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The Alaska Organized Militia deployed to Bethel and Circle to support flood recovery efforts

On Saturday, May 20, the commissioner of the U. S. Department of Military and Veterans Affairs and adjutant general for the Alaska National Guard, Major General Torrance Saxe, put the Alaska Organized Militia on notice after Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s emergency declaration on May 15.

The task force includes members of the Alaska Air National Guard, Army National Guard, and the Alaska State Defense Force.

Lt. Col. Steve Koontz is the current operations chief of the Alaska National Guard, based out of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

In a May 23 interview Koontz said, "We've been working with the state Emergency Operations Center for the last several days. ​​So as they are getting reports from communities that are affected by the flooding, we've stayed in constant communication with them. So as they receive requests, they're coordinating with a number of volunteer organizations. So the National Guard is just one of the partners that they have reached out to to help.”

The team responding to the Circle flooding on the upper Yukon is comprised of members stationed in Fairbanks. The Bethel team is augmented by two members based out of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, one from Bethel and one from Kwethluk. They flew into Bethel before heading out to Crooked Creek by plane.

“So we've sent some folks to Bethel and they are helping with Crooked Creek and, you know, potentially other communities that may be affected once they're finished in Crooked Creek,” Koontz said.

Koontz also noted that the Bethel Armory will play a critical role in this response.

“The Bethel Armory is manned right now. And it's capable of receiving evacuees from communities in the area,” Koontz said.

Requesting assistance from the National Guard is a process. The request gets routed through the state’s Emergency Services Division’s Operations Center, or EOC.

"Community leaders can contact the state EOC with any needs, and then the state EOC will coordinate, you know, whether that's a civilian partner that they coordinate the response with or if they ask us, the National Guard, to help,” said Koontz.

National Guard responders are located near the state EOC that receives requests for assistance from affected communities.

“We're Alaskans helping Alaskans, and we have members from the communities in Western Alaska that are grateful to be able to help out fellow Alaskans. So we're just getting started in those two communities and we haven't received any reports back yet from them, but they were excited to get out there and help,” Koontz said.

As of May 23, there have been no reports of injuries or deaths related to the flooding.

Francisco Martínezcuello was the KYUK News Reporting Fellow from November 2022 through January 2024. He is a graduate of UC Berkeley School of Journalism. He is also a veteran of the United States Marine Corps.
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