By 1st Lt. Balinda O’Neal
Alaska National Guard Public Affairs
Five soldiers with the Alaska Army National Guard returned here May 16 after assisting the Interior Alaska community of Manley Hot Springs for four days after the region received significant ice-breakup flooding from the Tanana River.
The Guardsmen focused on debris removal from a dozen private homes including removing flood damaged food, appliances and other household goods and items from flooded basements, deploying de-watering pumps to remove water from basements and cellars, transporting debris to the local landfill, and assisting community members with the restacking of firewood that had drifted away during the flood.
Spc. Kyle Johnson, a military policeman with the 297th Military Police Company, from Wasilla, said while there was a lot of muscle movement the experience was extremely rewarding.
“It’s one thing to wear our uniforms day-to-day for a full-time job or for drill weekend but there is another feeling when you put it on for its intended purpose – to show a sense of symbolism that there is something bigger out there that is here to help.”
Johnson, who responded to other state missions including the Shovel Creek Fire in 2019 and COVID-19 in 2021, said that the reward comes from being someone community members can lean and rely on.
While Johnson has now been activated by the state three times and served on a deployment to Poland with the AKNG, this was the first activation for Pvt. Frederica Rivers, a food service specialist with the 207th Engineer Utilities Detachment, from Scammon Bay.
“I just returned from basic and [advanced individual training] last October,” said Rivers, who attributed one of her reasons for joining the AKNG as the opportunity to give back to communities in Alaska. “It felt good being able to give back, and I will definitely volunteer to go again if I am needed.”
Rivers and the other task force members, all from the AKARNG’s 297th Regional Support Group, shared grief with the community as they trudged through debris and learned about memories from locals.
The team said they found historic documents at the local post office and trading post while removing two-feet of sand and mud using their hands and buckets,.
“The town can be traced back to 1902 – we dug through so much history,” said Johnson. “I’m just thankful for the opportunity to help my fellow Alaskans in their time of need.”
Johnson attributed the success of the mission to his National Guard training throughout the year that helps him to better respond to natural disasters and other emergencies when called.
“You can sometimes feel like you aren’t going to remember the training, but once it’s time to shine, the training comes back into full effect,” said Johnson, who enlisted in the AKARNG in 2018 after serving as a Navy diver on submarines for eight years. “Our leadership allows us to get hands on and ensures we are able to accomplish tasks, so when the time comes, we are able to take the training and turn it into practical use.”
Alaska Guardsmen simultaneously train for federal and state missions – working with local and state authorities to respond to and assist in the recovery from domestic disasters and emergencies.
While on the ground the task force took direction from the Manley Hot Spring’s division supervisor, Andrew Davies, an emergency management specialist with the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. It was his job to determine how they could best support the community located 157 miles west of Fairbanks.
“The team showed up with a great attitude ready to complete their mission,” said Davies, who worked with local leadership to identify and prioritize the taskings. “I heard numerous remarks from residents in Manley about how appreciative they were for the hard work put in by the team out there.”
The DHSE&M, which falls under the Alaska Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, manages the State Emergency Operations Center. During a domestic emergency or natural disaster, local authorities may request assistance via the SEOC. Through this process the SEOC can request the Alaska National Guard for support.