(6-minute read) TORRENCE SAXE TAKES REINS AT ALASKA NATIONAL GUARD, DMVA
Torrence Saxe, Alaska’s commissioner of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, has spent a lifetime in military service that started at age 18, when he first enlisted in the Army Reserves.
Overnight, he went from carrying a book bag at Eastern Washington State University to carrying a M-16. Deployed shortly after he joined, he participated in the first Gulf War — Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
As a medic in a unit that was primarily in charge of prisoners of war, he saw a lot of casualties, both from enemy combatants and American soldiers.
“War is a terrible thing,” he said during an interview last week. “And I want to make sure my men and women are prepared for it.”
“Be ready for war,” Saxe is known to advise his staff. “Because war is ready for you.” It’s a philosophy he picked up not only from reading The Art of War by Sun Tsu, but also from personal experience.
Returning home from the war zone, Saxe finished college and then, getting a discharge from the Army, attended officer school, and joined the Air Force.
Born to a family that were apple and pear orchardists in Eastern Washington since the 1800s, Saxe was the kid who left the orchard for a military career that took him far and wide across the globe. He’s quiet and conducts himself professionally. And in 30 years, he has never had a break in his military service.
MONTANA / COLORADO YEARS
Saxe’s first job in the Air Force was as a nuclear operations officer, working underground in missile silos in Montana. Should the president ever decide to launch a nuclear missile, he and his colleagues were the ones with their hands on the switch.
From there, he was assigned to Clear Air Force Base, his first trip to Alaska in 1999. There, he became chief of training and standardization at the radar station that detects incoming ICBM and submarine-launched missiles.
Then it was to England for him, and a space surveillance unit that was becoming a detachment. Saxe became the commander of that detachment.
Returning to Colorado, he was assigned to Peterson Air Force Base as an executive officer and then a staff officer in charge of the personnel department.
Saxe then joined the National Guard and returned to Clear Air Force Base in 2004, ultimately becoming the commander for the 213th space warning squadron.
Uniquely, he is the only person who has ever been the base commander as a guardsman.
He stayed eight years at Clear AFB before attending War College at Maxwell Air Force Base.
By 2013, he was headed to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and the 176th maintenance group, as commander.
Prior to his current position, Saxe was the commander of the 168th Wing at Eielson AFB.
Saxe is the only person in the Air Guard who has been a commander at all three Alaska bases.
In addition to his professional life, he is married and is a father of six children.
Just two weeks ago, he was surprised to be named commissioner Alaska’s Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, including becoming adjutant general of the Alaska National Guard.
Saxe will appear before the Senate Affairs Committee on Thursday in the Butrovich Room 205 at 3:30 pm for his confirmation interview.
FOCUSING ON DISASTER RESPONSE
While the Alaska National Guard needs to maintain focus on the federal mission, Saxe said he also wants to emphasize the Guard’s role for disaster response, such as after the Southcentral earthquake on Nov. 30. He sees there’s room for the Guard to better prepare to help communities.
He also wants to empower his workforce so he can grow new leadership for the future. This he feels he can accomplish by pushing authority downward through the ranks, and helping people with their personal development.
“We’re building up the bench of leaders,” he said, adding that “Team Alaska” is his theme. And that includes rural Alaska, and communities off the road system, such as his planned trips to Bethel and Galena.
Recently, he put a recruiter in Juneau for the Air Guard. That was a first, and important to him.
“This is the symbolic and actual capital and we are not here enough,” he said.
He also said that under his watch, there is zero tolerance for sexual harassment and sexual assault: “We have a culture to build on.”