When the United States acquired Alaska from the Russian Empire in 1867 for $7.2 million, a paltry $0.39 per acre, the Army’s 9th Infantry Regiment was there to raise our flag over the southeastern port city of Sitka. There were certainly some naysayers doubting the procurement when then-Secretary of State William Seward negotiated the terms of purchase with his Russian counterpart. Back then, the territory’s true strategic worth remained unknown; “Seward’s Icebox” was largely accepted as barren land that felt wholly separate from the contiguous states to its south. While the Army didn’t begin construction on what is now Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson until 1940, presence in the region would grow rapidly throughout the second World War. After significant transformation in the early 2000s, which saw the activation of two brigade combat teams, the Army in Alaska again transformed in 2022 with its reactivation as the 11th Airborne Division to unite roughly 12,000 Soldiers and best support our Arctic strategy. In this Arctic-themed edition of Army Sustainment, you can learn more about what that process has meant to Soldiers and their families, thanks to the keen insight provided by Maj. Gen. Brian Eifler, the 11th Airborne’s commanding general.
Published in January 2021, the Army’s Arctic strategy — titled “Regaining Arctic Dominance” — nests within the broader DOD strategy to ensure our secure and stable land dominance across a complex region that spans three geographic combatant commands. The Arctic is a shared region, adding layers of geopolitical complexity and heightening the potential for strategic competition. Coupled with an extreme climate whose challenges do not necessarily abate as the weather warms in the summertime, it’s no secret an Arctic-capable and dominant Army are critical to joint force readiness in competition, crisis, and conflict. In our end state, we, as the Army’s Sustainment Enterprise, are called to rapidly generate, project, and persistently sustain multidomain forces equipped to fight and win across the frigid, mountainous Arctic expanses. Regaining Arctic dominance clearly outlines the ends, ways, and means by which we will sustain the Total Army and joint force to defend the homeland and ensure our regional readiness.
To improve our Arctic capability, we must ensure materiel readiness so Arctic-capable units can conduct extended operations throughout the region. Those units will be prepared to operate for multiple days at a time, so our commitment to precision logistics for the mission at hand will be a key focus. If you’ve spent any amount of time in a region dominated by extreme cold, you’ll surely have a firm understanding of how that environment impacts equipment, supplies, and overall readiness. Training and educating units on the damaging climate-based impacts to their materiel readiness ensures each Soldier effectively anticipates and mitigates risk borne from the cold and snow, as equipment must be ready to perform at temperatures reaching a frigid -65 F.
To compete in the Arctic and globally, we must consistently work alongside our allies and partners to drive sustainment interoperability. The Arctic is a shared region with an intricate geopolitical makeup, so strengthening these partnerships ensures our ability to set Arctic theaters. I truly believe the Army Sustainment Enterprise’s strategic readiness is a competitive advantage leveraged by the entire joint force. Persistent engagement, training, and information exchange alongside our allies and partners in the region only serve as a boon to these capabilities across all domains.
To defend the Far North and homeland in crisis and conflict while building Arctic multidomain operations, we must be ready to project and sustain power across vast, contested distances. Central to that overarching effort is our ability to validate our sustainment force posture, actively integrate sustainment capabilities into maneuver formations, and ensure the collective ability to winterize, deploy, and employ our most critical assets. Alaska itself sits at the northernmost edges of both Indo-Pacific and Northern Command. Its location at that nexus affords us the geographical posture from which we can project power where and when necessary. Our ability to set the theater and conduct reception, staging, onward movement, and integration is part of our short-term muscle memory. To maintain that strength, we continually stress and develop those capabilities through training and exercises, which shape resourcing decisions while expanding our operational reach. Regaining and maintaining Arctic dominance is not solely the responsibility of Arctic-specific units. Our posture to enable non-Arctic unit operations throughout the region will be improved by exploring the potential for additional Army pre-positioned stocks in-theater for use by those units responding to mission needs.
The strategic importance of the Arctic region has been firmly established as the Army executes the doctrinal transition from counterinsurgency to large-scale combat operations in multiple domains. Potential contestation from near-peer adversaries could greatly limit access and impede U.S. interests across an area of vast distances and divergent geopolitics. Our operations in the Arctic are inherently challenging due to both adversarial competition and the extreme climate. However, we as sustainers will be ready to respond in competition, crisis, and conflict by continually providing targeted support to our warfighters from anywhere and in any environment now and in the future.
Lt. Gen. Charles R. Hamilton currently serves as the Deputy Chief of Staff, G-4. He most recently served as the assistant deputy chief of staff for operations, G-4 3/5/7. Hailing from Houston, Texas, Hamilton enlisted in the U.S. Army. Upon completion of basic and individual training, he was assigned to Fort Hood, Texas. In February 1988, he graduated from Officer Candidate School as a distinguished military graduate and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Quartermaster Corps. He earned a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Virginia State University and master's degrees in Public Administration from Central Michigan University, and Military Studies from Marine Corps University. He also is a graduate of a Senior Service College Fellowship — Secretary of Defense Corporate Fellows Program.
This article was published in the Fall 22 issue of Army Sustainment.