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. 21, 2023

176th Wing firefighters protect Nenana from wildfires

By David Bedard

In May 1920 the Alaska town of Nenana, nestled on the bank of the river of the same name in Alaska’s Interior, suffered great loss of life following a withering wave of the H1N1 influenza.

According to a National Park Service article highlighting a historic part of the Nenana South Cemetery, 60-65 residents – nearly 10 percent of the population – succumbed to the flu in two weeks. The tragedy is memorialized today by a manicured section of the grounds, which was threatened this summer by massive wildland fires consuming vast swaths of the forest and threatening to wipe out the history the place carries.

Five 176th Civil Engineer Squadron firefighters mobilized Aug. 6 following a call by the Alaska National Guard to help the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection’s efforts to contain the fires. Among the firefighters’ immediate and crucial tasks was to fortify the cemetery against the wildfires that had already consumed hundreds of thousands of acres by the time the Guardsmen started work in the area Aug. 7.

The firefighters reported for duty with Forestry’s Nenana Group, primarily comprising the Nulato Hills Hand Crew from Western Alaska, and set up a small tent village on the community’s football field.

Alaska Air National Guard Master Sgt. Steven White, a senior 176th CES firefighter who recently transferred from the Montana Air National Guard, said the expedition reminded him of a military operation.

“It’s almost like a deployment in the desert,” he said. “There’s a services group cooking for us, there’s port-a-potties set up, there’s a shower unit, and every crew here is camping together on the football field.”

Upon arrival to Nenana, White and his team went about going to work to protect homes that may have come in the path of the fires.

“Our job was to go through the town, look at all of the cabins and houses, and we looked at what was needed to defend that structure if the wind shifted and pushed fire into the town of Nenana,” White explained. “It’s a lot of saw work with the Nenana Group knocking down fuels that can catch a cabin on fire.”

White said he was especially proud of the mammoth task of creating a fire-resistant cordon around the cemetery.

“We teamed up with the Nulato Hills Hand Crew, and we created a 400-by-20-meter fuel break using chainsaws,” he said. “It was a two-day project where we made a big circle around the cemetery, and we’re cutting down every piece of brush, so that if the fire did jump the river, that historic cemetery would be protected.

“We sweated and worked and slogged away,” White continued. “That was the proudest moment of our trip.”

Working conditions were especially grueling, White said, because of the poor air quality.

“The smoke layer is so thick that the sun isn’t getting down to warm things up,” White said. “There were mornings when we would get up, leave fire camp, we would head to our assignment, and you couldn’t see a dang thing. We were driving the truck with our four-way blinkers on, just so we wouldn’t get run into.”

Despite time away from home to work a tough assignment, White said the effort was worth it.

“That historic cemetery means a lot to many folks here, and we’re super proud of the work we have done here,” he said.
 

Alaska Army National Guard conducts trio of command changes
June 17, 2024
Alaska Army National Guard Lt. Col. Aaron Hamilton, left, 207th Multi-Functional Training Regiment outgoing commander, passes his unit’s colors to Col. Michele Edwards, 297th Regional Support Group commander, signifying the end of his command during a change of command ceremony at the Camp Carroll flagpole on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, June 16, 2024.

Alaska Air National Guard rescues 6 plane crash victims near Port Alsworth
June 12, 2024
Alaska Air National Guard rescues 6 plane crash victims near Port Alsworth

Alaska National Guard hosts The Adjutant General’s Match
June 10, 2024
An Army National Guardsmen from 1st Battalion, 297th Infantry Regiment surveys his pistol targets while competing in The Adjutant General’s Match at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, May 20, 2024.

Alaska Guard Soldiers honored before Middle East deployment
June 6, 2024
na

AKARNG athlete takes home top honors in Lincoln Marathon, highlights Guard sports program
June 5, 2024
na

Alaska Air National Guard rescues hypothermic mariner near Kodiak
June 3, 2024
Alaska Air National Guard trains with Coast Guard at Air Station Kodiak

AKANG 176th Wing Rescue Triad conducts water rescue training in Alaska
June 3, 2024
Alaska Air National Guard pararescuemen from the 212th Rescue Squadron conduct underway hoist training in the Prince William Sound near Whittier, Alaska, May 16, 2024. The Airmen of the 212th RQS are trained, equipped, and postured to conduct full-spectrum personnel recovery to include both conventional and unconventional rescue operations. The 212th, along with the 210th and 211th RQSs, make up the 176th Wing Rescue Triad and are among the busiest combat search and rescue units in the world. (Alaska National Guard photo by Alejandro Peña)

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.