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Army chief of staff visits Alaska

January 23, 2012

By Staff Sgt. Matthew Winstead, U.S. Army Alaska

JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska (Jan. 23, 2012) -- Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno underscored Alaska's importance as one of the Army's premiere training locations during a Jan. 20 visit to U.S. Army Alaska headquarters here.

Odierno's visit to Alaska was part of an Asia-Pacific theater tour, his first overseas trip as Army chief of staff. He learned about U.S. Army Alaska's, or USARAK, mission and capabilities, as well as its family- and Soldier-support programs.

USARAK Commander Maj. Gen. Raymond P. Palumbo highlighted the principles that guide the Army in Alaska.

"Ready Units, Strong Families and Arctic Tough Leaders is our mantra up here sir," Palumbo said. "Some of the enchanting appeal of the Alaskan environment can change minds about life up here. Some people come up here kicking and screaming, only to later not want to leave."

Palumbo also pointed out the tactical and training benefits of the expansive joint military training areas in Alaska.

"I would like to see this [resource] used more Armywide and invite others to come train up here and make the use of our training areas. At 45 degrees below zero and moving through five feet of snow it can add to the training experience of any unit," Palumbo said.

Odierno concurred with that assessment of Alaska's training value, citing the Army's Northern Warfare Training Center as an example.

"It is critical to sustain Army capabilities in Alaska. If anything ever happens in the world that demands operations in this type of environment, this is where we will come for the expertise," Odierno said.

Some of Alaska's wilderness resembles the rocky, mountainous terrain of northern Afghanistan, which adds realism to predeployment training here, noted Col. Gary Agron, USARAK chief of staff.

"People can look at photos of our mountains and later ask, 'Is this Alaska, or Afghanistan?'" Agron said.

Odierno spoke about the way ahead for the Army, echoing his recently published "Marching Orders" pamphlet which outlines his intent, priorities, principles, expectations for leaders and the Army's role.

He addressed concerns about looming reductions in force across the Army, stating that such moves would be tempered by lessons learned over the past 10 years of war and conducted in a professional and responsible manner over a five-year period.

In Alaska's below-zero temperatures, Odierno got an up-close look at equipment unique to Alaska during his stop here, including Small Unit Support Vehicles, which support units during operations in arctic and alpine conditions.

Soldiers from the Army's Northern Warfare Training Center displayed such mainstays of winter operations as skis, snowshoes, heaters, extreme cold weather tents and arctic climbing equipment.

During his visit, Odierno praised USARAK's commitment to the nation and the military.

"The fact that you currently have two brigades out and about in a deployment setting from Alaska really says a lot about what you are doing up here," Odierno said.

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