While the Alaska National Guard took a beating in the 2014 elections, investigations later showed the erosion of its leadership culture and footprint in rural Alaska had already been well underway.
On Frontiers this week, we explore plans to reverse that process.
Our guest is Brigadier General Laurie Hummel, the first female commander of the Alaska National Guard. I was struck by how down-to-earth Hummel is – and how easy it was to have a “comfortable” conversation with her. Before we recorded Frontiers, she stashed her father’s dog tags in her front pocket, a reminder that her roots in the military go deep.
I think many of our viewers will be surprised to learn how much the Guard’s presence in rural Alaska has atrophied from its heyday in the 1980’s, when it had about 700 members. Today, that number is down to about three dozen.
Much of the Guard’s rural downsizing happened more or less under the radar, while deployments to the Middle East drew most of the attention. Nevertheless, rural Alaska saw a huge loss of jobs and educational opportunities.
On Frontiers, Hummel talks about the Walker administration’s plans to make the Southwest Alaska community of Bethel a hub for a rural scout battalion. The governor has set aside about $2 million in his budget. But how likely will the Legislature approve this spending in the face of a $3.5 billion budget deficit?
Hummel is hoping the Legislature will be willing to invest in the cold weather expertise of rural Alaskans as the nation did during World War II, when the Territorial Guard was born.
With the opening of the Arctic and Russia’s growing military presence, Hummel believes the timing is good to restore the Guard’s presence in rural Alaska. She says a rural scout battalion could be the start of a center for Arctic excellence.
For Hummel, returning the Guard to its historic stature in rural Alaska is also tied to efforts to restore the organization’s reputation – once known for its community service and resourcefulness in search and rescue operations.
In this week’s program, Hummel also talks about what she’s done as adjutant general to address what a special investigator called a “toxic leadership culture” in the Alaska National Guard.
Hummel says the guard must solve the underlying problems that led to charges of sexual assault and corruption that came to light in the 2014 elections, complaints that victims and whistleblowers say went ignored for years.
Also on Frontiers, Hummel announced a Governor’s Hotline to report sexual assault, harassment and other complaints.
That number is 855-761-5690.
For more information about the Alaska National Guard’s reforms, you can also watch an extended interview with Hummel online.