Alaska's destiny as a strategic location for military basing was predicted by legendary General Billy Mitchell, who in 1935 observed, "I believe that, in the future, whoever holds Alaska will hold the world I think it is the most important strategic place in the world." The military has played a significant role in Alaska's growth and development ever since.
Ensuring that America's fighting men and women have the resources they need to accomplish their missions is a key priority for me as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Military Construction Subcommittee. During my first year on the committee I was able to steer an additional $46.8 million in funding to Alaska bases for projects that were on priority lists formulated by the various services but not funded by the administration. I also led a successful effort to reverse an unfortunate decision by the Defense Department that denied members of the Alaska Territorial Guard who served during World War II a military pension credit for time served defending Alaska from the risk of Japanese invasion.
Alaska's troops and military infrastructure are top notch. The Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex in Interior Alaska is one of the best places on the North American continent to conduct joint training exercises. America's most advanced fighter, the F-22, provides top cover for America from Elmendorf AFB, winner of the 2010 Commander in Chief Award for best Air Force Base anywhere. The Air National Guard's KC-135 refueling aircraft based at Eielson AFB play a key role in refueling military aircraft throughout the Pacific.
The Army's 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team (formerly the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team) and 4th Airborne Brigade Combat Team based at Fort Wainwright have undertaken multiple deployments in the global war on terror. The Alaska Army National Guard has served with distinction in Kuwait, Iraq, Kosovo and Mongolia.
Fort Greely is home to America's Ground Based Missile Defense interceptor system.
The Coast Guard protects the sovereignty of America's fisheries and conducts vital search and rescue missions from significant installations in Southcentral, Southeast and Western Alaska.
Today, Alaska is home to more than 15,000 active duty service members and more than 5,000 National Guard and Reserve troops. I hear it time and again from our troops and military families, "No people support the members of our Armed Forces like the people of Alaska."
I believe it's not enough to just support the troops. Supporting the troops means supporting their mission and it also means supporting military families who serve our Nation alongside those in uniform.
My commitment was put to the test in June 2006 when the Army abruptly decided to extend the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team's tour in Iraq for 120 days with no advance notice to the families eagerly awaiting the return of their soldiers. I worked with senior Army officials to ensure that family support services were surged to Fort Wainwright and pressed Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld for a commitment that the troops would return home by Christmas. My staff and I worked with many Fort Wainwright families to ensure that their individual needs were met. And when the troops returned, I was there to meet them. I've worked closely with Fort Richardson families during challenging deployments of the 4th Airborne Brigade Combat Team to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Part of the debt owed to our service men and women is to provide for their health care. I have worked tirelessly to ensure that Alaska troops returning from the battlefield have access to behavioral health services with no adverse effect on their careers. In 2009, I joined with Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin to sponsor the Wounded Warrior Transition Act. This important legislation, which was included in the fiscal year 2010 National Defense Authorization Act, ensures that members of the Reserve Component who suffer wounds and injuries on the battlefield are not discharged from active duty until their conditions are fully evaluated.
A steadfast supporter of America's missile defenses, I pushed back against the Obama administration's efforts to cancel a planned expansion of the Ground Based Missile Defense facility at Fort Greely. I also took exception to the administration's proposals to cancel further production of the F-22 fighter and the C-17 transport aircraft. I am working to increase utilization of the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex, bring the new generation of air tankers to Eielson AFB, and ensure that the Army and National Guard provide Alaska with sufficient helicopter assets to meet their missions.