by Kristine Bunnell, Anchorage, Alaska
JBER Honorary Commanders Program
It was a frosty March morning in 2017, when I was embedded with the U.S. Army’s 4th Brigade (4-25 Spartan Brigade) Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division’s three-day live-fire training exercise just beyond the Municipal boundaries of Anchorage. Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson, or JBER (pronounced JBear), is one of Alaska’s largest employers, and for Anchorage a partner in planning, housing, outreach, and education.
JBER interacts with the Anchorage community in many ways, but one of the most popular is the Honorary Commanders Program. Aspiring Honorary Commanders apply for the position, and if chosen, are paired with either U.S. Army or U.S. Airforce units for a two-year stint. “The purpose of the Honorary Commanders Program is to increase public awareness and understanding of missions, policies, programs and the people of JBER,” according to Army.mil.
I was chosen in July 2016, to serve with Colonel Scott Green, commander of the U.S. Army’s 4-25 Spartans. On induction day, I quickly learned that Colonel Scott loves Army life, loves to kid, and wants everyone to experience “all” that the U.S. Army is required to do, to be an effective soldier. Literally he asked me at the induction when I wanted to jump out of an airplane!
In the ensuing months, I was invited to three different trainings, including the live-fire, several ceremonies, and the ever-popular Army-Airforce Hockey Game! Each experience gave me a better understanding of what is required of the Army and how dedicated commanders are to their troops.
I wasn’t sure what to expect as an Honorary Commander. So, on that eventful day in March when Colonel Green barked at me to, “Get down there and shoot that rifle!” I quickly sprang into action. Not wanting to disappoint him, I ripped off several rounds from an M-16! Jumping back up, I asked how I did. He said, “You are a natural.”
Getting to a Planning 101 Workshop
I perceived the Honorary Commander’s Program to be a give and take. As much fun as I was having, I really wanted to do something for his troops. It took me several times asking before he stated that 2,000 troops could be deploying to Afghanistan in the coming year.
He asked me to hold a “Planning 101” workshop for his commanders. Colonel Green wanted his commanders to be prepared to help the Afghan people. I felt privileged when he finally asked me for something.
The 4-25 Spartans were going to small villages to assist the locals. Alaska remote village experiences are comparative to where the 4-25 Spartans would be; in remoteness, lack of resources, communication issues, and tribal dominance.
Experts were invited from a cross-section of the Anchorage community including the firms HDR, Kittleson & Associates, and GCI, the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, the Anchorage School District, the University of Alaska Anchorage, Anchorage Community Land Trust, Cook Inlet Housing Authority, Port of Alaska, and the Municipality of Anchorage. Topics of discussion included; Rule of Law, Public Health and Welfare, Economic Stability and Development, Infrastructure, Governance, and Education and Information. Compelling stories were shared by the experts from both the Alaska bush areas, and from retired military veterans who presented. Colonel Green also interspersed stories from his previous deployments in Afghanistan. Emotions ran high, especially when military veterans presented on the lack of in-country local resources, their wishes to do more, and willingness to help Third World countries advance and prosper.
A special shout-out goes to Lonny Mansell, UAA Project Manager, and a military veteran. Lonny guided me to a Civil Affairs Functional Areas training program used by the Army to set the topics and agenda for the Planning 101 workshop. Lonny’s assistance in setting up the day-long program was invaluable.
Change in Command
Commands are ever-changing in the military. Each change is heralded by a Change of Command ceremony. I attended three different changes of command, including Colonel Green’s, during the short time I was with the 4-25 Spartans. Colonel Green’s Change of Command was emotional and heart-warming as he shared his love of his family, his commanders, and his troops. It was a privilege to attend and celebrate his service. “Arctic Tough! Sparta Lives!”
Community partners can be found anywhere we live. This experience taught me that we need to look farther and wider for opportunities to outreach and share planning knowledge and experience. We also need to be open to our military to not only learn from them, but so they can learn from us.
The Municipal’s Planning Department works closely with JBER’s Pacific Air Force Engineering and Planning Department on a variety of planning and development projects. This work doesn’t typically include the many different Army and Air Force units at JBER.
Kristine Bunnell is a senior planner at the Municipality of Anchorage, 2016 APA Alaska Chapter Planner of the Year, Western Planner Editorial Board Member, and a Coast Guard Mom. Her “Coastie” was deployed for a year during Operation Iraqi Freedom aboard the USCGC Monomoy (WPB 1326).
Published in October 2018