The Army is taking steps to improve quality of life at two Alaska posts, in the aftermath of a spate of suicides in recent months.
“The Army is providing a surge of behavioral health professionals this summer to shorten mental health appointment wait times for our soldiers,” said Secretary of the Army Christine E. Wormuth, who visited Joint Base Richardson near Anchorage and Fort Wainwright near Fairbanks in April. “We’re also expanding indoor and outdoor recreation opportunities for our soldiers and their families throughout the year. We’ve heard the concerns of our soldiers and we will do everything we can to create an environment in which our soldiers and families in Alaska can thrive.”
According to Military.com, three soldiers in the state killed themselves in 2018, with eight more suicides in 2019 and seven in 2020.
The Army and Defense Health Agency are hiring 17 new behavioral health providers in the state. The two licensed professionals there were handling some 56 appointments per week as of the end of last month. They are being joined by three more such professionals, who plan to serve soldiers and their families there for the next six months. Sometime this month, eight military and family life counselors will begin working there on a temporary basis. They will serve in 90-day rotations, during which they would be able to provide hourlong appointments to 48 soldiers per day. Also, 19 chaplains and four religious support assistants will begin serving six-month incremental tours during the next three years. In total, the capacity of counseling and behavioral-health support in Alaska will more than double.
Enhancements in morale, welfare and recreation (MWR) activities also are underway. For example, fitness centers will begin allowing teens and their parents to use ski facilities for independent exercise activities during the winter months.
The Army also began providing loaner furniture for new arrivals this month, while they wait for their household goods to arrive. And at Wainwright, the post shuttle bus is expanding its routes and service to provide rides to fitness areas and dining facilities.
Soldiers stationed in Alaska since March 2020 have qualified for a Remote And Austere Condition Assignment Incentive Pay, an indication of how strategically important the Arctic region has become in recent years. The service stated that more than 1,500 soldiers there have received $3.2 million as a result, which they used to prepare themselves and their families for Alaska’s severe climate.
They also receive a non-taxable overseas cost-of-living allowance, to help defray Alaska’s high costs for housing goods and services. And because travel to and from Alaska is expensive, Army Emergency Relief provides loans of $500 to single soldiers and $1,000 for families to use for non-emergency travel to homes of record.
Emphasizing the state’s strategic importance, the Army recently redesignated two brigade combat teams there as the 11th Airborne Division Headquarters, The 1st and 2nd Brigade Combat Teams are now the 11th Airborne Division.
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