The sound of Velcro tearing spread to several units of US Army soldiers gathered on Monday as they removed a patch and replaced it with a new one, formalizing the reflagging of US Army units in Alaska as the 11th Airborne Division in a ceremony at Fort Wainwright.
Fort Wainwright’s 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, was redesignated 1st Brigade Combat Team, 11th Airborne Division.
The reflagging unites the troops of Alaska under a single crest, designated “the Alaskan Angels”, a pair of angel wings with the designation 11 against a blue shield. He also brought troops from Alaska under his own division and away from the 25th Tropic Lightning Division, headquartered in Hawaii.
The 25th Division troops in Hawaii train for tropical conditions – a stark difference that the arctic-focused troops in Alaska have adopted.
The ceremony saw the unfurling of its new flag and the retirement of Alaska’s old flag from the U.S. military.
The ceremony saw troops from all brigade units lined up with helicopter units flying overhead. Dignitaries including General James McConville, Chief of Staff of the US Army; Gen. Brian Eifler, commander of Army of Alaska troops; and Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan hailed the change as a historic moment as the US military places greater emphasis on warfare in the Arctic.
The new brand vision remains under the control of US Army Pacific and US Indo-Pacific Command.
The change is multifaceted – uniting all Alaska troops under one identity and emphasizing airborne operations in extremely cold weather and at high altitudes.
During the ceremony, Eifler noted that change can be difficult, especially for those leading it, but he expects the troops at Fort Wainwright and Alaska in general to excel.
“You turned obstacles into opportunities and overcame challenges that most cannot comprehend,” Eifler said.
“Experience has taught us that units that have a common identity are a source of pride,” McConville said at a press briefing before the ceremony. “It’s what they do and who they are – and the 11th Airborne Division has a history of WWII bravery in the Pacific.”
Sullivan likened the transition to the U.S. Navy’s “ceremony of the plank”—when setting up a new unit.
“It’s a very rare opportunity and allows soldiers to establish new norms, culture and heritage, and an opportunity to embed them into who they want to be,” Sullivan said. “It’s very motivating, and most people in their military careers aren’t involved in creating a whole new unit or changing its flag.”
Eifler said Army soldiers in Alaska wear an assortment of different patches. Donning the Alaska Angels patch brings a common identity.
“Before, there was dysphoria with all these patches and even the military didn’t understand the structure properly,” Eifler said.
Murkowski, during the ceremony, said the Alaska Soldiers “now have a new patch, a new name and a new identity and an invigorated mission.”
“Soldiers here in Alaska have always been our nation’s Arctic warriors, conquering mountains and valleys, training in the bitter cold of winter,” Murkowski said. “You are a badass in the Arctic.”
McConville said the original 11th Airborne was the unit “that tested and validated this airborne operations division that gave leaders confidence that it could be used on D-Day.” [in 1944].”
“We expect Alaskan soldiers to live up to the legacy of those who came before them, to master their craft in arctic warfare, extreme cold and high altitude, and to are developing innovative ways to operate in this environment,” said McConville.
The 11th Airborne Division was formed in 1943 in North Carolina, where it trained to become a combat-ready force. His excellence convinced the War Department of division-sized airborne operations. He would see a combat deployment in New Guinea and combat in the Philippines in 1945.
He became the vanguard of the occupation of post-war Japan until May 1949, when he was returned to Fort Campbell. Some of the division’s units fought in the Korean War and again in the Vietnam War.
“In the Philippines during World War II, the 11th Airborne displayed extraordinary bravery fighting through dense jungles and rugged mountains and saved over 2,000 civilians,” McConville said at the ceremony. .
As the U.S. Army’s only arctic airborne division, the Army’s presence in Alaska is changing.
McConville said the reflagging means phasing out Stryker vehicles starting this summer, replacing them with arctic and subarctic equipment and gear.
“We are in the process of acquiring cold weather all-terrain vehicles,” McConville said. “We are also purchasing cold weather gear over the next couple of years.”
He added that the Army will assess its air presence in Alaska to determine how best to operate an “air assault brigade.”
Eifler added that “the focus will be on the dismounted and arctic mobility of Fort Wainwright…and on sustained operations in extremely cold climates.”
“We’re going to use snowmobiles there, CATVS and figure out how best to operate,” Eifler said. “We need to be mobile…and able to sustain operations in this cold weather.
The Pentagon has focused more on Arctic training in recent years, including the US Army’s 22-02 Joint Pacific Multinational Readiness Center in Alaska with at least 8,000 US and Canadian troops in the Fort Greely area.
“You’ll see a lot more training here, maybe more airborne ops and less Strykers,” Eifler said.
Stryker assault vehicles struggled to operate in weather conditions below 40 degrees during winter training operations. They will be returned and either separated or improved and transferred to other locations.
McConville said this means reduced operating and maintenance costs associated with Stryker vehicles while increasing investment in cold environment equipment.
Troop levels in Alaska will remain the same but may see a change in resources. Because a Stryker Brigade is larger than a normal Brigade, some troops will be moved to staff the Operations Center.
McConville and Eifler added that the military is looking to increase multinational training in the Arctic with its allies, from Norway to Nepal.
The new direction adds another tool to the Pentagon’s investment in Alaska, according to Sullivan.
“It represents a sea of change in the Pentagon’s focus on the Arctic,” Sullivan said at the press conference. “We are seeing the deployment of all-terrain vehicles in cold weather and giving them the proper equipment and clothing so they can survive in this environment and thrive to be the experts in our army.”
The rebranding also shifts the Army’s presence at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson from an administrative center to an operations center as its infantry brigade team is renamed 2nd Brigade Combat Team.
Sullivan added that Alaska’s military presence represents three pillars: a dedicated, centrally located airborne unit capable of deploying thousands of troops, a hub of military air power with the installation of more than 100 F- 22 and F-35 at Eielson Air Force Base and missile defense reinforcement.
Beyond that, Sullivan said, the Pentagon has plans for a state-of-the-art deep-water port in Nome for Navy ships, is building icebreakers and has created the Ted Stevens Center for Arctic. Security Studies.
“Not everyone is happy with this change – just think about military firepower,” Sullivan said. “The brutal dictatorships in China, North Korea and Russia will soon realize that they have put [those forces] behind and on their sides. This greatly enhances our nation’s national security.