Defense bills clear U.S. Senate with Alaska projects

Paratroopers from the 4-25th on JBER. (Photo: DoD)
Paratroopers from the 4-25th on JBER. (Photo: DoD)

Just in time for Veterans Day, the U.S. Senate has passed two bills to keep the military running, and they include several provisions specific to Alaska.

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The National Defense Authorization Act passed today with amendment by Sen. Dan Sullivan that requires the Pentagon to write an Arctic strategy report within a year. Sullivan hopes the report, which will identify needs and gaps, can help reverse the Army’s decision to reduce forces from Fort Richardson. The bill now goes to the president, and his spokesman says he’ll sign it.

A separate bill to fund military construction includes two big projects for Eielson Air Force Base. It has $37 million for an F-35 simulator building at the Fairbanks base, plus $34 million for the Eielson power plant. It also has nearly $8 million for a running track at Fort Greely, according to Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who sits on the Appropriations subcommittee that drafted the legislation. The appropriations bill next goes to a conference committee to resolve differences with the House version.

Congress mostly resisted calls from the Pentagon to rein in military benefits. The defense authorization bill will slightly increase the co-pay to fill some prescriptions under Tricare, the insurance program for service members and retirees. It would also gradually trim the housing allowance for military families, to 95 percent of estimated costs. Meanwhile, it holds the troop pay increase to 1.3 percent.

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Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Alaska Public Media. She reports from the U.S. Capitol and from Anchorage. Reach her at lruskin@alaskapublic.org.