National Guard Seeks Skills of Alaska Natives

Alaska National Guard facility, Fort Richardson, Alaska. U.S. AIR FORCE

BETHEL, Alaska — The Army National Guard is turning its recruitment efforts to Alaska Natives as it seeks to find soldiers equipped with subsistence skills.

The Guard is launching a three-year program that provides waivers for Alaska Natives looking to join, but who may face barriers to qualification. The pilot program relaxes requirements for the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, a general knowledge test that the Guard acknowledges is geared more toward English speakers, KYUK-AM reported.

Bob Doehl from the state's Department of Military and Veterans Affairs said Alaska Natives have many of the skills the Guard is looking for, such as experience living in rural areas and living subsistence lifestyles.

"Somebody that grows up in rural Alaska lives the weather. They don't watch it on the weather channel," Doehl said. "Studies found that those from rural locations, who are active outdoors, are better able to spot patterns and changes in patterns."

The Guard has only recruited a small number of Alaska Natives recently. One of them is David Smart, a third generation serviceman from Hooper Bay. Smart, 28, said it's "pretty hard to get a job in the village, because there's only so many places to work."

Smart said he was inspired to join the military by his grandfather.

"My grandfather would take me out to the Bay, and we would go set a net for whitefish," he said. "Give somebody fish, you feed them a day. Teach 'em how to fish, you feed 'em for life."

Doehl is traveling with Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott to Bethel to spread the word about the Guard's new recruitment efforts.

Mallott said he is in favor of the program, as it comes at a time when Alaska, faced with a multibillion-dollar budget deficit, is unable to support such an effort on its own. He said he is looking forward to having the Guard connect more with Alaska's rural communities, as it has done in the past.

"As a young man, having grown up in southeast Alaska and traveled the state, the National Guard was once a major presence in rural Alaska, and it was a point of inspiration," Mallott said.

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