If you’re assigned to Alaska, it’s probably good to love the outdoors because there’s plenty of it to go around.
America’s largest state, with the lowest population density, is a place of striking contrasts, where the sun barely comes up in winter and barely goes down in the summer, where mountains and glaciers create scenic masterpieces that can quickly turn deadly, where tourists flock to hike in Denali National Park when the weather is good and flee south when things turn cold.
For servicemembers, it’s a place to embrace hunting, fishing, skiing and snowmobiling, or a place to just survive the brutal winters. The U.S. military even has a training site in the middle of nowhere to teach soldiers how to stay alive such harsh conditions.
Even though a winter road trip can mean packing a wide array of survival gear for contingencies, Alaska gets into the blood of many.
Mention the risk of dying in Alaska, and most people think of bears and wolves. Troops assigned to U.S. Army Alaska say they fear the brutal cold.
That’s especially true for flight crews, for whom surviving a forced landing is just the first step in staying alive in some of the world’s most inhospitable conditions: deep snow, howling winds, rough terrain, remote areas with no road access and temperatures that regularly hit 50 degrees below zero in winter.
Alaska was known as Russian America before the Russian Empire sold it to the U.S. government in 1867.
The Russians built their North American colonies to tap into a rich fur-seal trade. When they sold the land for $7.2 million — after more than a century of occupation — the Russians were under financial duress and in fear of losing the territory in a future conflict with the British, with whom they fought the Crimean War in 1853-56.
While Seward’s scenery is stunning and the fishing’s great, local resort manager Scott Bartlett says the people he meets are the best part of the job.
“Everybody on the other side of the counter had to earn the right to be here,” said Bartlett, who runs Seward Military Resort, a rest-and-recreation facility for servicemembers, retirees, Department of Defense civilians and their families.
“You can’t just walk in off the street, and that’s pretty significant,” said the former soldier, who was the resort’s last 1st sergeant when it opened in 1996 and stayed on as its civilian manager after he retired in 1998.