“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.”
That’s Technical Sergeant Blassi G. Shoogukwruk. Born in Nome, he spent many of his younger days in the village of White Mountain. He told KNOM listeners that his childhood experience on the Fish River inspired him to join the Alaska National Guard (AKNG).
Like many Western Alaskans, Shoogukwruk has several family members who have served in the Guard. His grandfather, who built that family cabin near White Mountain, was a member of the Alaska Territorial 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,” he said.
After originally joining up with a search and rescue unit, Shoogukwruk is now a C-17 crew chief in the 176th Wing’s Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.
The guard is currently recruiting guardsmen and women in several rural hubs around Alaska. Major General Torrence Saxe says the guard’s historical presence in Nome and its operational armory and aviation facilities makes Nome a sensible regional base.
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 donning a uniform to become part of the state’s National Guard.
Image at top: A guardsman chats with a group of young men at the Nome armory. All photos: U.S. Air National Guard, Lt. Col. Candis Olmstead, used with permission.