FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska— Soldiers and families experienced a boost in the quality of life initiatives offered throughout the Army footprint in Alaska in 2020. While improvements have been made, the work remains ongoing.
“Even though we made significant improvements to the training, dining and transportation needs of Soldiers here in Alaska, we are still engaged and working closely with the garrison to ensure their needs continue to be met,” said Lt. Col. L. Pily Restrepo, commander of the 402nd Army Field Support Battalion-Alaska.
The changes are a result of a cross-functional Quality of Life Task Force led by the Army Material Command in direct response to an epidemiological consultation, also known as an EPICON, and recommendations from a USARAK Suicide Prevention Task Force after five suicide deaths between May 2018 and April 2019.
Going into the project, the task force was comprised of subject matter experts from the Army Sustainment Command, including the 402nd Army Field Support Brigade, or AFSB, and the 402nd Army Field Support Battalion-Alaska, along with representatives from USARAK, Installation Management Command, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Army Headquarters.
“The task force brought together the different organizations responsible for the varying aspects of quality of life in Alaska and fostered streamlined communications and teamwork to address the shortfalls of the installations across Alaska,” said Restrepo. “One year later, the task force continues to meet on a regular basis.”
The task force made recommendations in ten different areas of improvement, and the 402nd was tasked with working on four out of the ten recommendations.
“Here at the 402nd, our focuses for the quality of life initiatives are readiness facilities, dining options and equipment, and transportation on base for Soldiers who may not have cars,” said Master Sgt. Michael Childs, the 402nd AFSBn-Alaska’s senior enlisted advisor.
Alaska offers a unique problem set of being an austere location, with up to 22 hours of sunlight in summer and 20 hours of darkness in winter; subzero temperatures are common in the winter months.
Maintaining force readiness with these winter conditions is extremely difficult without the right facilities. Over the course of the year, the 402nd, utilizing the Logistics Civil Augmentation Program, commonly referred to as LOGCAP, built ten different facilities to make training and maintenance easier for the Soldiers.
“With the help of LOGCAP, we were able to build two combat readiness training facilities, or CRTFs, and eight winter maintenance facilities, also known as WMFs,” said Restrepo. “The CRTFs provide Fort Wainwright Soldiers with additional areas to conduct physical fitness training during the winter months, while the WMFs improve maintenance capabilities for the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division.”
In order to address the shortcoming of food services on base, the 402nd looked to “quick wins,” fixes they could make quickly and easily that would improve the Soldiers’ dining experience while longer-term improvements were in the works.
“Almost immediately, the Basic Daily Food Allowance (BDFA) was raised with the assistance of the Joint Culinary Center of Excellence, (JJCoE) which enable the food program managers increase the variety of meals provided to the Alaska Arctic Warriors Soldiers,” said Childs. “The BFDA has now been raised a total of 25 percent, a huge win for the Soldiers and Families.”
Over the course of 2020, the 402nd AFSBn-ALK conducted life cycle replacement of all equipment within both Fort Wainwright dining facilities and added new air fryers to the inventory to support the Army's Go for Green initiatives for healthy eating.
But it wasn’t just the equipment that got an upgrade.
“We also bought all new tables and chairs for the DFACs and spruced up the interior by using a local artist to add more flair to the Soldiers eating environment,” said Childs
The DFACs were fitted with a digital Wi-Fi package and the addition of over 30 televisions so Soldiers have an opportunity to relax and enjoy their dining experience.
“It was certainly about more than simply updating equipment. In order to improve the quality of life for the Soldiers in Alaska, we knew we needed to improve their experience, and not only the food offerings. We want Soldiers to want to come to the DFAC,” said Restrepo.
Childs added that it took a while for everyone to fully realize the DFAC had free Wi-Fi, but once they did, Soldiers were happy with the addition, saying they could come and hang out in the DFAC for a while and relax instead of grabbing their food and leaving.
The 402nd spent the better part of 2020 leading the effort to add a food kiosk at Fort Wainwright.
“We can better support roughly 400 Soldiers who don’t live near the base’s DFACs,” said Childs. “While it may seem like not an issue to be four miles away from the dining facility, with Alaska’s harsh winters with temperatures 25 degrees below zero, or more, these Soldiers were missing meals due to the distance to get to the DFAC. Adding in a food option closer to the Soldiers can have an impact.”
The task force also identified a group of Soldiers who lived on the other side of the airfield and who did not have vehicles or any other means of transportation. Getting to the DFAC was not the only transportation issue faced by Soldiers. For most of them, Fort Wainwright is their first duty station and they do not have a car. Due to the arctic conditions six to seven months of the year, many Soldiers are not comfortable driving.
“So the 402nd worked on a contract solution to fix this problem and came up with two support packages: an on-call shuttle service and a route service,” said Restrepo. “The on-call shuttle service has been the most productive. The shuttle service is wildly popular and we are maxing out at providing rides for 23 Soldiers per hour.”
“We went from about 6,500 rides a month to being on track to hit roughly 10,000 rides this month,” added Childs.
The 402nd team says they are proud of the work they have accomplished, all in support of readiness for the Arctic Warriors and look forward, to continued dialogue with their community on additional ways to improve the quality of life for the Soldiers and Families in Alaska.
“After all, people are the Army’s most important asset and we want to ensure we take care of them,” said Restrepo.