Most places in the world have been thoroughly explored and settled. Alaska, America’s 49th state, also called the Last Frontier, is one of the few remaining U.S. locations that still possess expansive tracts of wild and untamed land that have never been charted, mapped, or explored.
Ask a native of Alaska, and they will tell you—Alaska is a magical place of untamed wilderness and breathtaking natural beauty, but living and working in Alaska is not for everyone and definitely not the faint of heart. Winters can be incredibly harsh, with temperatures dropping below -50 degrees Fahrenheit. In addition to the extreme winter cold, newcomers to the area are often taken aback by the long, dark, and gloomy days and how remote and isolated some areas of the state can be. It takes a unique type of person to live here. Weston Pliska is one of those people.
Pliska has lived in Delta Junction, known as the official end of the Alaska Highway, for 31 years. He’s worked as an engineering technician in the Test Support Division at the U.S. Army Cold Regions Test Center, or CRTC, in Fort Greely since 2021. Named in honor of Major General Adolphus Greely and known as the Home of the Rugged Professional, Fort Greely is located 5 miles south of Delta Junction and is one of the coldest places in Alaska.
The CRTC is the Department of Defense’s only extreme cold weather test facility. The CRTC can test a wide variety of military systems in a natural environment where winter lows drop far below zero. The CRTC can accommodate cold, extreme cold, or temperate weather tests depending on the season.
Surviving and thriving in Alaska’s frigid winters is tough on the men and women who work at the CRTC. Given the extreme climate, finding and keeping experienced engineers who can get the job done in such challenging conditions can be daunting—not all of them can or want to test their skills in Alaska’s brutally cold winters.
Pliska is an outdoor enthusiast who likes to stay active and spends most of his free time outdoors. He and his wife, Laurina, enjoy experiencing nature firsthand and regularly take advantage of Alaska’s abundant outdoor activities, such as fishing, camping, boating, kayaking, mountain biking, and scuba diving. Pliska’s outdoor ruggedness is well-matched with Fort Greely’s and his coworkers’ ethos.
Born in Boise, Idaho, and raised in Tucson, Arizona, Pliska and his older brother moved to Alaska in 1992 with his mom and dad when he was 14. His dad worked in the oil fields at Prudhoe Bay in the North Slope Borough and, later, as a construction worker in Delta Junction. His mom worked for a local company as an office manager.
For Pliska, life in Delta Junction offers him everything he enjoys about living in Alaska, and according to him, it’s one of the last places where you can still experience freedom. He describes the area where he lives as wooded, peaceful, and quiet but readily admits it’s less developed and more dangerous than other places. There’s a lot of wildlife to look out for, such as black bears, brown bears and grizzlies, and lynx, wolves, and coyotes. Wildlife encounters are one of the biggest dangers of living in Alaska. Pliska says he brings his firearm when he hikes in the woods and always carries bear spray.
Being aware of your surroundings at all times is key, as well as watching, listening, and using your sense of smell to detect if animals are near. Despite the dangers, Pliska says if he could live anywhere in the world, he would still choose Delta Junction.
After graduating from Delta High School in 1996, Pliska followed in his dad’s footsteps and worked in construction for 18 years. At the end of the 2019 construction season, he took a seasonal position with TRAX International to support the CRTC’s winter testing.
When he was offered a full-time position with the CRTC in 2021, Pliska realized all the years he had worked in construction had led to and prepared him for his current role as an engineering technician for the Army.
The CRTC is tasked with testing military equipment in one of the world’s coldest places. The military equipment issued to Soldiers must work whenever and wherever Soldiers need it. Pliska spends countless hours outside constructing and maintaining some of the best and most challenging wintertime vehicle test courses to ensure the vehicles Soldiers depend on for mobility in combat situations will work even in the most frigid environments.
The Soldiers who fought during World War I and II fought battles in freezing rain, deep snow drifts, and temperatures where breathing hurt. After World War II, Army officials decided Soldiers and the equipment they used must be able to perform in all temperatures. The Artic Test Branch, now known as Fort Greely, was created for cold-weather training and testing of military equipment. The CRTC is the Army’s premier site for testing equipment in severe Arctic conditions.
Pliska is also a certified Advanced Altitude Dry Suit Scuba Diver and has dived with manta rays in Maui. Diving sums up his philosophy on life and choosing to live where few people can: ride the waves. Riding the waves is about taking the uncontrolled, uncomfortable, unknown, anxious, and fearful feeling and embracing it for what it is. It can teach, guide, or move you to a place where others cannot or are unable to go. According to Pliska, as a diver, when large waves come in, panic can cause you to make poor choices that can put you and others at risk. You must learn to go deeper in the water or let the wave carry you. Resistance makes you work harder than you have to.
That’s the attitude of a Rugged Professional.