FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska — Department of the Army Inspector General (DAIG) personnel began a week-long site visit to Fort Wainwright, Alaska, July 11, 2022, in support of the New Soldier Experience (NSE) inspection.
The NSE inspection directly ties to building cohesive teams and creating a positive command climate from the moment a new Soldier enlists into the Army by examining every aspect of entering Army service. It examines reception, quality of life initiatives, the training experience, and why some are motivated to leave the Army before the completion of their first enlistment.
Since mid-March, DAIG teams have conducted an all-encompassing inspection of the processes and systems that support training and integrating new Soldiers into the Army, from their initial entry training to arriving at their first duty assignment.
Upon the inspection’s completion in late 2022, DAIG inspection teams will have visited 38 Army locations across all components and met with thousands of Soldiers, leaders and Army families.
Lt. Gen. Donna W. Martin, Army Inspector General, recognized Fort Wainwright as a site that poses unique challenges to first-term Soldiers and their families. Known as the “Golden Heart City,” Fairbanks, where Fort Wainwright is located, is the largest and coldest city in the interior region of Alaska.
“First-term Soldiers are the Army’s most vulnerable population,” said Martin. “They are new to the Army culture, working through transitions, and integrating into their units and squads. This newness can be overwhelming, specifically for a Soldier who is far from family and serving in an austere environment like Alaska. Because of this, it was vital that the NSE inspection visit to Fairbanks was focused on understanding how new Soldiers and their families are integrated and prepared to serve and live in this remote region.”
Since Aug. 3, 2021, 986 first-term Soldiers have in-processed at Fort Wainwright. During sensing sessions, interviews and a town hall meeting, inspectors spoke with some of the new Soldiers and their leaders about their experiences. The discussions focused on the systems and processes involved in a new Soldier’s reception and integration.
Several Soldiers praised the Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers (BOSS) program for their positive experiences with the different activities offered, including life-skills classes, rodeo Alaska, community service work, fishing tournaments and ice climbing. Additionally, as part of the BOSS program, volunteers with Soldiers Against Drunk Driving have currently provided safe rides home for more than 1,000 Soldiers this fiscal year.
“Fort Wainwright’s SADD program is the epitome of putting people first and leading by example,” said Fort Wainwright Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Ruben Murillo. “Our BOSS volunteers sacrifice their time every weekend to ensure that the Soldiers on Fort Wainwright get home safe while preserving readiness and the fighting force.”
In January 2022, Martin and Sgt. Maj. Larry H. Orvis, sergeant major of the Army Inspector General Agency, experienced the Alaskan winter firsthand when they traveled to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and Fort Wainwright.
Similar to the goals of NSE, their visit to Alaska served as a chance to better understand Soldiers’ and families’ challenges while serving in an austere and remote environment. During their discussions with Soldiers and leaders, most agreed that while adapting to the environment can take time, it also offers unique opportunities like ice fishing, hunting and a chance to see the aurora borealis, or “northern lights.”
Martin acknowledged the importance of understanding and embracing the uniqueness of each installation and each Soldier who serves there.
“Every Soldier comes into the Army from various backgrounds and experiences, and the Army must recognize and embrace these differences to retain the best and brightest,” said Martin. “During our visit, we spoke with Soldiers who were initially opposed to an assignment in Alaska for various reasons, but once there, really began to thrive in the environment.”
In June 2021, the Army initiated an accessions program that allows new Soldiers to select certain first duty stations. To date, 844 Soldiers have volunteered to serve in Alaska, and the Army’s Human Resources Command has approved more than 390 Soldier requests to extend their Alaskan assignments.
The Army also recently announced significant actions to improve Soldiers’ and families’ quality of life while serving in Alaska. These include increased access to behavioral health support, a surge of 19 chaplains and four religious support assistants, and an increase in military and family life counselors, who will temporarily support Mission 100, a program that provides every Soldier in Alaska an annual counseling session with a licensed counselor.
Orvis, who returned to Wainwright during the NSE inspection, was excited by the continuous improvements to the post.
“I’m encouraged by the positive changes I’ve seen since our last visit,” said Orvis. “Leaders are truly keyed-in to improvements that Soldiers and families need to enhance their quality of life and, while many of the improvements will take time, it is important that Soldiers know the Army is listening and developing steps to take care of its people.”
One of the most significant changes occurred on June 6, 2022, when the Army re-designated U.S. Army Alaska and two Alaska-based brigade combat teams as the 11th Airborne Division. The re-designation—along with a new Arctic Angels patch—provides Soldiers and leaders with a common unit identity and proud history that dates back to World War II.
As the NSE inspection teams continue to visit various installations, they will identify best practices and good-news stories that the Army can replicate across the force to ensure new Soldiers and families prosper and remain ready to serve the nation.