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National Guard relocates Alaskan village

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Rachel Simones
  • 178th Wing

The sea waters that were once a source of sustenance for the villagers of Newtok now threaten to destroy their homes. The rising waters around the remote Alaskan village are eroding the coastline and forcing the natives to find a new place to call home. As villagers prepare to leave their homes behind, the Air National Guard has arrived to assist with a nearly decade-long project.

Service members, contractors and community members joined together to recreate a community rich with decades-old traditions. Although the buildings from Newtok may never be the same, the culture will carry on in a new location.

“There was one night we were there where the locals came to visit us and they sang for us in their native Alaskan language and danced for us which was really awesome to see,” said Williams. “At the end during their final song they even invited us to come up and dance with them, which was something that I’ll treasure forever.”

The Air National Guard members assisting with this transition gained an understanding of how their efforts affected the local natives.

“Their leader was talking about the history of the village and the history of the people there and he actually started to get choked up,” said Senior Airman Sarah Williams, a services journeyman with the 178th Wing. “You could just tell he was so, so grateful for our help and truly all of the people there felt the same way, which was really cool to see.”

Throughout the trip, Williams learned about Alaskan culture and felt proud to be a part of something bigger than herself.

“Just the military in general has opened my eyes to different cultures. Like for me, I’ve been born and raised in Ohio and I’ve lived in the same house for 20 years,” said Williams. “I haven’t really been exposed to other cultures or races, so even for me going to Basic Military Training was a huge eye-opener. But then, aside from that, I really enjoy learning about other cultures. I feel like it makes me just a more well-rounded person in general. I absorb all that information and use it for the better.”

Williams assisted in relocating the Newtok village to Mertarvik, Alaska, June 10-19, by cooking meals for individuals working on site, coordinating incoming aircraft filled with supplies, conducting inventories, and placing food orders on a restricted budget.

“The first day out there we had seven planes of food come in so we had to hurry up and unload them, and do inventory,” said Williams. “That in itself was a huge task to do.”

Williams received the first award of her career for her superior performance while in Mertarvik.

“For me as a services person to get recognized for all of my hard work was just really cool,” said Williams. “It was really humbling.”

Williams’ experience in Alaska allowed her to step out of her comfort zone and return to the 178th Wing with a stronger sense of confidence in her skills.

“I’m really proud of her,” said Chief Master Sgt. David Franzen, the 178th Force Support Squadron superintendent. “We asked a lot of her and she navigated all of it very well.”

Williams gained experience working at a bare base, where resources are limited and the stakes are high. Personnel assigned to the base rely on services personnel for sustenance to support their daily efforts.

“You really have to rely on the core training that you have,” said Franzen. “I believe when she comes back to work and walks into that kitchen she will have a different knowledge base and a new confidence level.”

The project to move the village to Mertarvik will continue for the next several years. The service members’ efforts will be evident through the continued traditions of the Newtok villagers. Williams returned to Ohio with a renewed sense of pride in her work that ultimately saved lives and preserved the culture of Newtok, Alaska.