In a rare Alaska appearance, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel spoke with soldiers and airmen on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson as he kicked off a 12-day trip to Asia, Europe and Afghanistan.
JBER service members lined up Wednesday afternoon to hear Hagel recognize the value their base has to the country’s military forces.
“This is the model of how it works and how it’s supposed to work,” Hagel said.
Hagel answered questions from the audience about the effect of advancing technology on their future duties, as well as how the military is addressing the growing problem of post-traumatic stress disorder.
“This is as high of a priority as I have as Secretary of Defense is the people -- not only do we take care of them and their families when they are serving, but also as they transition out,” Hagel said.
The secretary discussed JBER’s role in homeland defense, also touching on the future of U.S. Arctic strategy and how Alaska's largest base fits into the framework of America’s role in a changing world.
“The Arctic is opening; it will continue to open," Hagel said. "And that is going to make possible many new opportunities for many countries and many people."
But with deployments and downsizing still happening, JBER-based commanders of both the Air Force's 3rd Wing and the Army's 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division said their missions aren’t going to change.
Officials say statewide, about 450 soldiers and their families are scheduled to leave Alaska as part of nationwide cutbacks.
“When you reduce that many airmen in such a short time, it has effects,” said 3rd Wing commander Col. David Nahom. “In terms of the mission, it has not reduced at all."
Col. Matt McFarlane, the 4/25's commander, also says the force drawdowns won’t hinder any ability to deploy more troops when needed.
“It doesn’t impact our ability to do what we’re required to do right now and the readiness posture that we’re in,” McFarlane said.
Hagel heads to Singapore on Thursday for his first stop of his Asia-Europe tour. His trip is intended to renew partnerships with allied nations.