Alaska Defense Forum, works to strengthen community and military partnerships

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) The Alaska Defense Forum brought military and community leaders to Fairbanks on Thursday and Friday to talk about how the community and the state can support the mission of local military forces.

The Alaska Defense Forum brought military and community leaders to Fairbanks on Thursday and Friday to talk about how the community and the state can support the mission of local military forces. (Sara Tewksbury/KTVF)

The Fairbanks North Star Borough worked with the Association of Defense Communities to host this event. The topics during the forum ranged from Arctic and U.S. National Security to how to meet market expectations for military housing in the Arctic.

Borough Mayor Bryce Ward said the event brings awareness to the opportunities and responsibilities Fairbanks has as a defense community.

“This is really important for our state and our community because it’s a great opportunity, for members of leadership of our state to come together and really look at the issues that we deal with individually as communities and then holistically as a state, and how we can better come together to work on those issues,” said Ward.

Ward said the biggest takeaway he has had, is that there are a lot of resources through the installations, and federal partners that people don’t know exist. “It’s through opportunities like this where we can come together and have those frank conversations to learn ‘oh my goodness that already exists, there’s a program that the military is doing that meets that need or there’s a program the community does that meets that need, those are the type of relationships that we really benefit from this type of event,” said Ward.

Ward says they have had a number of conversations with their partners at Fort Wainwright and Eielson Air Force Base on opportunities and partnerships that they can work on together. One project being brought up community sponsorship, where community members are partnered with members of the military, to help them become acquainted to the community and further build relationships between the community and the military.

Keith Klaehn, with the Association of Defense Communities, says he was at the forum to bring national perspective from other states to Alaska’s situation. “The experiences of other states and other communities with large military presence, their lessons learned, their perspectives have proven useful to us, and we’re here to share not only mine from Colorado, or ours from Colorado but other communities around the country,” said Klaehn.

Director of the Polar Institute Mike Sfraga, says he was at the forum to give perspective on what’s happening globally in the Arctic. “We see so many different changes, physically, politically, socially, culturally, and Fairbanks and actually Alaska, is right in the middle of all of these changes.” Sraga says specifically related to national security, Fairbanks plays an essential role.

With the Arctic Ocean opening up more, Sfraga says they are talking about how to best position the United States through Alaska to respond to, really the opening of a new ocean, and what does that mean geopolitically for Alaska and the United States?”

Sfraga says having a forum like this shows how complicated but wonderful these topics are. “We’re talking about everything from how we support our military and their families, very basic support, housing, schools, that's a wonderful thing for our community, but also how we can best take advantage of this economically, so having the Fairbanks Economic Development Corporation in the room thinking about how the ripple effect of an economy would sort of proceed through the bedding down of F-35s, there’s a ripple effect to the rest of our community,” said Sfraga.

Magen James, executive director with the Alaska Coalition for Veterans and Military Families, said it has been beneficial to have all of these leaders in the same room to talk about issues facing military in the state. “Being able to break out of our silos and come together, and tackle these issues as a community, has been incredibly beneficial,” said James.

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