Improvements Coming to Alaska Army Base as Troops Face Morale Challenges

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Sign welcomes visitors to Ft. Wainwright, Alaska. (US Army photo)
Sign welcomes visitors to Ft. Wainwright, Alaska. (US Army photo)

Senior Army leaders are promising to make significant upgrades at Fort Wainwright, aimed at improving the readiness and quality of life for soldiers serving on the Alaskan frontier.

Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy and Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston recently visited the Arctic post in preparation for working several planned improvements into the upcoming fiscal 2022 defense budget.

"There are some things we need to do to strengthen the footprint here, and we are going to do that," McCarthy told reporters Monday evening during a roundtable at Wainwright.

He described Alaska as an "incredibly strategic footprint," one that can offer "enormous value" for future cold-weather training. It can also provide land for future test ranges the Army will need for long-range weapons being developed under its sweeping modernization effort.

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But improving the living conditions for soldiers at Wainwright is also high on the priority list, McCarthy said.

"There are quality-of-life issues here, and they are of a concern and we have been addressing them and we are going to do a lot more," he said.

Last September, Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville visited Wainwright and began the process of making quick fixes to improve barracks, dining facilities and gym facilities, McCarthy said.

On this trip, McCarthy's first to Wainwright, he and Grinston "looked at longer-term investments, much more comprehensive planned for the fiscal 2022 budget."

"It would be related to housing as well as barracks construction -- as well as [Morale, Welfare and Recreation] facilities," he said. "We are looking at the footprint and what are the types of investments that need to be made here. Is it motor pools? Do we need to make some type of investment improvements on the ranges?"

McCarthy said Alaska provides "unique opportunities for us to test weapons systems that have bigger range and lethality," opportunities that are not available in most other states.

U.S. Army Alaska has begun to make improvements to Wainwright since McConville's visit, said Maj. Gen. Peter Andrysiak, commander of U.S. Army Alaska.

A new transportation system has been established to deal with the challenges of shuttling soldiers around the base, especially during the winter months, Andrysiak said.

"We put in a shuttle system that would get soldiers, not just to barracks and dining facilities, but anywhere they wanted to hit on the installation," he said.

Soldiers said they wanted to get to the gym more often, so the post now has gyms open 24 hours a day.

The dining facilities have been upgraded with wireless internet and have increased the basic daily food allowance (BDFA) funding by 10% to provide higher-quality options for soldiers, Andrysiak said. Army Alaska officials said they plan to increase the BDFA funding by 25% in February.

Wainwright is also in the process of building Combat Readiness Training Facilities, nonpermanent structures "where soldiers can do [physical training] in climate-controlled facilities," Andrysiak said.

Grinston said similar structures have been built at posts such as Fort Hood, Texas, to help soldiers train for the Army Combat Fitness Test coming up in October.

"It's not just about the extreme cold," Grinston said. "It could be the extreme heat, things that could be pretty harsh to work on for fitness."

Other structures are being built for vehicle maintenance in extreme cold temperatures at Wainwright.

McCarthy said he is very enthused about a new dining concept being added to barracks that allows soldiers to grab a quick and healthy meal to save time on busy days.

"They will have a seating area and Wi-Fi and flat-screen TVs; it's just an opportunity right there in the barracks after they come after PT to go grab something to eat, sit down with a teammate and have breakfast," he said. "It's very encouraging. I would like to see that throughout the force."

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

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