Story last updated at 8/7/2013 - 4:17 pm
The Alaska National Guard is an integral part of keeping Alaskans safe - and has been since 1948. On Wednesday, July 31, the Alaska National Guard was recognized with its second annual day of honor, as established by Gov. Sean Parnell and the state legislature.
Juneau recognized the event with a picnic-style ceremony at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center - the old Guard Armory, where many of the attendees had spent a lot of time.
Mike Lessman, assistant of Parnell, spoke on the governor's behalf.
"Our service members and their families are the pride of Alaska," Lessman said, telling what Parnell said.
There are 77,000 veterans in the State of Alaska.
"We want that population to flourish," Lessman said, adding that the hope is veterans from other states will want to come here.
Several state legislators spoke, including video recordings from Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich.
Juneau Mayor Merrill Sanford spoke of his service as a Guardsman (and is also a Vietnam vet).
"As you all look around this building, this hall, you've spent a lot of blood, sweat and tears in this building," he said. "We broke a lot of bread together."
And now they were breaking bread together once again.
"I can't remember any guard encampment where we didn't work our butts off," he said.
Sanford told of one mission where they were deployed to Edmonton, Canada, to help get the ground crews in to fight a wildfire.
Juneau Assemblyman Randy Wanamaker, also an Alaska National Guard veteran, said he enlisted in what's now the JACC in 1961.
"A lot of those memories are still very fresh," he said. "It was one of the things that was an institution in this town. You joined the Guard. We have a lot of memories serving in this community. I was in the machine gun crew."
He recalled a time when Bob Cunningham was sent out to Douglas to trigger an avalanche in Juneau. Wanamaker said he wanted to go with because they were going to shoot the "50-cal spotting rifle" to do so.
"I always wanted to watch," he said.
Brig. Gen. Mike Bridges, assistant adjutant general of the Alaska Army National Guard, also addressed the veterans.
He said it's very rare for the governor and state legislature to celebrate a specific organization.
"There is no other state or federal organization as old as the Guard," Bridges said, adding that it was established in the 1800s. "We are your team. We are your National Guard."
Bridges spoke of the changes that happened in the Guard since Sept. 11, 2001, when four airplanes were hijacked and flown into the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and one near Shanksville, Pa.
"I had no idea what the Guard I had been a part of for 20 years would turn in to," Bridges said, who has now been in the Guard for 28 years.
The days of "One Weekend a Month, Two Weeks a Year," of service were over. The National Guard was called to serve as the other branches of the military had done.
Most of his comrades spend an average of three months of active duty per year, "even when we're not mobilized," he said.
"It is a completely different guard," Bridges said. "This is not your momma's National Guard. We are proud of it. We are truly in a global war on terror. Many of your National Guard members have served 3, 4, 5, 6 times - many to combat zones."
Sarah Day is the editor of Capital City Weekly. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.