The Alaska Air National Guard doesn't have recruiting offices in many parts of rural Alaska, but the guard is working to reinvigorate its relationship with communities across the state.

Brig. Gen. Darrin Slaten, commander of the Alaska Air National Guard's 176th Wing, said budgets and political winds have in the past caused the guard to pull back on its initiatives in rural Alaska. Now, Slaten says they are refocused on collaboration.

"We're extending the hand out again and we're ready to make sure that our friends and partners out here understand how connected we are to them and we need them," he said.

The Alaska Air National Guard has bases in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Clear.

"There's been the moniker in the past that it's been the 'Anchorage National Guard' and we want to get away from that," Slaten said.

In order to do that, the Alaska Air National Guard flew to Bethel for the Fourth of July to participate in the Western Alaskan city's Independence Day celebration.

As an recruiter for the guard, Tech. Sgt. Angel Guerrieri-Figueroa said the goal is to educate people about the opportunities available through the military.

"Our plan here is for the people in Bethel to recognize that we are here, that we are an option," Guerrieri-Figueroa said, adding that with more knowledge of their options, people can make the best choices for their future.

The guard also set out to put to rest some myths that surround military recruiting, such as the misconception that people will be recruited to live and work away from the village. Guerrieri-Figueroa said he hoped to spread the message that the guard serves to provide a skill to the community.

"Yes, they’re going to be gone for a little bit of time because we’re going to have to send them to school, train them, but the value they’re going to bring back [from] training is impressive," he said.

Brig. Gen. Slaten said those who sign up would be part of a rotation that is flown to Anchorage for training and education. They also would be part of Western Alaska training exercises. 

The Alaska Army National Guard already has recruiters on the ground in Bethel. However, the brigadier general said it's not a competition between the two branches — it's a win for the state if a person joins either the Army Guard or the Air Guard.

"[It's about] building a skill set that’s good for your community. It’s good for the nation and it's good for the state," Slaten said.

The Alaska Air National Guard recruits anyone ages 17 to 39 and a half years old. The guard will also work with people over the age of 40 who have past military experience. 

To learn more about the Alaska Air National Guard, visit their website.

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