OLD HARBOR, Alaska --
units across Marine Forces Reserve are participating in Innovative Readiness
Training Old Harbor, Alaska, April 26 – August 6, 2016.
Old Harbor is part of a civil and joint military program to improve military
readiness while simultaneously providing quality services to underserved
communities throughout the United States.
The primary mission
of the exercise is to construct a 2,000-foot extension of Old Harbor’s airport
runway. This year marks the fourth year Reserve Marines have participated in
to this year, the previous participants have moved up to 500,000 cubic yards of
material,” said Staff Sgt. John V. Geary, maintenance chief and camp commandant
for IRT Old Harbor. This year we have moved about 155,000 yards so far and we
are looking to move over 200,000 yards by the end of the project this year.”
Marines involved in this year’s exercise come from Marine Wing Support Squadron
473, Marine Aircraft Group 41, 4th Marine Aircraft Wing; MWSS-472, MAG 49, 4th
MAW; Marine Air Support Squadron 6, Marine Air Control Group 48, 4th MAW; 6th Engineer
Support Battalion, 4th Marine Logistics Group, and Environmental Services
Detachment. Also joining the Marines were augments from the Army National
Guard, Army Reserve and Air National Guard.
Revitalizing a community
Innovative Readiness Training program began in 1992 when the Department of
Defense searched for innovative programs to serve American communities in need
and provide realistic military training benefits. The three primary areas of
emphasis were health care, infrastructure support and youth training areas.
Old Harbor, a
small community on Kodiak Island, is highly dependent on the fishing industry.
In order to support economic expansion, the Old Harbor Native Corporation, the
City of Old Harbor and the Old Harbor Tribal Council have been working to
establish infrastructure needed to start a fish processing operation in the
community. In order to develop a fish processing plant necessary to support
this operation, a larger airstrip is needed to accommodate larger aircraft that
can export fresh fish products.
support of the IRT program, the Marines, and all the other participating units,
this project would be dead in the water,” said Cynthia R. Berns, the vice
president of administration and external affairs for the Old Harbor Native
While the state of
Alaska provided financial support initially, due to budget constraints they
have had to pull back a lot of financial support from the project. Without IRT
Old Harbor, the project would be on hold until funding becomes available.
“The problem is that when you put a project on
hold and wait a few years down the line, your costs are going to double,” Berns
Aside from the
runway construction, the Marines have also supported the local community
through various projects.
“The Marines, in
their off time, have helped with a lot of community projects," said Rick
Berns, mayor of Old Harbor. "This includes gardening, small construction
projects, and participation in our community events."
In addition to
benefiting the community, the Marines have been able to tap into their
expeditionary roots by training in this austere environment.
"This is no different than what they
would be doing if they were deployed overseas,” said Lt. Col. Vincent C.
Dawson, commanding officer of MWSS-473. “We've had construction of a forward
operating base, construction of an airfield and vertical construction of
support facilities. We have the whole gamut of Marine Wing Support Squadron
military occupational specialties working out here. This is training we can't
get when we go to drill two or three days a month.”
the remoteness of the training site brings its own set of challenges.
location is probably the biggest challenge of the training,” Said Chief Warrant
Officer 2 John W. Peskuski, project officer, IRT Old Harbor. “Moving equipment
and personnel to this location is difficult because you have to come in by
plane or by barge. The weather has hindered some of those movements.”
logistical setbacks, the Marines are still able to complete quality training.
“For every single
Reservist coming to this annual training, they are doing training 10 to 12
hours a day in their military occupational specialty,” Geary said. “If they are
operating heavy equipment, they are getting a lot of stick time on different
kinds of gear. If they are mechanics, they are doing maintenance work every
For many of the
Reserve Marines, this is critical training time they might not receive back at
their home training centers.
“This has been a
great experience,” said Pfc. Kade A. Harner, a motor vehicle operator with
Detachment B, MWSS-473. “I've had a chance to run equipment that I've never had
hands on experience with.”
Even for more
experienced equipment operators, the value of quality training time is the
training because a lot of times as Reservists, we don't get a lot of hands on
time with the equipment,” Sgt. Brian S. Warner, an engineer equipment operator
with Det. B, MWSS-472. “For operators it is a really good opportunity for them
to run equipment nonstop.”
the Marines have made a tremendous amount of progress this year, there is still
plenty of work to be done.
“To complete this
project, we really need to get the drilling and blasting done,” Cynthia Berns
said. “To do this, ideally, we need to maintain the support of the IRT program
and get the Marines who are familiar with the project to participate in it.”
With a project the
scope of IRT Old Harbor, the Marines have a unique opportunity to meet their
annual training requirements while responding to a key infrastructure need in a
small American community.
“This project is
not only helping to build our infrastructure, but it is really helping to
sustain our community and our culture,” Cynthia Berns said. “There are a lot of
villages in Alaska that are dying. People are moving to the cities and losing
the connection with their home. We are really grateful for all of the support
from the IRT program and the Marines. Without them, we would not be moving