Extending holiday greetings to Alaska’s military family

ELMENDORF, Alaska -- As we reach the end of another year, it's a great time to reflect on the events of the past year while embracing the magic of the holiday season here in Alaska.

One of the things I will remember most about 2010 is the many ways the people of our community stepped up to meet the many challenges we faced.

At Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Airmen and civilian employees of the 3rd Wing worked hard to prepare for the Installation Excellence Team visit in early January. Their work would be rewarded when the team selected Elmendorf as the winner of the 2010 Commander in Chief's award for Instillation Excellence. This recognition came with a $1 million allotment to spend on quality-of-life improvements on base.

The 3rd Wing continued its winning streak later in the year, receiving an overall "excellent" rating from inspectors during the Pacific Air Forces Unit Compliance Inspection in October.

In late July, the entire Alaska military community came together for the Arctic Thunder open house and air show. More than 200,000 people came out to see the Navy's Blue Angels, Canadian Air Force Snow Birds, and the many other demonstrations and static displays. The selfless work that went into making this event a success demonstrates the kind of pride we have in our relationship with the community and one of the reasons the support for the men and women in uniform in Alaska is second-to-none.

The Soldiers of U.S. Army Alaska had an eventful year as well. One of the best moments was in March when we welcomed home the 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, after a one-year deployment to Afghanistan. In a ceremony inside Sullivan Arena, Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell joined many of us in congratulating the men and women of the 4-25 on a job well done while sharing the moment they could be reunited with their friends and family.

In addition to the return of the 4-25, we witnessed many of our Soldiers and Airmen return from deployments around the globe. We must never forget the sacrifices our servicemembers make defending the freedoms we all enjoy, and not forget those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

A significant accomplishment of this past year was the stand-up of the 673rd Air Base Wing and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. Air Force and Army military and civilian leaders did an amazing job working together and were rewarded by seeing several years of planning and hard work come to fruition. Alaska can now proudly claim to be the home of the premier joint base in the U.S. military.

In September, Fort Wainwright's Task Force Denali deployed to Pakistan to assist in the relief efforts following the devastating floods that struck the region. Helicopters and personnel delivered more than 10 million pounds of relief supplies to the estimated 20 million people of Pakistan affected by the floods. Their hard work will leave a lasting, positive impact on the people of that country--we should all be proud of their accomplishment.

Airmen of the 354th Fighter Wing at Eielson Air Force Base had a busy year as well. In addition to hosting another successful year of Red Flag-Alaska exercises, the base also successfully completed a PACAF Operational Readiness Inspection in May. Six teams were cited as being "outstanding" by the inspectors, with 14 other Airmen recognized as outstanding performers.

Exercises played a big role in the events of this past year. In addition to the Red Flag exercises, most of the Alaska community took part in Arctic Edge 2010, an exercise designed to test how the community would respond to a natural disaster. The exercise took place in late April and early May and involved players from all over the state to include our Alaska National Guard partners.

The Vigilant Eagle exercise in August marked the first time U.S. and Russian personnel worked together on response to a simulated hijacked aircraft over the Pacific Ocean. The 3-day exercise was a huge success and set the stage for future cooperative efforts between our two countries.

The final major exercise of the year was Yudh Abhyas 2010, a combined training exercise providing USARAK Soldiers the opportunity to work with their counterparts in the Indian Army. This 14-day exercise gave Soldiers the chance to conduct field training and exchange cultural knowledge between the two countries. USARAK did an outstanding job representing Alaska's military and, to a great degree, the skill and professionalism of the modern American servicemember.

We cannot reflect on the success of 2010 without also taking time to remember the tragedy's of this past year. Most of us know someone who lost a friend or a loved one this year, either in combat operations in Iraq or Afghanistan or in tragic accidents here at home. Your support and compassion to these friends and families during this time is both appreciated and needed.

The holiday season isn't just a time of joy; it's also a time to be there for the people who need us most. In the Air Force it's called being a good wingman. Be a good wingman by taking care of each other. Pay attention to our friends and family members who may be showing signs of stress and make the decision to get involved and see they get the help they need. Be a good wingman by making sure you have a plan in place before going out and drinking. Your life and the lives of others all depend on you remembering to act responsibly. Don't jeopardize everything you've worked for this past year by making one bad decision.

Lastly, I would just like to say 'Thank You' for everything you do. Your hard work, sacrifice and commitment to excellence make me proud to serve as your commander. Although I don't get a chance to see you face-to-face as often as I would like, please know I truly appreciate everything you do.

From my family to yours, have a safe and joyous holiday season.