For some Guardsmen, Christmas is another day on the job

Posted: Wednesday, December 26, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- Fritz Brown will be in uniform and far from home on Christmas, just one of hundreds of Guardsmen activated to provide security at America's airports.

Brown, 37, of Kipnuk is a sergeant in the Army National Guard. He arrived in Juneau Nov. 16 to provide additional security at the airport.

Normally on Christmas Day in the village of Kipnuk, where he lives with his wife and six kids, Brown enjoys eating dry fish dipped in seal oil. This Christmas, he's working a 10-hour shift in uniform at the Juneau Airport.

While most of the more than 200 National Guard troops activated to provide airport security in Alaska are stationed close to home, some aren't so lucky, said Maj. Mark Turner.

''We tried to do that as much as possible, and probably 80 percent of them are (close to home). It saves the government money for housing as they can stay in their own homes, and they get paid a little more -- so its a win-win situation,'' Turner said.

Brown was on duty for Thanksgiving, and he'll be patrolling the airport on New Year's Day as well, he said.

Like Brown, Spec. Tom Tom of Chefornak has left southwestern Alaska to serve the traveling public on Christmas Day.

Tom, 32, is a subsistence hunter who looks forward to the March seal season. Back in Chefornak, a village of 400, he'd be sitting around the table with his parents, two brothers and three of his four sisters.

When he's not hunting, Tom clerks at the village corporation's general store or travels by snowmachine to Nightmute.

This is the longest he has ever been away from home, but he said the duty has been good.

Lt. Col. Tim Koeneman is in charge of heightened security at six airports, including the one in Juneau.

Koeneman and his wife, Polly, have lived in Petersburg since 1970, but they've adapted to follow his duty assignments wherever they take him.

''My wife has had the same philosophy when I have to go away for extended periods of training: We set up a second home,'' said Koeneman, who recently retired after 26 years of shellfish research with the state Department of Fish and Game.

''She and my Labrador retriever are here with me,'' Koeneman said.

Koeneman said two of the couple's three children live in Juneau and their daughter plans to travel from Seattle to be with them on Christmas.

While her husband is occupied with guard duties, Polly works on her hobby, Scandinavian rosemaling (painting on enameled metalware), and keeps in touch with her mother and children.

''We're going to have a nice Christmas,'' he said.

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