BETHEL, ALASKA –
A host of Alaska National Guardsmen and members of the Alaska Department of Military and Veterans Affairs and Alaska State Defense Force traveled to Bethel during its 2023 Cama-i Dance Festival, March 24-26, for celebration, community outreach and training.
Guard and ASDF recruiters took the opportunity to meet and speak with community members during Cama-i and talk about the many opportunities available.
Staff Sgt. Edward Jones, the full-time Army National Guard recruiter in Bethel said participating in events like Cama-i are great ways to meet the community and build lasting relationships.
“Cama-i brings so many communities together to celebrate the rich Native Alaskan culture,” said Jones. “It is a great opportunity to learn about the rich native heritage of the region, meet a variety of community members, and talk about opportunities within the National Guard.”
More than 15 members of the Alaska State Defense Force, a component of the Alaska Organized Militia, also joined the cultural celebration after completing key training on emergency water purification systems which can be deployed across the state during domestic emergencies.
On Friday, March 24, an Alaska Air National Guard HC-130J Combat King II and Army National Guard C-12 Huron flew to Bethel with more than 50 members of the Alaska Air and Army National Guard and DMVA to celebrate the promotion of Maj. Gen. Torrence Saxe, adjutant general and DMVA commissioner, to the state rank of Lt. Gen. during a ceremony held at the Bethel Army National Guard armory.
Governor Mike Dunleavy and retired Maj. Robert Hoffman presided over the ceremony in front of more than 100 guardsmen, ASDF and Bethel community members to include senior leadership from the Association of Village Council Presidents.
Hoffman a retired member of the Army National Guard pinned on the general’s third star along with Saxe’s wife, Clara Saxe, also an Army veteran.
One of the highlights of the ceremony was a narration of the Soldier’s Creed. Local linguist, Monica Shelden and Saxe teamed up to read the creed together – Shelden in Yupik, Saxe in English.
After the ceremony, Saxe said the promotion reflects the accomplishments and commitment of what he frequently refers to as Team Alaska, which is comprised of the Guard, Naval Militia, ASDF, employees of the DMVA and multiple state and federal agencies who routinely work and train together to serve Alaskans.
“I wanted to come out here. I wanted to bring people with me. It really felt like a team effort today,” said Saxe following the ceremony. “I want to get more soldiers out in Bethel. That’s how you do it is you connect with the community, and I hope that happened today.”
On Saturday at the Bethel Regional High School, the Cama-i festival organizers recognized Saxe and about 20 members of the Alaska National Guard and ASDF who attended the festival.
Standing on stage with two ranks of servicemembers, Saxe addressed the festival audience of more than 700 and talked about the importance of community relationships. He also emphasized the importance of having a robust National Guard force in Western Alaska both for homeland security and for domestic emergencies like Typhoon Merbok or a major earthquake.
“We have to prepare for every eventuality,” he said. “If there was ever a threat to Western Alaska, we’d need to have a force here first. During the typhoon response, during any type of earthquake response, the first responders are the people who live there.”
For Saxe, that means stepping up the recruiting effort and making the National Guard armories more accessible to their respective communities.
“I want more troops in Bethel. This is a very, very important spot for the entire state and I’d like to have more people here,” he said. “I would like the armories to go back to the way they used to be, a place where people could gather. They should be a place where people come in and they feel welcome.”
Saxe said he intends to increase Guard-related training and activity across the region. Such activity includes continuing to have a hoist-capable UH-60 helicopter stationed in Bethel, particularly to assist during freeze up and break up seasons.
He also wants more Guardsmen to do their regular training in Western Alaska and for the Guard to facilitate regular Commissary runs into the region, bringing essential goods to veterans living in rural areas who don’t have regular access to the Commissary benefit.
“We exist to serve you. We want to be a part of [your] community. We want to build those relationships,” he said. “We are part of you. You are part of us. That is Team Alaska.”