U.S. Army Alaska is in the process of designating the state’s Army teams as the 11th Airborne Division, the secretary of the Army told a Senate committee this week. The goal is to reduce troop suicide by giving the Alaska-based soldiers a more defined “sense of identity.” The change will take place this summer.
“One of the things we’ve found that we think is contributing to what we’ve found in Alaska is that some soldiers there don’t feel like they have a sense of identity or purpose around why they’re stationed there,” said Army Secretary Christine Wormuth during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. She also said every soldier in Alaska will receive mental health evaluations from a surge in mental health professionals that she is sending to the state for a six-month period.
Wormuth said that Covid has contributed to the problem of mental health stress by increasing isolation in what is already a challenging environment.
The new 11th Airborne Division would become the Army’s second paratrooper division, combining the 1st Brigade Combat Team at Ft. Wainwright and the 4th Brigade Combat Team at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, and those would also be redesignated as the 1st and 2nd Brigade Combat Teams under the new division.
Suicide among Alaska-based soldiers has been on the rise. Seven soldiers died by suicide in Alaska in 2020, and 11 took their lives in 2021 — with another six soldier deaths still being investigated as possible suicides.
Wormuth told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Army is “trying to surge a significant quantity of behavioral health providers” to Alaska, including more chaplains and personnel from the Military and Family Life Counseling Program.
Sen. Dan Sullivan, who serves on the committee, called it an “historic development” that “presents a dual opportunity—renewing the spirit and purpose of our Alaska-based soldiers by connecting them with this division’s proud and storied history, and better fulfilling America’s role as an Arctic nation. We can’t forget, this development would not have been possible had we lost the 4-25 back in 2015 when the Obama administration was enacting draconian cuts to our Armed Forces. I’m glad to have worked with so many Alaskans, who love and support our military, to preserve our Alaska-based soldiers who help secure America’s interests in the Arctic and Asia-Pacific, and to witness this exciting future for our Arctic warriors.”
“We are going to be a division once again, unlike any other division in the Army — with a unique mission and purpose,” said Maj. Gen Brian Eifler, commander of U.S. Army Alaska. “We’ll align, all of us under one patch, one unit, one identity.”
Soldiers in Alaska currently wear the patch of the Hawaii 25th Infantry Division, with a lightning bolt theme.
The 11th Airborne Division was activated in 1943, during World War II, fighting in Italy and in the Pacific. It was deactivated in 1958 during the Cold War, and briefly reactivated in the 1960s.