Both figuratively and literally, the Alaska Air National Guard has landed in Juneau.
A recruiting office, the first in Alaska outside of the Anchorage and Fairbanks Road system, opened Tuesday at the National Guard Armory and University of Alaska Southeast Rec Center. The opening marks the start of an initiative to spread enrollment centers beyond Wasilla, Anchorage and Fairbanks.
“I think it’s important if you’re going to have a guard that it be representative of the entire constituency,” said Col. Torrence Saxe, Commander of the 168th Wing. “Right now, we are not doing a good enough job, especially in this area of Alaska. … There’s going to be a physical presence for the air guard in Juneau from here on out.”
That physical presence starts with one person. With the opening of the office, recruiter Technical Sgt. Jasmine Gallatin becomes the first full-time Air National Guardsman stationed in Juneau. From 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., she’ll recruit locals for the force out of the recruiting office.
If she can get 25 members to join up, visits from guard planes might increase. That could solve a big issue for Southeast guardsmen: transportation to Anchorage and Fairbanks, where the 176th and 168th Wings of the Air National Guard are stationed.
Part time guard members had to take commercial flights previously to attend monthly and annual drills. That travel can tack on additional time to what’s designed to be a one weekend a month, two weeks a year commitment for part-time guardsmen. The extra hassle has had a negative effect on recruitment in Southeast in year’s past.
Gallatin has set a first-year goal to recruit 25 new guardsmen. That’s the magic number to get Juneau included on regular “rotator” flights, which bring guardsmen on military aircraft from other areas to drill in Anchorage and Fairbanks.
She’s going to be out in the community and interfacing with recruits at her office in an attempt to sign people up.
“Nobody gave me that goal, that was me saying, ‘This is what we need to get a rotator flight.’ My goal is that anybody who lives in Juneau or Southeast Alaska has a way to get to drill,” Gallatin said.
Senior Master Sgt. Vickie Padello, who oversaw the office’s opening, said the Air National Guard is about 10 percent undermanned in Alaska right now. About 10 percent of its 2,300 positions aren’t filled. Moving into other communities, she hopes, will help.
“We need to spread out and recruit more people,” Padello said.
It also “just makes sense” to have a recruiting office in the capital city, Padello added.
“By having a recruiter here in Juneau, we’ll have more people that look like Alaska in the Air National Guard,” Padello said.
While the office symbolizes the guard’s attempts to increase its presence in Alaska’s satellite communities, it came with a more literal visitation: several military planes carrying guardsmen landed in Juneau on Tuesday. Community members toured two planes, the HC-130J and a KC-135R, Tuesday at the Alaska Army National Guard Army Aviation Operating Facility near the Juneau International Airport.
Both are used to refuel other aircraft mid-flight.
“As far as I know, this is the first time the tanker’s been here,” Aircraft Captain Jeff Boesch said.
• Contact reporter Kevin Gullufsen at 523-2228 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @KevinGullufsen.