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NEWS | July 28, 2022

Army Reserve engineers develop new road in rural Alaska

By 1st Lt. Daina Nicole Avila 305th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

Army Reserve Soldiers of the 297th, 797th, and 871st Engineer Companies, 411th Engineer Battalion, 303rd Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, 9th Mission Support Command are constructing a road on Kodiak Island for the residents of Old Harbor that is critical for their community.

The project began in 2021 in partnership with the Department of Defense Innovative Readiness Training program and the city of Old Harbor and resumed on June 16, 2022.

All three engineer companies are building an access road to connect a proposed hydroelectric powerhouse and seafood processing facility for Old Harbor. After being matched with the city through the IRT program, the engineering companies provide critical construction services to the community while strengthening units’ deployment-readiness through real-world training. Once fully built the road will be vital infrastructure for Old Harbor, a remote Alutiiq village on Kodiak Island, known for its deep cultural and economic roots as a fishing community.

The Army Reserve engineer units are working alongside Old Harbor Native Corp., Alutiiq Tribe of Old Harbor and city leadership throughout the entire process toward fulfilment of the road, fostering lifetime relationships and bonds with the local people.

“We want to develop our economy. We’re finding that the villages are kind of going away, people are moving to the big cities,” said Rick Berns, the city mayor of Old Harbor. Berns continued, “We’re happier now because that road is one of the goals we have set for our economic developments.”

In 2021, the engineers successfully finished the first half of the road. This year mission rotations had commenced to finish constructing the remaining half of the road.

Cynthia Berns, Old Harbor Native Corp. vice president of community and external affairs, said the proposed hydroelectric powerhouse will significantly reduce energy costs for residents. She also said building new infrastructure would boost Old Harbor’s economy by delivering energy at lower costs, powering the seafood processing facility and expanding job opportunities for younger generations to return home to their cultural roots.

“Oh yeah it’s [the road] a big thing, it’s really big, and it’s huge and the whole village, the whole town is just happy to think about it. And they have someplace else to go now. During summertime now,” said Loyd Ashouwak, the tribal chief of the Alutiiq Tribe of Old Harbor. “Before we’re just confined to the village or you’re gonna have to go down to the skiff. Now you can drive back in the wilderness.”

IRT missions like Old Harbor on Kodiak Island not only help support local communities but also aid 9th Mission Support Command units in gaining vital full-time experience. From performing daily operations and working with their units’ equipment, Soldiers are able to put into practice what they’ve learned during their battle assemblies in a way that impacts the world. Additionally, the 411th EN BN Forward Support Company is providing sustainment support to the engineering companies, including maintenance, fuel and food services, ensuring Soldiers are taken care of to help the project progress further.

“This project is so important to the 411th Engineer Battalion because, as collective sister units, we are able to train together as a collective so we can get our engineers on ground trained on the equipment we would be using, should we deploy in a real [austere] environment,” said 1st Lt. Garrett Bartgis, the officer in charge of overseeing the project on site. “And also supporting a real mission, so this is something that is tangible.”

Being part of an IRT mission means reserve Soldiers get the opportunity to step away from their civilian obligations and focus on strengthening skills in their military capacity.

As Citizen-Soldiers they are in a unique position to maximize their units’ contribution toward the very communities they come from.

“For myself and the 297th Engineering Construction Company, it hits home because we are all from Alaska. My unit is from Alaska, everyone, or mostly everyone here in my unit. You know, this is something that they are doing for someone in Alaska…We have a lot of pride in the fact that we are able to come out here and help build something that is gonna increase the sustainability and self-sufficiency of the village here” said Bartgis.

The entire length of the road will be approximately 7,500-feet upon completion and is expected to be done by Aug. 4, 2022.

The 297th, 797th, and 871st Engineer Companies and the 411th EN BN Forward Support Company are based throughout the Pacific in Alaska, Guam, Hawaii and American Samoa. The 411th EN BN is the Army Reserve's most dispersed and experienced construction engineer unit in the Indo-Pacific region spanning across Oceania, Asia and Alaska, and is headquartered on Fort Shafter, Hawaii.