I am a military veteran. The Army brought me to Alaska. I can tell you from firsthand experience — as a veteran stationed in Alaska, deployed to Iraq, returned to Alaska and making Fairbanks my home — that military personnel and families depend on local cultural, educational, and community resources and opportunities for their well-being. To cut funding for these things as the budget vetoes did is to cut a huge support network for our troops and families.
The University of Alaska Fairbanks is a profoundly important institution that touches directly or indirectly every person in the Interior. Many soldiers enjoy educational benefits provided by the university and local opportunities. Some of my military colleagues from Fort Wainwright have retired to become educators or support staff at the university, with family members in turn filling roles in the university and in various other organizations. Many dependent members of military families find opportunities for employment and volunteer in local organizations. All enjoy the direct or indirect benefits of art, culture, health, education, child care and recreation that this state has to offer.
I have often heard and seen the slogan “Support Our Troops” over the years. Not nearly as often have I experienced any real meaning for this. It sounds good to everyone, and no one disagrees, but real, meaningful support is difficult to identify. While a military discount is nice in the moment, the real network of support exists by virtue of the art, culture, educational and health institutions that provide tangible experiences in the day-to-day living of all the people connected through it.
When I arrived at Fort Wainwright, I was literally left out in the cold. Fort Wainwright didn’t have much to take care of new soldiers — not even a bus to get around post — and I found myself walking in the cold quite a bit. There were few resources on post for me to explore and develop as a person, but I found ways to get into town and discovered what Fairbanks has to offer.
If the governor’s cuts go through, you had better start a campaign to remove all the “We Support Our Troops” slogans in Alaska. With his cuts, the real, tangible support that our troops and families experience will evaporate. The slogan will then be truly empty and a hypocrisy. What are troops and their families sacrificing for, if not the prosperity of our nation and state? Is it really true, after all, that we sacrifice our soldiers and their families for the profit of oil industries and a PFD? I argue that for every one person directly affected by the budget cuts, at least six will be indirectly affected, and from there at least six more for each of those six — think of all the family members, business partners, teachers, businesses, employees, friends, out-of-state-visitors, tourists and untold others who will be affected in one way or another.
Some legislators may argue that a relatively small number of people will lose their jobs, or a cluster of agencies or institutions will have to tighten their belts, and that the overall consequence will be small and it will take Alaska in a new, better direction. Some insist that Alaska should be set in a new direction by this aggressive budget. I have yet to hear what direction they have in mind. To change course for the sake of changing course is quite likely to send us sailing into a rock or careening off a ledge. The real extent of the damage that Alaskans and personnel stationed here broadly will experience is being ignored for the sake of narrow, short-term personal returns. Granting a PFD payment by defunding the vast support infrastructure of the state is like handing someone a quart of water to cross a desert just as you close up all the wells along the route.
I am undeclared in my political affiliation. I have voted Republican, independent and Democrat. I base my vote on the merits of the candidate and sound reason as applied to the good of the state and the nation. The Legislature proposed a reasonable budget in response to the governor’s first, aggressive proposal. Don’t let that good reason be thrown to the wind for a come-what-may carelessness. Please act for the greater good of the state and do something to counter these vetoes.
Scott Justesen arrived in Fairbanks in 2008 when he was assigned to the Judge Advocate General Corps at Fort Wainwright