October 18: Voice of The (Anchorage) Times on the military presence in Alaska:

Posted: Monday, October 23, 2000

The prospect is very real that the military presence in Alaska will increase if changing political alignments in Asia indicate the need to shift U.S. forces now stationed in the area

The strategic location of the 49th State is the primary reason, but there are others also.

Three of these ancillary factors stand out:

1. There is room here for the armed forces to train -- on land, on the sea and in the air.

2. There is space aplenty to accommodate the men and materiel necessary to support the nation's military mission.

3. The people of Alaska genuinely hold the men and women of the military in high regard, and welcome them as good neighbors and friends. Their lives and their family needs, quite apart from their duties as soldiers, sailors, airmen and Coast Guardsmen, are embraced by Alaskans who care about their welfare.

All of these factors come into consideration as military commanders review future positioning of forces that could be dramatically changed in the years ahead.

For one thing, there is the prospect -- once distant but now more possible -- that North Korea and South Korea may find ways to modify differences and lower the perilous hair-trigger relationship that for 50 years has kept the peninsula at the edge of war.

Should friendly relations between the two countries finally emerge from generations of bitterness and division, the long-term need to keep 37,000 American forces on duty there will be largely erased.

It also becomes even more likely that American forces on Okinawa -- mainly consisting of the Third Marine Expeditionary Force -- will be withdrawn in the face of rising civilian opposition to the U.S. military presence.

Some reports say the Marines are studying the possibility of relocating to northern Australia. Others have indicated Alaska could be the home of a Marine establishment in the future.

More likely, however, is the prospect that the Army's Second Infantry Division would be moved from South Korea to Alaska, if the threat of an immediate outbreak of hostilities eases -- and if North Korea backs away from its saber-rattling threats to launch ballistic missiles at U.S. forces in the Asian area.

From a military standpoint, the strategic location of Alaska makes this a natural place to locate forces that could be readily deployed to meet defense emergencies in Asia, Europe and virtually every other hotspot north of the Equator.

Mass troop realignments are not likely in the near term. But the prospects are on the Pentagon drawing boards -- and very much a part of ongoing defense review studies.


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