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NEWS | April 24, 2024

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

By By Seth LaCount Alaska National Guard

On a sunny, spring morning in Anchorage, more than 100 students from Orion and Aurora Elementary Schools visited Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson’s Camp Denali for the Alaska National Guard’s first annual Earth Day event, April 22, 2024.
 
The event was aimed at teaching military kids and their families how they can safeguard and protect natural and cultural resources in Alaska. They participated in a trail clean-up and visited informational booths across a two-mile stretch at Camp Denali. They also explored ways to support the environment on and off military installations.

Fifth-grade student Savannah Stoner, whose father is an active-duty Airman stationed at JBER, said her favorite part of the event was the information she learned at each booth and the beautiful Alaska weather.

“I love the nature and the heat from the sun,” she said. “Our earth is important, and we need to keep it healthy so wildlife will survive.”

Members of the Alaska Air and Army National Guard, Coast Guard, National Park Service, JBER Fire Department and other Department of Veterans and Military Affairs divisions shared information about their respective fields and how they relate to protecting the environment. The booths kept the kids engaged with activities ranging from donning a life jacket with the Coast Guard to seeing the inside of UH-60L Black Hawk helicopter.

When asked about how he would apply what he learned, fifth-grade Orion student Gabriel Pioocurama said, “I’m going to be extra aware that every single piece of trash matters. It’s important to keep our planet healthy because we don’t know how long it will survive if we don’t.”

Richard Barth, the Chief Environmental Branch lead for the AKNG, said he was excited to educate everyone attending about the importance of environmental awareness.

“Protecting Alaska’s cultural and natural resources is a fundamental component of military readiness,” Barth said. “Protecting our water, air, land and wildlife is directly tied to our resiliency as a state. Environmental outreach and education are directly tied to our mission.”

Barth also stressed the importance of destigmatizing his department, which he believes is often misunderstood.

“Our environmental policy acts are sometimes seen as something that slows operations or trainings down,” Barth said. “However, we’d like the public and our servicemembers to know we try to resolve issues in a way that benefits everyone and helps us conduct ourselves in a way that promotes longevity and conservation while also getting the job done.”

Earth Day has been around since 1970, and although this is the Alaska Guard’s first official event celebrating it, the environmental team plans to take what they’ve learned to build on future earth day efforts.

“This was a collaborative event, and we’re grateful for participation from some of our partner agencies and especially our aviation unit for putting together a helicopter exhibit for the kids,” said Alyssa Murphy, the environmental compliance lead for the Alaska Army National Guard who headed up the event. “We’re also incredibly grateful that Orion and Aurora Elementary Schools were on board to come out and participate. We all worked together to put on what was a fun and productive event.”
 
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