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National Guard Commissary Coming To Bethel Aug. 7

The National Guard visits Tuluksak on April 8, 2021.
Olivia Ebertz

The Alaska National Guard is hosting a commissary in Bethel on Aug. 7. For those eligible, the event will provide shopping for discounted goods and help accessing military benefits. The event serves the  National Guard’s broader goal of expanding its presence in rural Alaska.

Major Gen. Torrence Saxe commands the Alaska National Guard. He’s been to Bethel a handful of times and said that the number one requested military benefit has been, “When are you coming back for the commissary room?”

The last one was held in Bethel about a decade ago. A commissary provides tax-free, discounted shopping to eligible military members and their spouses. The Bethel commissary will be held at the aviation facility across the street from the armory from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Aug. 7. It will include non-perishable food items like sugar and canned goods, and household staples like dog food and laundry detergent.

“All people from recruitment to retirees and through retirement, they are the greatest resource, and we need to show that to our actions,” Saxe said. “So we want to get out there, get the commissary to the people who have earned that benefit.”

But the commissary will not be the only benefit offered on Aug. 7. The National Guard can also assist people in accessing military health benefits, and it can update military ID cards.  

Saxe said that, from what he can tell, the reason a commissary has not been held in Bethel for about a decade is that it hasn’t been a priority for the National Guard. Saxe is trying to change that.

“We need to get off just the road system. We need to get back into the places of Alaska, all of Alaska, that we used to be in as much as we can. We're focusing on the bigger hubs, and Bethel certainly is the one that we want to start at,” Saxe said.

Saxe is working to expand the National Guard in rural Alaska. He’d like to see at least 75 guard members in the region, double its current size. And that’s another thing that will be going on at the Aug. 7 commissary event: recruiting.

“You can be a part of the Army team, serve locally, serve nationally,” Saxe said when asked what recruiting pitch he would give to people living in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. “And it's important for the person. It gives you a skill, it gives you a trade, but it gives you an opportunity to be part of something bigger than yourself. To serve your state, to serve your nation.”

The time commitment involved for most National Guard positions is a monthly two-day drill and a two-week annual training. Full-time positions are also available.

A driving reason to increase the National Guard in rural Alaska is to have trained locals ready to respond to natural disasters.

“If there is something as far as a fire, flood, any natural disaster, earthquake, for example, you'd have people that are part of the community. They are there on the ground, and it just works together,” Saxe said. “I never want to introduce myself or my team in a crisis, and we don't have to do that when you have people who were already part of the community.”

Saxe said that the pandemic has slowed recruitment efforts, but he’s hoping the National Guard can begin visiting schools this year. That would depend, he said, on local COVID-19 restrictions and permission from the school.

The Alaska National Guard commissary will be in Bethel on Saturday, Aug. 7 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the aviation facility across the street from the National Guard Armory. On Friday, Aug. 6 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., personnel from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will be at the Bethel VFW building. They will be assisting with Veterans Health Information Cards, disability claims, headstones, and answering additional questions. The VA officials will be at the commissary event the next day providing the same services.

Correction: The spelling of Major Gen. Torrence Saxe's name has been corrected from Torrance to Torrence.