Alaska Guard joins war on drugs

Posted: Monday, October 01, 2001

ANCHORAGE -- The Alaska National Guard has teamed up with law enforcement agencies to fight substance abuse throughout the state.

The Guard has committed troops, weapons and technology to help interdict drug shipments, stop drug production and educate youngsters about the dangers of abusing drugs, alcohol and inhalants.

Federal law prohibits the use of active-duty armed forces for domestic law enforcement. National Guard members, however, are considered state employees in peacetime and are allowed to use military resources to aid law enforcement.

''We're not the guys who kick down the doors, but we're in direct support of those guys who do,'' said Adjutant Gen. Phillip Oates, Guard commander.

The Alaska Guard spends $1.7 million a year in fighting drugs, employing 31 full-time members in its interdiction and education programs.

Lt. Col. Tom Katkus, coordinator for the Alaska Guard, said goals are to educate youths, increase safety, reduce health care costs and break the source of drugs.

Reaching out to rural Alaska is one component of the program. For example, Staff Sgt. Andy Workman, a drug demand reduction specialist, has visited the Yukon Delta village of Alakanuk twice this year on trips coordinated by the Guard.

''Most of the teachers and community leaders tell us that they desperately need more education in their communities, and they are very concerned about their next generation,'' Workman said during a late August visit in the village of 652.

The Guard has a particular interest in fighting drugs in Alaska. It has a shortage of members, due in part to recruits who can't pass drug tests.

''The biggest inhibiting factor for me recruiting in rural Alaska is drug use,'' Oates said.

In the Bush, the substances of choice are different from those in urban Alaska, but their abuse plagues communities.

''Drug use is definitely a major problem in the villages,'' said Raymond Oney, Alakanuk tribal administrator. ''Because of the lack of employment, (people are) always looking for something to do.''

Alcohol and inhalants are most abused, community leaders told Workman, Lt. Noel Pediangco of the Rural Affairs Program and Staff Sgt. Jeff Wells, a National Guard spokesman, at a meeting during their August visit.

The subject of drug abuse came up again later that day at a meeting of the Alakanuk Advisory School Board. Guard members met with five board members, principal Nancy Mazurek and 15 of her staff members.

''Kids as young as first grade are sniffing gas,'' said Wendy Milligan, who teaches second- and third-graders.

While most of its manpower is focused on interdiction, the Guard has a Drug Demand Reduction Program to educate people about the dangers of drugs. Workman said Alakanuk's request for a day of anti-drug education had been approved for Oct. 22.

Board member Paula Ayunerak said she looks forward to the day.

''It's important that children know the effects of alcohol on all their organs,'' Ayunerak said.

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