In from Washington, D.C., Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks got a window into day-to-day life at Eielson Air Force Base and Fort Wainwright during a Monday visit to the two military installations.
Hicks said the visit to Interior Alaska was to learn about quality of life issues as well as mental and behavioral health challenges.
“Our people are our most important asset and we must remain focused on leveraging all of our resources to care for them as they deserve,” she said.
She highlighted several improvements under Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s “Take Care of People” initiative, including a 4.6% pay raise, expanded parental leave for service members, increased childcare subsidies, and hiring incentives for childcare providers.
Hicks visited barracks housing soldiers from the 1st Battalion 5th Infantry Regiment. She asked soldiers what they liked and disliked about the barracks and living at Fort Wainwright.
Command Sgt. Maj. Joseph Gaskin from the 1/11th Brigade Combat Team told Hicks that while experiences vary across the installation, that particular building was now the worst on Fort Wainwright. He said that newer barracks have larger common rooms, kitchens, and suite style bathrooms, and those barracks have common area latrines and small, shared bedrooms.
Garrison Commander Col. Nate Surrey said Fort Wainwright is the only base in the Pacific region with common area latrine barracks. He said that the installation needs four to five new barracks to get all single soldiers back on base and to move out of the aging barracks. Command Sgt. Maj. Vern Daley added that the division anticipates additional growth.
Ron Johnson, Lendlease Communities’ project director with North Haven, showed Hicks two homes on Fort Wainwright: one two-bedroom home built in 1952 and one three-bedroom home completed in 2021.
In the first dwelling, Johnson explained that the aging homes present environmental concerns due to lead-based paint and asbestos. The homes also experience seepage in the basements each spring. He said that they plan to demolish the homes built in 1952 and replace them with 48 new homes.
In the second home, Johnson pointed out that the home was larger with a garage and a washing machine and dryer upstairs. Johnson explained that they partnered with the Cold Climate Housing Research Center to ensure that heating the homes is more efficient.
At Bassett Army Community Hospital, Hicks met with enlisted soldiers and officers to discuss their experiences in the military and how the department’s policies impact their lives. They discussed suicide prevention, behavioral and mental health, and the soldiers’ quality of life.
“We know to keep you ready to defend our nation we have to ensure you have the support that you need,” Hicks said.
Hicks also toured the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory and Permafrost Tunnel Research Facility to learn about permafrost thaw and how environmental conditions impact operations in the Arctic.
Hicks said that it was helpful to hear first-hand from service members about their experiences and how it affects their ability to focus on mission everyday.
She said the visit ensures that she understands how the policies the Department of Defense is undertaking in Washington, D.C., affect the population at Eielson AFB and Fort Wainwright.
Hicks was sworn in as the 35th deputy secretary of defense in February 2021. She previously served as the senior vice president, Henry A. Kissinger chair, and director of the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the senior civilian official in the DOD.
Contact Haley Lehman at 907-459-7575 or by email at email@example.com.