Starting Feb. 24, Nome is slated to host a multitude of military personnel from the Alaska National Guard and various agencies, including National Guard forces from other states like Colorado, Kentucky and North Dakota. This is all part of a joint-military exercise called Arctic Eagle.
The appointed commander for Arctic Eagle, the Nome portion of this exercise will feature roughly 200 to 250 people spread out over a week, according to Lt. Colonel Eric Marcellus. That’s not the full slate of National Guardsmen and women from all 28 participating states. He shared this information during a virtual Strait Science presentation hosted by University of Alaska Fairbanks Northwest Campus on Jan. 13.
“And they won’t all be here at the same time. So approximately 150 personnel will be on the ground at any given time. So some people will be coming in, some will be going out,” Marcellus explained. “On average about 150 people on the ground in Nome, throughout the duration of this exercise.”
Based on the plans for the military exercise, released by the National Guard, the main group of security forces will stay in Nome until March 1 and then switch out with medical personnel at that time. All military personnel from Arctic Eagle will be out of Nome by March 7 at the latest.
Lt. Colonel Marcellus described the local impact this exercise could have on Nome residents.
“We’ll be patronizing your stores and we’ll be out and about in the community,” Marcellus said. “Some of the exercises will be happening right there in the town area, so you might see them setting up the GISc which is a big satellite communications array around the Nome Police Station.”
Lifetime Nome resident Addy Ahmasuk expressed concerns that an influx of extra people from outside the community, so close to Iditarod time, would threaten the local population’s health and wellbeing.
“I’m a lifetime resident of Nome. I am Inupiaq and Yupik and my roots have come from this region, going back many many generations,” Ahmasuk said. “We’re in the middle of a global pandemic, and you’re bringing in hundreds of people during, as you mentioned, during Iditarod time. And for us that’s a really happy time to come together as a community, to be able to have community events. And this pandemic has hindered those events for the last two years because of the high numbers of COVID.”
All military coming into Nome will get a test for COVID-19 within 72 hours prior to arriving, according to the exercise planner for the Alaska National Guard. The exercise personnel will be wearing masks when out in public, and the majority of them are vaccinated.
Arctic Eagle participants will be using the local Army Aviation building near the Nome Airport and the Alaska National Guard Armory on Front Street as well as other facilities like the Recreation Center, Norton Sound Health Corporation, Port of Nome area, and Public Safety Building. The Nome Recreation Center will be the location for military personnel to eat breakfast and lunch on a daily basis during their stay, from Feb. 26 through March 5.
“And then NACTEC is graciously going to provide us with some facilities to sleep in,” Marcellus said. “And personnel will be staged, running the exercise scenarios, and be lodging in these locations throughout the exercise.”
There will be some Alaska National Guard events open to the public during that week-long period, including a burger cookout, recruiting opportunities and even the Guard’s version of TED Talks.
As to why Nome was selected in the first place to host part of this largescale joint-military exercise, Marcellus points to Nome’s proximity to the Arctic.
“The Adjutant General for the State of Alaska recognizes the importance of Nome and the Arctic. At the federal level they recognize the importance of Nome and the Arctic as well,” Marcellus stated. “That’s why they’re doing this exercise here. I don’t think it’s us puffing our chest out or flexing our muscles. A lot of it is training.”
Other participants listening to the Strait Science presentation about Arctic Eagle last week took issue with the upcoming “militarization of Nome.” Lifelong resident Austin Ahmasuk asserted that the exercise does not need to take place in Nome and isn’t even necessary for the National Guard to host in the first place.
There is still a possibility that the Arctic Eagle exercise could be canceled due to COVID-19 concerns, Lt. Colonel Marcellus said.
If it goes on as planned however, Nome residents should expect to see the first groups of military personnel arrive on Feb. 23.
Image at top: The AK National Guard, members of the Alaska Department of Military and Veterans Affairs visited Nome, Alaska, Dec. 17-18, 2019 as part of the department’s rural operations hub concept to strengthen the department’s ties with Alaska’s rural communities. (U.S. Air National Guard photos by Lt. Col. Candis Olmstead)