U.S. personnel survey strategic Alaskan island


The groundwork for large-scale United States military exercises is often laid one community at a time.

In Alaska and the Arctic region, cooperation with civilian and tribal leaders is crucial to maintaining a vigilant and mission-ready homeland defense for North America.

An example of such exchanges: U.S. military personnel from Special Operations Command North (SOCNORTH) and the Alaska Air National Guard (AKANG) worked June 5-8, 2022, with tribal and city leaders on Alaska’s St. Lawrence Island to coordinate for future exercises such as Arctic Edge. (U.S. Northern Command’s Arctic Edge is a multiservice U.S. and Canadian exercise held every two years.)

“Special Operations Command North conducted surveys on St. Lawrence Island and (in) Nome, Alaska … in preparation for future training exercises. On St. Lawrence Island, the team conducted airfield surveys in Gambell and Savoonga. They met with leaders in both villages to coordinate training and logistics for future activities,” SOCNORTH said in a statement to The Watch. “Additionally, SOCNORTH conducted civil-affairs engagements on the island with leaders in both villages to strengthen our civilian-military partnerships and develop project proposals. The SOCNORTH team solidified relationships with residents of St. Lawrence Island and in Nome, Alaska, in preparation for future Arctic training initiatives.”

(Pictured: Special Operations Command North and Alaska Air National Guard members conduct airport surveys in June for future operations. The visits accomplished an initial assessment and familiarization.)

St. Lawrence Island is in the middle of the Bering Sea, approximately 36 nautical miles from Russia’s Chuchki Peninsula. The Bering Strait is a key geostrategic chokepoint that allows access to the Arctic Circle.

Surveys help SOCNORTH develop the readiness and capability to operate in the Arctic, which includes strengthening knowledge of the environment and assuring Alaska Natives that the military is sensitive to their concerns — especially when exercises take place near areas that provide subsistence hunting and fishing. St. Lawrence Island is inhabited by the Indigenous Yupik people.

The Arctic is an increasingly important strategic environment as climate change opens areas once covered by ice, freeing up access to sea routes and natural resources. These areas can be exploited by potential rivals capable of operating in the harsh conditions. The Arctic is part of the area of responsibility for USNORTHCOM, whose primary mission is homeland defense. SOCNORTH is the special operations component of USNORTHCOM.