ANCHORAGE -

In 1935, United States Army General Billy Mitchell called Alaska the most important strategic military location in the world, saying whoever holds Alaska will hold the world.

It's a theory many still believe true today.

It's a relationship, Alaska and the U.S. Military have shared for more than 150 years.

“No matter where it is in the world, we can get our planes there within 12 hours," said Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson historian Douglas Beckstead who says it began when the United States bought Alaska from Russia in 1867.

It was a $7.2 million dollar transaction that at the time was considered by many to be a wasteful purchase.

"As the Russians moved out, the Americans moved into Sitka and took over as the territorial government, and the military,” Beckstead said. “The U.S. Army was the first government body that we had in the territory.”

With more than 586,000 square-miles of land to protect and much of it uncharted, the military took on the role of explorer and mapped a great deal of the state over the next 30 years.

"Various exploration groups came up the Copper River, up the Yukon River, and as you look at maps over time, you see those areas beginning to be filled in,” Beckstead said.

It was the beginning of great discovery in Alaska. In 1897, a gold rush brought in a flood of people looking for riches.

But with many newcomers failing to prosper and facing starvation in Alaska's cruel climates, the military was tasked with keeping the peace and maintaining order.

"The military took over the food supplies at circle and actually doled them out to the miners on an as-needed basis,” Beckstead said.

Military forts were established in places like Eagle, Valdez, Haines, and St. Michael, but the idea of a full-service military base in Alaska didn't come up until the 1930s.

When problems began brewing with Germany and Japan worldwide, Alaska's strategic position became very important.

"The country began to realize something is going to happen, something is on the horizon," Beckstead said. "They realized with the help of a variety of military experts Alaska was probably going to be the most strategic place in the world in terms of the Pacific realm."

Ladd Field was created in Fairbanks in 1939 as the threat of an enemy attack loomed over Alaska during World War II. It later became Ft. Wainwright.

In 1940, a new base known as the Military Installation North of Anchorage, Alaska arrived and was later named Fort Richardson and Elmendorf.

"A lot of people have a hard time trying to grasp because this is Elmendorf Air Force Base," Beckstead said.

"It was actually Fort Richardson originally; the air field which consisted of the two runways was Elmendorf Field or Elmendorf Army Air Field on Fort Richardson."

That expansion proved to be crucial in June of 1942 when the Japanese Army took over the Aleutian islands of Attu and Kiska.

"That was the first time that a foreign army – a foreign military – has occupied American soil since the War of 1812," Beckstead said.

The U.S. military leaned on Alaskans to help out with the creation of the Alaska Territorial Guard.

As many as 20,000 Alaska Natives who, along with active military units, pushed back against the Japanese and reclaimed the islands for the U.S. after the war. Alaska's military location continued to prove its worth with the Cold War and Vietnam.

Elmendorf Air Force Base was used as a meeting spot for President Richard Nixon and Japan's Emperor Hirohito in 1971, marking the first time a sitting emperor of Japan ever left that country.

In present times, conflicts in both the Middle East and Asia have continued to put Alaska's military to the test. But it’s a mission whether inside or outside the state that officials say remains the same – a commitment to protect the citizens of Alaska and the United States.

"When you have a 22-year-old who is responsible for a basically $300 million airplane they know is their responsibility, they take it very, very seriously," said Beckstead.