National Guard troops land in Bethel to join storm relief effort

soldiers exiting a transport plane
National Guard soldiers file out of a military transport plane at the Bethel Armory on Sept. 21, 2022. (Nina Kravinsky/KYUK)

An Alaska Air National Guard military transport plane touched down in Bethel on Wednesday. It was the second of the day bringing National Guard troops in, after last weekend’s massive Western Alaska storm.

Uniformed Guardsmen streamed out of the back of the plane and into the hangar at the Bethel National Guard Armory.

Col. John James is in charge of the Bethel leg of the Alaska National Guard’s effort to send troops to storm-damaged communities.

“The mission is evolving and developing. I’d say we’re in the assessment phase right now and trying to see how we can help,” James said.

He estimated that around 75 Guardsmen landed in Bethel on Wednesday. Just after the second plane landed, James was still in the process of getting an updated count. More than 100 people have been deployed to Bethel and Nome to help with storm relief.

“Some of them have kind of put their lives on hold, whether it’s work or profession or sabbatical or whatever it is. Put their life on hold to serve other Alaskans,” James said.

soldiers in an armory
National Guard soldiers relax in the drill hall of Bethel’s armory. (Nina Kravinsky/KYUK)

In the armory drill hall, soldiers lounged on green canvas cots. The Guardsmen don’t know when or where they’ll be deployed from Bethel. National Guard Sgt. Fritz Charles is from Bethel. He looked on at the soldiers kicking their feet up on cots and laughing in small groups.

“It’s great that the government is coming together to help out the rural villages that are in desperate need of support from the government, and also from FEMA and Red Cross. So it’s great to have all these soldiers out here,” said Charles.

There are about 10 soldiers in Hooper Bay already. James said that Alaska State Defense Force soldiers who live in the area are on the ground in one of the hardest-hit communities. He said that more will likely join them soon.

“A successful mission will look like we return things to normalcy, right?” James said. “People will get back together, on with their lives.”

James isn’t sure yet how long that’s going to take.

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