An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

NEWS | Aug. 10, 2023

Navy celebrates Sol Atkinson for legacy of service to country, Alaskan veterans, community

By Balinda O'Neal Alaska National Guard

The U.S. Navy announced its profound tribute to the legacy of Alaska Native Solomon ‘Sol’ Atkinson, a steadfast servant of both his nation and native community of Metlakatla, Aug. 7.

The USNS Solomon Atkinson, a future Navajo-class Towing, Salvage, and Rescue (T-ATS) ship, is a testament to a life of service.

“The Navy couldn’t have picked a better person to name a ship after. It brings tears to my eyes thinking that they are going to honor him this way,” said Verdie Bowen, the director of the Alaska Office of Veterans Affairs. “If you want a representation for Alaska on a ship, it’s Sol.”
Enlisting in the Navy in 1952, Atkinson etched his name in history as the first Alaska Native to join the underwater demolition teams, the precursor to the renowned Sea-Air-Land Teams. As the SEAL Teams emerged in 1962, Atkinson's commitment led him to become one of the inaugural Navy SEALs and a plank owner, a foundational member, of SEAL Team 1.
Across continents and conflicts, Atkinson's service was defined by his dedication to safeguarding freedom. He deployed to Korea and served three tours in Vietnam, where he earned the Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his courage and sacrifice.
Bowen said that his expertise extended beyond the battlefield as he trained 48 astronauts, including Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Jim Lovell, in underwater weightless simulations. As a SEAL instructor he taught new generations of recruits.
Completing 22 years of active naval service, Atkinson retired in 1973 as a Chief Warrant Officer 4. However, his commitment to his fellow veterans and community remained undiminished.

Bowen said that Atkinson was instrumental in founding the Metlakatla Veterans Association in the early 90s, igniting his role as a steadfast advocate for his fellow servicemen and women. After establishing the first veteran’s organization on Annette Island, he was elected as the mayor of Metlakatla.

In 2009, he attended the inaugural Tribal Veterans Representative Class in Ketchikan, officially taking on the responsibilities of advocating and assisting veterans in his community as well as monitoring federal and state veterans’ benefits offered to those who served. His duties ensured community leaders, tribal governments, veterans, and their families were educated about veterans’ benefits.
“He broke down barriers and bridged qualified individuals to benefits they once thought unattainable and took care of other people before himself,” said Bowen, affirming that he helped other veterans get their VA benefits before he even applied for them. “Every day was Veterans Day in Sol’s eyes.”
Bowen said that Atkinson's humility, resilience, and compassion were his hallmark traits and led to his recognition as the Alaska Governor’s Veterans Advocacy Award recipient in 2018 – a unanimous selection by members of the Alaska Veterans Advisory Council.

“He was just a gigantic person and I’m not talking about him being six foot something,” said Bowen, who grew up in southeast Alaska and knew Atkinson since he was a kid. “He was a great storyteller and would share tall tales of shipwrecks, gold, and treasure. He was the one that made me interested in diving and I couldn’t even swim.”  
In the spring of 2019, his contributions were displayed as part of the Avenue of Heroes Program by the City of Coronado, California, a tribute that underscores his enduring impact.
Atkinson died in July 2019, leaving a legacy that resonates through his family, community, and those who served alongside him. Bowen said that Navy SEALs from Kodiak and San Diego offered a heartfelt send-off in Metlakatla, commemorating his life and service.
Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro's announcement ensures that future generations of sailors will be inspired by his dedication, compassion, and unwavering service to his country and community.

“For him to go from a local Alaskan hero to having his name on a ship is remarkable,” said Bowen. “It just means that for the generations to come, not only will Alaskans know that the ship is named after him but every sailor that gets on the ship will know about his accomplishments.”
Alaska Army Guardsmen compete in Best Warrior Competition 2024
May 21, 2024
laska Army National Guard Sgt. Brendan White, an infantryman assigned to Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 297th Infantry Regiment, is awarded 2024 Noncomissioned Officer of the Year in a closing ceremony during the AKARNG’s State Best Warrior Competition at Camp Carroll on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, May 18, 2024.

Gobi Wolf 2024 strengthens partnerships for disaster resilience
May 20, 2024
Airman 1st Class Stefany Brummer, a fire protection specialist with the Alaska Air National Guard, operates the backup safety line during the Field Training Exercise’s high-angle rescue techniques training at Gobi Wolf 2024 in Choibalsan, Mongolia, May 9. The teams showcased best practices in safely extracting trapped individuals from precarious situations.

Alaska National Guard kicks off initial phase of Kodiak Arctic Care ‘24
May 9, 2024
Members of the U.S. Public Health Service offload from an Alaska Air National Guard C-17 Globemaster III assigned to the 144th Airlift Squadron, 176th Wing, during Kodiak Arctic Care 24 Innovative Readiness Training Mission at Kodiak, Alaska, May 6, 2024.

Alaska Air Guard’s 168th Wing Refuels Red Flag Exercise
May 8, 2024
A U.S. F-16 Fighting Falcon approaches the boom of a 168th Wing KC-135 Stratotanker during Red Flag Alaska 24-1 aerial refueling operations over Alaska April 24, 2024. The 168th Wing provided air refueling during the exercise.

Exercise Gobi Wolf 2024 Begins in Heart of Mongolian Steppe
May 8, 2024
Brig. Gen. B. Uuganbayar, left, deputy director of the Mongolian National Emergency Management Agency, presents a commemorative anniversary plaque to Australian Maj. Gen. Scott Winter, deputy commanding general - strategy and plans for the U.S. Army Pacific, during the Gobi Wolf 2024 opening ceremony at the Governor’s Palace in Choibalsan, Mongolia, May 7, 2024. Gobi Wolf is an annual joint exercise coordinated by the Mongolian National Emergency Management Agency and U.S. Army Pacific that focuses on interagency coordination within Mongolia, as well as foreign humanitarian assistance during a large-scale natural disaster.

Alaska State Defense Force volunteerism shines at Mat-Su Arctic Winter Games
April 24, 2024

First annual AKNG Earth Day inspires youth, brings awareness to military’s role in conservation
April 24, 2024

U.S. Army and Marine Corps forge joint efforts to enhance aviation tactics
April 23, 2024
An Alaska Army National Guard UH-60L Black Hawk helicopter assigned to the 207th Aviation Troop Command performs a defensive maneuver while evading a simulated aerial threat during the Weapons and Tactics Instructor Course 2-24 near Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., March 28, 2024.

Alaska Air National Guard officer shares story with Service High JROTC
April 22, 2024
Alaska Air National Guard officer shares story with Service High JROTC

Alaska Air National Guard rescues stranded skiers at Kenai Fjords National Park
April 22, 2024
Stranded Skiers Rescued from Kenai Fjords National Park via Helicopter