The National Guard is postponing personnel changes in Alaska that jeopardize national security and civilian rescue efforts

By: Mark Thiessen, Associated Press

FILE – In a June 16, 2020, image released by the North American Aerospace Defense Command, a Russian Tu-95 bomber, top, is intercepted by a U.S. F-22 Raptor fighter off the coast of Alaska. The Air National Guard has postponed personnel changes in Alaska until September 2025 that could have jeopardized national security and civilian rescue missions. (North American Aerospace Defense Command via AP)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The Air National Guard has postponed its plan to downgrade the status of about 80 members of its unit in Alaska, a move that would jeopardize national security and civilian rescue efforts in the nation’s most remote state have brought.

The Alaska Air National Guard confirmed the delay in an email to The Associated Press on Friday.

Efforts by state politicians and Alaska residents “were instrumental in obtaining this delay, which will allow time for all involved to conduct more thorough research and analysis,” wrote Alan Brown, a spokesman for the Alaska -guard.

The Air National Guard headquarters in Virginia did not respond to emails from the AP seeking comment.

The changes to balance the top earning positions among the other 53 state and territory units will still be completed by October 1.

Alaska would convert 80 of its highly paid Active Guard and Reserve members — who are essentially the equivalent of full-time active-duty military personnel — into dual-status technical positions, a classification with lower pay, less attractive benefits and other duties.

Many say they will quit rather than accept the changes, which could mean their wages are cut by more than 50%.

Local Guard leaders argued that Alaska needed the personnel in the higher classification to meet requirements to carry out national security missions that other units do not have, such as monitoring ballistic missile launches from countries such as Russia, North Korea and China .

The Alaska Guard also said its ability to operate tankers to escort U.S. and Canadian fighter jets as they intercept Russian bombers coming close to Alaska or Canada would be severely limited.

The Guard also plays a critical role in conducting civilian search and rescue missions in Alaska, sending military helicopters and cargo planes through fierce storms to rescue people from small Alaska Native villages when weather prevents air ambulances from flying.

Last year, the guard carried out 159 such missions, including flying to an Alaskan island just 2 miles (3.2 km) from a Russian island to pick up a pregnant woman with a stomach ache. In a recent rescue, two paramedics parachuted into an Alaska Native village because it was the fastest way to reach a seriously ill woman with internal bleeding. Another involved flying to a western Alaska village to pick up a pregnant woman who began bleeding when her waters broke and taking her to a hospital in Anchorage, more than 400 miles (644 kilometers) away.

If the personnel changes continued, the warden estimated the number of rescues would drop to about 50 per year.

The reductions in Alaska have been postponed until Sept. 30, 2025, giving the agency more time to study how the changes would affect operations in Alaska and whether the changes should be implemented at all, according to a joint statement from the state’s congressional delegation.

“The pressure this uncertainty places on members of the Alaska Air National Guard – on whom Alaskans depend in the most dire emergencies – to worry about their jobs, their benefits and their ability to care for their families, is unacceptable,” the US said. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican, said in the statement.

“Delaying the implementation of the misleading guidelines is a win, but it should never have gotten to this point,” she said.