ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Retired U.S. Army 1st Sgt. Kirk Alkire carries 53 dog tags to remember the 53 paratroopers and soldiers who died serving with him during a 15 month deployment in Iraq. Alkire engaged in a months-long campaign to honor the families left behind by naming an Alaskan mountain Gold Star Peak.
Alkire, a veteran of the U.S. Army for 23 years, served with the 4-25 Brigade in Iraq during the surge in 2006-2007. He describes the period "as being deployed into a hornet’s nest.” The fighting left families of the fallen scattered across the United States, including one in Alaska.
Since returning home, he has climbed Mount POW/MIA in the front range of the Chugach Mountains. Alkire explained, “I had soldiers that were kidnapped by some enemy insurgents and held prisoner of war and they were ultimately executed by the enemy.” He and other veterans regularly summit the peak, sign the journal, change the flag at the top of the mountain and pay their respects.
Around a year-and-a-half-ago, Alkire spotted an unnamed peak close to Mount POW/MIA that “sits a little below us and to the west.” He thought it would be perfect to be named Gold Star Peak.
Once making the decision to move forward, he applied for a state grant and sought permission from the Eklutna Tribe. Both were granted and Alkire went and got support from across the country including from Alaska’s congressional delegation.
He then gathered 1,500 signatures from 50 states, four countries and one territory; many of the signatures included statements of support from Gold Star families.
Alkire traveled to Washington D.C. this week thinking the application process was set to continue. He sat in the Senate Gallery as Sen. Dan Sullivan announced the U.S. Board of Geographic Names was set to officially name the mountain Gold Star Peak.
“It was kept as a complete secret to me, I had no idea this was going to happen, I couldn't have been more proud or more honored,” said Alkire. He “was thrilled and honored and very emotional that he mentioned my 53 fallen paratroopers and soldiers from the 4-25.”
In his address, Sen. Dan Sullivan announced Alkire would be the Alakan of the Week. He explained when the two men met Alkire “pulled out 53 dog tags that he had in his pocket with the names of every soldier of the 4-25 who was lost in Iraq in 2006 to 2007.”
Alkire says they aren’t real I.D. tags but some he created to remember those who died serving with him. Nevertheless, Sullivan spoke about holding them in his hand: “It was powerful and moving, and in some ways it was so horrible to look at because these are the lives and names of the best and brightest we have in America.”
The mountain will be officially named in September.