends on the amount of material needed for the runway. “[The Arizona National Guard] is going to be doing quarry ops. They will be taking rock and crushing it down to a finer grade for the top of the runway, and they will also be assisting with the drilling and blasting of the mountains.”

During a three-month tour to Old Harbor, the Arizona National Guard’s 259th Engineer Platoon is slated to provide about 90,000 tons of crushed material for the project.

Service members began this year’s IRT on April 3 and will continue rotating missions at varied lengths until Aug. 8, moving a projected 150,000 cubic yards of material. Future projects include another runway expansion and the construction of a road to the proposed hydroelectric plant.

Additional guardsmen from the 207th EUD are scheduled to return for another rotation June 12-26.