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    Alaska Day Festival: US Army Alaska Continues Support of Alaska Communities



    Story by Derrick Crawford 

    United States Army Alaska

    Nothing epitomizes U.S. Army Alaska’s (USARAK) enduring relationship with the state of Alaska and its citizens like the command’s annual participation in the Alaska Day Festival held in Sitka, Alaska.
    That relationship stretches back to Oct. 18, 1867 when more than 250 Soldiers stood in formation at the very ceremony where Russia transferred claim of the then-Territory of Alaska to the United States of America. USARAK continues to stand with the state and the picturesque, remote, fishing community of Sitka that hosts events each year to remember Alaska Day, culminating with ceremonies on October 18.
    For community members like Linda Berge, a long-time Sitka resident and member of the Alaska Day Committee that organizes festival activities and ceremonies, the community’s relationship with the military is one of mutual respect and support.
    “Sitka is the only city in the state of Alaska that celebrates (the transfer) during the actual time of Alaska Day…It all happened here,” she said. “This is where the history of Alaska (statehood) started.
    “We take pride in this small, little island town, and it’s almost like we’re forgotten. We’re the only ones who do this. That’s the thing, the Army supports us…, and that’s what we need.”
    This year’s Alaska Day celebration, though considerably scaled back, resumed after COVID-19 restrictions forced the cancellation of all events in 2020. Missing were indoor events like the grand ball and social teas with participants in period dress, tours of the museum and other historic sites, and multiple days of entertainment.
    Despite that, a group of approximately 30 USARAK Soldiers, led by the command’s top leaders, Maj. Gen. Brian Eifler and Command Sgt. Maj. Philip Blaisdell, traveled from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage to Baranof Island on Alaska’s Inside Passage to continue the Army’s legacy of support in Alaska Day activities, Oct. 17 - 18.
    “It’s important to remember our history, our heritage, our connection with Alaska and the people of Alaska,” explained Eifler, Alaska’s senior-ranking Army commander who also serves as the deputy commander of Alaskan Command. “As we continue to defend our nation, to defend our state and to be a shining light for our country and for this state, I think it’s really important for Soldiers to be recognized and be part of this ceremony.”
    The Army’s continued participation, along with that of the U.S. Coast Guard and Alaska Army National Guard element based in Sitka, goes a long way, according to Berge. She recalled receiving a phone call from another Sitka resident who, upon learning that the military would indeed be participating in this year’s Alaska Day, wanted to express her appreciation. “They didn’t think anyone would be able to come this year, and the military was the only (outside participant) that showed up this year,” said Berge.
    Even blustery, coastal-gray days couldn’t dim USARAK’s impact in the community, as Soldiers from the 9th Army Band performed a free-wheeling, outdoor concert on Oct. 17 that nonetheless drew more than 100 people, according to Berge, who noted that rather than miss the performance some people listened from their vehicles in the parking lot.
    “This year (the festival) was very small with COVID and all of that, but what you notice is how many people actually came out on a day like today...they’re out here to support you guys and be thankful, and they’ll come out in any weather to do that,” said Berge, while taking refuge inside a softly-lit hotel lobby over a smoking, cup of coffee. “(Sitka residents) come out of the woodworks (to be a part of Alaska Day). This is the biggest celebration in Sitka.”
    On Oct. 18, band members, along with a color guard and rifle-salute squad from the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), participated in a quaint memorial ceremony led by Chaplain (Col.) Masaki Nakazono and Master Sgt. Eric Tysinger, USARAK’s command chaplain team, at the Sitka National Cemetery. During the ceremony, Eifler placed a wreath at the headstone of Medal of Honor recipient and Korean War-veteran, U.S. Marine Corps Col. Archie Van Winkle, the only Medal of Honor recipient buried at the cemetery.
    Following the memorial ceremony, members of the band and color guard marched in the community parade that wound its way through the city’s historic downtown, and finally, they, along with the rifle squad, participated in the re-enactment transfer ceremony that followed atop Castle Hill, site of the 1867 ceremony, to cap off events.
    Although the main mission was to support the latest celebration of Alaska Day, Eifler said USARAK’s participation is part of a greater duty in being a trusted partner, not only in Sitka but also in communities throughout the state. “It says (our involvement) is really important to the people of Alaska, it’s really important to the people of Sitka, and it just shows how supportive that the people of Alaska are towards the military,” he stated. “It warms our hearts, because it’s always nice to have that welcoming and partnership both on our installations and off…The people of Alaska have welcomed us and continue to support us in war, in peace, in conflict, where ever or whatever we’re doing, so we’re very thankful.”



    Date Taken: 11.01.2021
    Date Posted: 11.22.2021 17:40
    Story ID: 408611
    Location: SITKA, AK, US 

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