OLD HARBOR, Alaska --
On a warm summer morning in Old Harbor, Alaska, on Aug. 7, 2018, six years of devotion from hundreds of Marines’ construction of a new 2,000-foot runway extension was unveiled to distinguished visitors and community members.
Reserve Marines with multiple units across Marine Forces Reserve contributed to its completion during Innovative Readiness Training, Old Harbor.
“This project was not only important to the community of Old Harbor, it was important to the Marine Corps because we were able to train Marines for what they could possibly face overseas in combat,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 John Peskuski, project officer with Marine Wing Support Squadron 473, 4th Marine Aircraft Wing.
The operations in Old Harbor included military occupational specialty specific training, cross-training and operating in an austere environment with little to no resources. Not only did they have to focus on constructing this runway proficiently, they had to focus on the basic operations required to survive.
“Being out here in Alaska was one of the best examples of Marines operating in an expeditionary environment,” said Staff Sgt. John Geary, operations chief with MWSS-473. We essentially lived completely off the grid with our own expeditionary power, our own food services and our own hygiene areas. We self-generated everything here. It was difficult, but it created a great environment for the Marines to operate in.”
At IRT Old Harbor, the Marines had to hone in on adapting and overcoming the lack of available resources.
Constructing the runway was a mission that needed to be accomplished, and the Marines had to figure out how to make that happen successfully with resources they didn’t have and machinery they had never operated before.
“The training was beneficial because there was a lot of cross-training,” said Lance Cpl. Guy Benny, a combat engineer with MWSS-471. “There were a lot of Marines in my unit that had never touched any kind of heavy equipment, and people were able to try new things here. The Marines were taught quickly how to do something and learn as they go.”
Training is crucial for Marines, but what makes it even better is the added benefit the IRT program gives to the community. Old Harbor needed a runway extension to advance their community improvement plan, which will aid in boosting their economy. Additionally, the IRT program made it possible to benefit both the military and American communities to utilize each other’s skills and capabilities simultaneously.
“Essentially, IRT takes a civilian project and pairs it with a Reserve unit, which can be any Department of Defense entity that can complete that project and gain training,” Geary said. “It matches those two together so there’s civilian benefit with military benefit. It was important to the Marine Corps because the Marines were able to get a lot of MOS training. It was also important to Old Harbor because this was one part of their community improvement plan to increase the commercial productivity of their village.”
With the lessons learned during their training, the Marines who attended were able to gather new skills that will undoubtedly benefit them in the future. Until then, the Marines will look back at this trip with fond memories of what they were able to accomplish.
“Being here has been a great experience,” Benny said. “I wish I had been able to be here a lot longer than I was, or at least had chances to be here sooner to see the process as it went.”
Not only did the extension of the runway benefit the economy of Old Harbor, it also created a positive and lasting relationship between the community and the Marine Corps. And, as such, the Marines enjoyed their time in Old Harbor as much as the community appreciated having them there.
“Having the Marines in Old Harbor was truly a blessing,” said Cynthia Berns, the vice president of community and external affairs with Old Harbor Native Corporation. “We built a wonderful friendship with so many service members that have come to help in our community. We will forever be thankful to the Marine Corps for coming to our village. They have truly made a lasting impact and we hope they will come back again soon. It was truly the commitment and dedication of the Marines that made the completion of this project possible.”