FAIRBANKS - Ten years later, one of the main places Alaskans feel the effects of the 9/11 attacks are on military bases. Since the two wars launched in response to the attacks there are more military personnel serving in Alaska and they are spending much more time fighting oversees.
For the Army, the largest military branch in Alaska, various reorganizations have more than doubled the number of troops in Alaska since 2001, from about 5,000 to some 11,000 today. The growth has come roughly equal between Fort Wainwright and Fort Richardson in Anchorage.
In the decade before 9/11 Alaska’s soldiers served oversees only a handful of international deployments including peacekeeping in the Sinai Peninsula in 1990 and the first Gulf War. Since 2001, oversees deployments have become a way of life for Alaska’s soldiers and their families. More than 16,000 Army soldiers have deployed out of Alaska to served in the two wars.
In Fairbanks, deployments of the 4,000-member Arctic Wolves Stryker Brigade are felt especially strongly because of the unit’s size. Previously known as the 172nd Styrker Brigade, the unit has deployed twice to Iraq and is now serving in Afghanistan.
The 172nd was a traditional infantry brigade until it received its 8-wheeled Stryker as part of an effort to make it more mobile and better at countering guerilla tactics. The unit was stationed in Mosul, Iraq, in 2005 during the country’s first parliamentary elections after the invasion. The deployment took place at the height of the insurgency and before the 2007 troop surge. Weeks before they were to return home they learned their one-year combat tour was being extended. Soldiers spent an additional three-months serving in Baghdad where violence had spiked before coming back to Alaska. The Arctic Wolves left for Iraq again in December 2009, this time serving in Diyala province in northeastern Iraq.
The Arctic Wolves were recently re-flagged as the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division and deployed to southern Afghanistan in April. Alaskan soldiers will make up a sizable percentage of the 90,000 Americans deployed to Afghanistan in early 2011 between the Arctic Wolves and the anticipated deployment of another large brigade from Fort Richardson, the 4th Airborne Brigade Combat Team 25th Infantry Division.
The effects of the wars on Eielson Air Force Base is harder to measure because airmen deploy in smaller groups or as individuals. But since the war in Afghanistan began 2,419 Eielson airmen have deployed there. A total of 2,025 have served in Iraq. The wars have also meant much more time oversees for Interior members of the Air National Guard and Army National Guard.
Contact staff writer Sam Friedman at 459-7545.