Housing and schools are obstacles for Alaska military families, leaders say

Two f-35 fighter jets are parked in front of a beige aircraft control tower
These two F-35s, with an F-16 parked in the middle, were the first to arrive at Eielson back on April 21. There are now nine on base. (Sean Martin/354th Fighter Wing)

Military leaders in Alaska told state lawmakers on Tuesday that a lack of housing and concerns about schools make it hard to attract military families to the state. 

Air Force Lt. Gen. David Krumm said the Air Force isn’t allowing service members to bring their families to Eielson Air Force Base near Fairbanks due to a lack of housing. He said the Air Force is working at every level of government to address the problem. 

“But we’d really love your help in making sure that builders are incentivized to build homes,” he said. “We are bringing people. We want them to bring their families.”

Krumm pointed out that there will be a demand for Air Force members at Eielson, with F-35 fighter aircraft based there.

Krumm and other military leaders spoke to the Legislature’s Joint Armed Services Committee at an annual meeting that was delayed by COVID-19. 

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Krumm said he’s also focused on schools and child care to improve the quality of life for Air Force families in the state. He cited the low number of teachers and counselors per student compared with some other states as being sources of concern for military families. 

And he said many other states make it easier for military spouses to work by being more flexible in accepting professional licenses from other states. 

Army Maj. Gen. Brian Eifler also talked about the importance of housing. He pointed to improvements the Army is planning for the barracks at Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks, including a new building planned by 2030.

And Coast Guard Rear Adm. Nathan Moore said the pandemic has been particularly difficult for those stationed in parts of the state that are far from military bases. 

“We certainly feel like our Coast Guard men and women that are in these remote locations have had a rough year and a half,” he said. “The COVID restrictions have been tough on people, both from a resiliency standpoint (and) a mental health standpoint.”

The leaders also address lawmakers’ questions about COVID-19 vaccinations.

Krumm said the Air Force is educating members on the vaccine, which has been ordered for all members except those who have valid medical or religious reasons for not receiving it. He says 2-2.5% of Air Force members in the state are seeking exemptions.

RELATED: Pentagon to require all troops to get COVID-19 vaccine

Krumm also says COVID-19 restrictions imposed on the military in the state have helped. 

“We have proven that we have minimized the spread of COVID-19 on our installations when we implement mitigation measures,” such as wearing masks and maintaining social distancing, Krumm said. 

More National Guard members have asked for vaccine exemptions. Maj. Gen. Torrence Saxe, the Alaska National Guard adjutant general, said 5-10% want exemptions so far.

Wasilla Republican Sen. Mike Shower said it’s important to him that military members aren’t “kicked to the curb” and denied future benefits if they refuse the vaccines.

Andrew Kitchenman is the state government and politics reporter for Alaska Public Media and KTOO in Juneau. Reach him at akitchenman@alaskapublic.org.

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