Major General Torrence Saxe, who became the head of the Alaska National Guard (AKNG) in early 2019, is on a mission to grow the guard’s presence in several rural hubs like Nome. 

Saxe says with the Guard’s history in the goldrush city, as well as the operational armory and aviation facility in town, it just makes sense to have more AKNG members in Nome.

“And so I would just ask for the community support in getting the word out that we do have openings. We want to hire local, we want them to drill local, and they would only have to drill back in Anchorage a few times a year. The focus really is on Nome.”

Major General Torrence Saxe with potential recruits in Nome. Photo from U.S. Air National Guard, Lt. Col. Candis Olmstead.

To illustrate the Guard’s connection to rural hubs, MG Saxe brought along servicemen and women who are from the Norton Sound region, during his recent visit to Nome [December 17th-18th].

“My name is Technical Sergeant Blassi G. Shoogukwruk. I was born in Nome, Alaska. I think Dr. Head was my doctor when I was born.”

– Blassi Shoogukwruk

Although Shoogukwruk was born in Nome, he spent many of his younger days in White Mountain. He says an experience he had as a child at his family cabin on the Fish River inspired him to join the Guard later on in life.

“When I was four years old, we were living in our cabin nine miles up the river from White Mountain and we had a massive flood, in 1985. A HU-1 (Huey) helicopter came out and extracted us from our campsite because we were flooded. We had to spend a few hours on a piece of ice up there on the bank, to stay afloat until the Army Guard came and rescued us, then brought us back to White Mountain.”

And because of that search and rescue aspect of the Alaska Air National Guard, Shoogukwruk says he originally joined up with a rescue unit to give back and reciprocate what he and his family had been given. Shoogukwruk is now a C-17 crew chief in the 176th Wing’s Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.

That same cabin where Shoogukwruk was rescued as a child, was built by his grandfather who was a member of the Alaska Territorial Guard. In fact, Shoogukwruk, like many Western Alaskans, has several family members who have served in the Guard.

“My paternal grandfather and my great uncle were down in the Aleutians fighting during World War 2. My maternal grandfather was guarding the coast out in Gambell. My mom was actually part of the first cadre of female Alaska guardsmen in rural Alaska. She was part of a pilot program that they did in the early 1970s.”

Shoogukwruk says he has a sense of pride for continuing on his family’s military heritage, and he hopes more Alaska Natives will join him in putting on a uniform to become part of the National Guard.

Members of the Alaska Department of Military and Veterans Affairs visited Nome, Dec. 17-18, as part of the department’s new rural operations hub concept to strengthen the department’s ties with Alaska’s rural communities. Photo from U.S. Air National Guard, Lt. Col. Candis Olmstead.

According to Major General Saxe, he’s looking for 12 to 15 members as part of AKNG’s Rural Operations in each of the six rural hubs, which includes Nome, Kotzebue, and Galena. All of the slots are funded, the Guard just needs Western Alaskans to fill them. 

If you are interested in joining the Alaska National Guard or want to learn more, contact local recruiter Chris Thomas at [email protected] or 907-223-8894.

Image at top: Maj. Gen. Torrence Saxe, Alaska National Guard commander and adjutant general, and commissioner of the DMVA, is pictured here with Nome’s Mayor Richard Beneville. Photo from: U.S. Air National Guard, Lt. Col. Candis Olmstead, 2019. To see more photos from the Alaska National Guard’s visit to Nome, go to their Flickr page.

Nome-Beltz Jr/Sr High School students perform traditional Native dances and music for members of the Alaska National Guard. Photo from Lt. Col. Candis Olmstead, 2019.