Alaska National Guard hopes to increase number of Alaska Native soldiers

Members of 1st Battalion, 207th Aviation Regiment, Alaska Army National Guard, conduct hoist training near Knik and Colony Glaciers. (Photo by Capt. Amy B. Slinker, Alaska Army National Guard / Flickr)

The Alaska National Guard is trying to recruit more Alaska Native soldiers.

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Colonel Wayne Don was in Kodiak last week along with other members of the National Guard in order to reach out to locals.

The National Guard says it already has an armory and 17 soldiers in Kodiak, but they’re working towards a number of Alaska Native participants that are more representative of the state population.

Don says about 8 and a half percent of the entire Army Guard and 3 to 4 percent in the Air Guard is Alaska Native.

“Over a period of time, since the end of the Cold War, the participation of Alaska Natives has diminished and, with that, a lot of the able-bodied young men who would otherwise provide assistance during local emergencies and state emergencies,” Don said. “So, we lack a presence out in some of our communities there.”

Don says the Rural Guard Initiative, which they established a few years ago, is focused on bringing in Alaska Native soldiers, especially to the Army Guard.

“As is going on in the rest of the country, there are entrance barriers for a lot of young men and women in terms of medical and academic or entrance scores, and so with our initiative, we’re able to waive some of those initial entry requirements to increase the number of participants,” Don said.

Don says, ideally, they’d like soldiers stationed in every community, but they just don’t have enough qualified people to serve yet. He says they hope to build to at least 50 members in these first few years.

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Kayla Deroches is a reporter at KMXT in Kodiak.