FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska (Jan. 22, 2013) -- Under Secretary of the Army Joseph Westphal, Ph.D., capped a tour of the U.S. Pacific Command region with a visit to Fort Wainwright, Fort Greely and the Northern Warfare Training Center in central Alaska, Jan. 17.

In briefings with U.S. Army Alaska, or USARAK, leaders, Westphal learned about the USARAK's vision to build "ready units, strong families and arctic tough leaders," and about the advantages and challenges of training in Alaska.

"It's an important trip for me because it's an opportunity to look at some of the major efforts we're making to realign our forces in the Pacific and how our Army is positioning itself in that new strategy," Westphal said. "I am very happy to end my trip here in Alaska and to see some of the incredibly exciting things going on here."

USARAK Commander Maj. Gen. Michael X. Garrett accompanied Westphal on a tour of Fort Wainwright, the Northern Warfare Training Center, or NWTC, which is the Army's premiere cold weather and mountaineering training school, Fort Greely and a helicopter tour of several vast training areas courtesy of 1st Battalion, 52nd Aviation Regiment.

Westphal gave a press conference after his tour, addressing such topics as downsizing, cutbacks and how the restructuring of the Army will affect Soldiers, civilians and families across the globe and in Alaska.

"Alaska is an important venue to the Pacific," he said. "I think we have proven that in regards to our Stryker brigades here on [Fort] Wainwright.

Westphal noted the importance of Alaska's large training areas.

"We have nothing as significant as that in other parts of the Pacific outside of [the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif.], so that's a very, very important asset to all our forces, particularly to our Army. We have no plans to shut anything down in the state of Alaska," Westphal said.

The under secretary commented on the training he observed at the NWTC.

"I got a chance to meet with some of the Soldiers who were doing their training [at the Cold Weather Leaders Course]. An amazing set of Soldiers and these Soldiers, some from southern states, were loving being here, enjoying the training that they've gone through and the training that they've now got to offer to other younger Soldiers," Westphal said.

One of the objectives of Westphal's visit was to help convey the Army's appreciation for the service and sacrifice of Soldiers, family members, and the civilian workforce.

"We have seen over the last 10 years what our Soldiers are willing and capable of doing and most importantly, what they are ready to do in the way of sacrifice for their country," Westphal said. "Every Soldier took those engagements seriously and every family member supported it.

"Our country owes them a tremendous debt of gratitude, because without them we could not be the country we are," he said.