Army wants to find snow-loving soldiers as it commits to ‘Arctic dominance’

Soldiers participate in a skijoring exercise at Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson in January. (Alejandro Pena/USAF)

The Army says it will boost its ability to operate in the Arctic, in part by recruiting soldiers who want to be in Alaska.

The Army’s new plan for the region is called “Regaining Arctic Dominance.” The name implies both a commitment and an admission of neglect.

Gen. Peter Andrysiak said the Army excelled in the far North during the Cold War. Then, he said, its Arctic skills “atrophied” as the focus shifted to warmer climates and the global war on terror.

The new plan outlines a need for Arctic-capable equipment and also focuses on what Andrysiak calls “talent.”

“When you go into a recruiting station, you’re going to be able to sign up there and say, ‘I want to go to Alaska, because I grew up in Colorado. I like to ski and I like to snowboard. I know that’s a key component of being able to operate in and through the Arctic,’” he said, describing a proposal that’s gaining support. “So what we want to do is make that opportunity available.”

Andrysiak also said the Army wants to revive relationships with Alaska Native communities to teach soldiers Indigenous survival skills.

The Army is the latest of at least seven military services or agencies to announce an Arctic plan in the past two years.

Heather Conley, an Arctic expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the multitude of Arctic plans is a sign the U.S. government lacks a unified approach.

“Now that we have so many strategies, now it’s time to make painful budgetary decisions and, you know, really prioritize this,” she said.

In lieu of U.S. commitments, some of the Arctic plans instead highlight what America’s allies bring to the table, Conley said.

“The Navy isn’t going to build new ice-strengthened surface vessels for use in the Arctic. They said very clearly in their strategy: They’ll think about it for the future,” Conley recalled.

The Army plan mentions climate change as a threat to infrastructure. Victoria Herrmann, managing director of the Arctic Institute, said she wishes it had gone farther.

“There wasn’t a forward-looking assessment of the rapid increase of how climate change will become a threat multiplier,” Herrmann said.

Like other recent Arctic plans, the Army document notes a potential increase in ship traffic and acknowledges the region is becoming a place of competition for the U.S., Russia and China.

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