207th Infantry Group (Scout)
The 207th Infantry Group was constituted 8 January 1964 in the Alaska Army National Guard as the 38th Special Forces Detachment, and Federally recognized 20 January 1964 at Anchorage. The 207th Infantry Group mission is to organize, equip and train units to conduct war operations and operations other than war in support of the US Army Pacific. The 207th Infantry Group (Scout) at Camp Denali on Fort Richardson is responsible for the day to day operations in the group headquarters and its five subordinate battalions.
The 207th Infantry Group (Scout) is the primary troop and maneuver unit within the Army Guard. They direct quality training, emergency assistance to State and local officials in times of crisis, and ensure a ready deployable combat force. As the senior tactical headquarters for the Army Guard's varied battalions, the 207th Group provides a command and control platform for coordinating the Army Guard's State and federal missions. Currently, the Group has three identical Scout Battalions with 320 soldiers assigned to each; a newly reorganized aviation battalion of 446 troops; and a Support Battalion with two Companies in Alaska and two in California.
The Federal mission must be considered in the context of decreasing Department of Defense force structure and budgets. A key tenant of national strategy is the employment of active Army, Army National Guard, and the Army Reserve. Each component competes for a portion of available Defense funds. Soldiers and units must meet the same tough objective readiness criteria as the active Army--- in personnel, training, maintenance and worldwide deployability.
During World War II, Eskimo scouts faithfully patrolled 5,000 miles of Aleutian coastline and 200,000 miles of tundra, rescuing downed US airmen. An Army major, Marvin "Muktuk" Marston, organized the Eskimo Scouts, Alaska's tundra army, at Nome and other areas, to defend Alaska against attack. Since 1949, the Army National Guard (ARNG) has retained scout battalions in rural Alaska. These units, largely comprised of Alaskan Natives that were residents of their respective rural areas, have been referred to as the "eyes and ears of the North." The official mission for these rural units was to guard Alaska against invasion or intrusion by the Soviet Union. The guard recognized the uniqueness of these scout battalions in its recruiting practices.
The Eskimo Scouts patrol the western coastline of Alaska and the islands separating Alaska and Russia. The Scouts are the only members of the National Guard who have a continuous active duty mission. This unit was organized during World War II, and the wives of scout battalion members have always been involved in patrol missions. Women were admitted as official members in 1976, and only then began to receive pay, benefits and recognition for their work. Scouts currently patrol ice flows in the Bering Straits, monitor movements on the tundra, and perform Arctic search and rescue efforts as required.
Because there was little contemplation of relocating scout soldiers to other areas, the guard waived or was exempted from some of the standards that applied to the more traditional units. These standards included vocational aptitude testing, random drug testing, certain fitness levels, and required attendance at training drills.
With the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the early 90s, the necessity for scout battalions was significantly reduced. The AKNG, when forced by the end of the Cold War to re-examine the mission of the guard in rural Alaska, decided to convert the scout units to more conventional support battalions. With this decision came the need to convert the soldiers in those units to the more conventional guard climate and prepare them for integration into the rest of the U.S. force and possible deployment to other areas. To achieve this, ARNG began to enforce some of the previously waived National Guard requirements.
Enforcement of drug testing and required training drills had particularly deleterious effects on the Alaska Native population in ARNG. It has been reported that drug testing in Bush communities, rather than being done randomly, was performed on a 100% basis. Because drug testing had not been performed recently and because all rural guardmembers were then tested, the number of Alaska Native guardmembers that tested positive and were subsequently discharged was noticeable. Before 1992, few Alaska Natives had left the guard due to alcohol and drug abuse. Between 1992 and 1994, however, 99 departed. In the years 1995 through 1998, battalions with predominantly Native soldiers discharged 47 soldiers for drug and alcohol abuse. Also during the two years ending in 1994, 189 Native members were discharged for "continuous and willful absences" for their non-attendance at training drills and other mandatory appearances. Since that time, these absences have been the most frequent reason for non-voluntary discharges in predominantly Native battalions.
Some suggest that these absences, to a large degree, represented a "silent protest" by Native members resentful of perceived mistreatment by the guard. One human relations assessment AKNG issued in 1992 described the situation as follows: ".they viewed the General's initiatives as an attack on their capabilities, an insult to their heritage and pride, and even an attack on the Native Alaskans themselves."
Additional problems have resulted from educational testing exemptions that were previously granted to rural area recruits. The National Guard generally requires potential recruits to be tested for reading ability and job aptitude 4 before they are accepted for service. The ARNG has for many years, however, operated under a exemption for these testing requirements. The exemption applies to all scout units outside of the Railbelt and Juneau. The effect of the exemption has been that many rural recruits, often Alaskan Natives, have been accepted into ARNG without any record of their reading comprehension skills. In 1995, 341 guardsmen at grade E-7 and below were tested for reading comprehension level. Of
these, 48% read below the eighth grade level, the projected entrance requirement for the Primary Leadership Development Course (PLDC). The PLDC is a National Guard Bureau requirement for any promotion past the grade E-4 level. Additional testing performed in 1996 produced similar results.
As some of these rural recruits have progressed through the lower ranks, they have encountered difficulties with written materials and classroom exercises. Some of these recruits now experience what some ARNG officials have referred to as a promotional glass ceiling. They are unable to be promoted within the National Guard structure due to their inability to achieve a reading comprehension level equivalent to a ninth-grade education. Though the guard reportedly adheres to an "up or out" policy, as of 1994, only two members had left the guard because they were unable to meet the criteria to be retained.
Alaska's Army Guard met Army readiness standards in FY96. Personnel shortages slowed since the reorganization began. Comparative statistics, between Federal fiscal years '95 and '96, demonstrate improvement since implementing the zero tolerance drug policy and enforcement of drill attendance. By 1996, the Alaska Army Guard was at 93.5% of authorized strength with 2,055 soldiers assigned (including 464 full-time Federal employees). Guard members are located in 76 communities across the State - more than in any other State. The Alaska Army National Guard also has the highest percentage (34 percent) of native Americans in the nation, per capita.
In addition to the Army Guard's regular Annual Training events, soldiers took part in several overseas and domestic deployments, exercises, and innovative readiness training opportunities during 1996. Alaskans provided real-world mission support in Korea, Indonesia, Southern California, Italy, Arkansas, Washington, Hawaii, and Panama to name a few. Guard members train in all kinds of environments and conditions here at home also.
The Alaska Army National Guard is now a contributing member of U.S. Army Pacific which is working initiative to include Scout units into selected USARPAC contingency plans. The five year Federal operations deployment window [1996-2000] included training soldiers and units in California, Arkansas, Louisiana, Washington, Oregon, Japan, Indonesia, Russia, Hawaii, Panama, Guatemala, Honduras, Belize, Costa Rica, Korea ---and here at home.
In 1996 Alaska Army Guard aviators accepted the first of the next group of UH-60L Blackhawk helicopters and the first of a fleet of eight C-23B+ Sherpa fixed wing aircraft. The significance of this upgraded aircraft fleet cannot be overstated. These modern, high-tech weapons systems, along with the continuing upgrades of ground support vehicles, communications systems, and personal equipment allowed a dramatic improvement in support for State missions while meeting our mission requirements for America's Army.
In 2001, the Alaska Guard began to to train nearly its entire force to respond to hazardous-materials contamination. And the 207th will have a major role in securing and staffing facilities for the national missile defense program. In the Summer of 2001 the adjutants general of Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont and Rhode Island agreed to fold their 767-member mountain battalion under the 207th Infantry Group. The group will be designated Combat Probability Code 1. Of the 74 armories in Alaska, only six are accessible by road.
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