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Senator Murkowski's E-Newsletter for November 9, 2012


Veterans Day: More Than Just One Day of Thanks

Veterans Day is certainly a solemn occasion, where we humbly offer our deep gratitude, but it is also an optimistic occasion.  These men and women came home.  These men and women returned to their families, their children, their parents and their communities.  These men and women continued to serve – sometimes in the military, but also as role models across the country and throughout our state.

We here in Alaska are particularly blessed, in that we have the highest concentration of veterans of any state in the union.  Nationally, only one percent of Americans serve in the military.  But in Alaska, our veterans make up 10 percent of our population.  More than any other state, we walk alongside our heroes, we work with them on a daily basis, and we know them by their first name.  We embrace them.

We embrace them through actions like the “Hiring Heroes” event this week, and legislation that aims to make it easier for the men and women who risked their lives every day to report to a job.  We embrace them through commemorations like my Veteran Spotlight series, a partnership with the Library of Congress, that attempts to teach everyone an important lesson about loyalty, service and patriotism as seen through the eyes of our veterans.  We seek to deliver security to them – whether through federal support or clothes on their backs – through events like “Stand Down for Veterans,” where veterans are provided a one-stop shop for so many of their needs.  We must serve those who served this nation.

One of the most important ways we can thank our veterans for what they have done is by asking ourselves what each one of us can do for them.  Whether it’s lending a hand as they take care of errands, listening and learning from their stories, giving a firm handshake or a warm hug – or just the simple act of saying ‘Thank you.’

Honoring Alaska's Heroes in the Sky

I attended the Alaska Air National Guard 212th Rescue Squadron Distinguished Flying Cross award ceremony on November 3, 2012.  SMSgt Christopher Widener, MSgt Brandon Stuemke and SSgt Aaron Parcha were all honored for distinguishing themselves in support of operations by heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight.  These men went above and beyond the call of duty, putting themselves in harm’s way to rescue American soldiers in Afghanistan.  CLICK HERE to watch the entire Distinguished Flying Cross award ceremony and hear what these extraordinary individuals did to deserve it.

Senator Murkowski with SMSgt Christopher Widener and his family after he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Senator Murkowski with MSgt Brandon Stuemke after he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Senator Murkowski congratulates SSgt Aaron Parcha after he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Welcoming Home the Spartans!

I was honored to welcome home the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne) 25th Infantry Division which deployed last November to Afghanistan.  During its 10 month deployment, the brigade served honorably, exceeding expectations on all missions.  These soldiers are truly Arctic tough and I thank them, and their families for their selfless service.

4-25 Brigade Combat Team Redeployment Ceremony at the Sullivan Arena in Anchorage.

Senator Murkowski with Brigade Commander, Col. Morris Goins and his wife Yolanda.

Senator Murkowski talks to a group of 4-25 soldiers at the Sullivan Arena.

Commuting in the Mat-Su Valley

To watch video from Senator Murkowski’s rides on MASCOT and Valley Mover CLICK HERE.

At the end of October, I spoke at the 2012 Alaska Community Transportation Transit Conference, a meeting put on by the Alaska Mobility Coalition, a statewide transportation non-profit.  At the conference, I was challenged by one of the participants, Rosemary Vavrin, to personally check out the integration of transit systems between the Mat-Su Valley and Anchorage.  The following week, I took Rosemary up on the offer and rode buses back to Anchorage after a day’s work in the Valley. 

We rode MASCOT to the Wasilla Park & Ride, where I caught the Valley Mover to Anchorage.  While service is improving, many Valley residents say the bus system doesn’t always work with their professional schedules.  But as Alaskans continue to move to the Valley and commute to Anchorage, and high gas prices continue to challenge families, public transit is a vital part of the transportation equation.

Senator Murkowski speaks with Rosemary Vavrin about the bus schedules while riding the MASCOT bus in Mat-Su.

Trying to get to Little Diomede

At the end of October, I was scheduled to travel to the island of Little Diomede with Major General Thomas Katkus, Adjutant General of the Alaska National Guard and Rear Admiral Thomas Ostebo, Commander of the 17th District United States Coast Guard.  The Alaska National Guard was scheduled to transfer the Armory and we were also planning to meet with residents and assess the community’s challenges and infrastructure needs.

Our traveling party was able to reach Nome, but as fate would have it, the fog settled in, and we were unable to make the helicopter flight to Little Diomede.  The weather problem we experienced is a common one; with only one scheduled flight from Nome to Little Diomede a week, some residents are unable to get home for weeks at a time.  We made the most of being grounded by making an unscheduled visit to the elementary school as well as Nome High School to talk with students.

While we didn’t make it to Little Diomede, I was able to talk with the entire high school student body (10 kids) from the Diomede School via video-teleconference the next week.  I promised them I would meet them in person, as soon as we can reschedule the trip.

October Veteran Spotlight on Earl Wineck

Click image for excerpt of Veteran Spotlight Interview – CLICK HERE for longer interview.

My Veteran Spotlight for October is focused on Earl Wineck of Anchorage – an Alaska Territorial Guard (ATG) member and U.S. Army veteran.  In 1934, before World War II, Wineck’s father headed to the Matanuska-Susitna Valley to make a place for his family.  Two years later, Earl’s mother took the rest of the family to Alaska in a Studebaker to join up with his father and begin farming.

In 1942, Wineck joined the ATG at 15, and he watched the skies over Southcentral Alaska for any signs of Japanese airplanes and helped Valley families conduct several blackout drills during World War II.  As soon as Earl Wineck turned 18 in 1945, he was drafted into the U.S. Army, and was stationed on Adak Island.

In our conversation, Earl recalled the harsh reality of military service on the farthest reaches of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands.  Rotten food, isolation, murder and suicide claimed the lives of some of his fellow soldiers. Wineck says he survived due to the unique type of toughness he had acquired living and working as a farmer in the Mat-Su Valley.

Every month, I post a biography and an interview with an Alaskan who served our country, in conjunction with the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project.  You can watch them all by clicking here. If you have a family member or friend in the community you think has a story to share, email Spotlight@Murkowski.Senate.Gov.

AFN: Success Beyond Barriers

Senator Murkowski addresses the 2012 Alaska Federation of Natives Convention
to view video.

Once again, the annual Alaska Federation of Natives Convention was a great gathering of Alaska Natives from around our state coming together for a week of dialogue, listening, ideas and plans for the future.  During my annual address to AFN, I discussed a variety of issues facing Alaskans, like the unsustainable price of energy that is crippling family’s budgets, as well as the low king salmon runs that impacted families on the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers and in Cook Inlet. 

Senator Murkowski catching up with friends at AFN.

During my speech, I shared a story from my recent visit to Aniak.  At a town hall meeting in the Kuskokwim River community, a mother with an infant foster child approached me in tears.  She gave me a receipt for 5 gallons of home heating oil, which was all she could afford while still buying baby formula.  Families should not have to choose between heating a home or feeding their children.  These are the stories that I will continue to share with my colleagues back in Washington, D.C. as we try to make a difference for families.

Senator Murkowski meets one of the littlest Alaskans at AFN.

I also had the opportunity to sit down with Congressman Don Young on a listening panel as we heard from Native constituents on issues ranging from education, health, energy and subsistence.  I have committed to a subsistence hearing in front of the appropriate Senate committees in the upcoming session.

I leave each AFN committed and energized to work even harder in Congress to find solutions to the problems that continue to threaten the way of life for Alaskans.

Alaska Native Brotherhood Turns 100

In early October, I traveled to Sitka for the Alaska Native Brotherhood 100th Anniversary Celebration.  There I spoke about the importance of the organization in the history of Alaska Native rights and encouraged all ANB and Alaska Native Sisterhood members to continue that legacy.  Before and after my speech, I was flattered to be greeted by traditional Tlingit dancing.

CLICK HERE to watch Senator Murkowski’s traditional Tlingit exit dance at the ANB celebration.

My Trips Around Alaska

Senator Murkowski modeling her new Houston Hawks sweatshirt with Houston High School seniors and juniors.

While visiting Denali Elementary School in Fairbanks, Senator Murkowski met with Kindergarteners from Ms. Brown's class and read, "If You Give a Moose a Muffin.”

Senator Murkowski and Major General Katkus visit with Nome High School Students after fog prevented a trip to Little Diomede.  The weather allowed for a visit to the Nome High School and the 4th grade class at the Elementary School.

Senator Murkowski getting a group hug from students at Auntie Mary Nicolai Elementary School in Aniak.

Senator Murkowski models her new Aniak Dragon Slayers hat and shirt while posing with the young Aniak Volunteer Fire Department members.

Senator Murkowski and Kalskag Schools principal Greg Wohlman with the students in an afterschool learning program at Zakar Levi Elementary School in Kalskag.  Senator Murkowski was in the Kuskokwim River village to honor Principal Wohlman at a potluck to congratulate him for winning 2012 Alaska Middle School Principal of the Year. CLICK HERE to read more about the award.

Senator Murkowski visits with a group of elders at the community potluck in Kalskag.

Senator Murkowski presented an American flag to Roy Burkhart that flew over the U.S. Capitol in honor of his wife, June Burkhart, who passed away this summer.  June was a true patriot and worked tirelessly for Alaska’s veterans.  Roy is pictured here with his family in Wasilla.

Senator Murkowski discussed ocean acidification with a Sophomore-Junior-Senior marine biology class at Mt. Edgecumbe High School in Sitka.  The students tested the carbon levels of the ocean water near their school.

Senator Murkowski spoke to students and faculty at Mat-Su College on Halloween.  She was greeted by the library staff dressed as Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang. CLICK HERE To watch a creative introduction of Senator Murkowski done by College Director Talis Colberg.

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