Hill Airmen Help Move, Rebuild Alaskan Town

Villagers from Newtok, Alaska, pose with Air Force reservists in the 419th Civil Engineer Squadron from Hill AFB, Utah, on Aug. 8. The reservists are currently serving there for two weeks to help relocate and rebuild the remote town after melting permafrost made its original location uninhabitable. Courtesy photo via USAF.

As thawing permafrost forces out the inhabitants of a small Alaskan town, Air Force Reservists are helping give them a new home.

Twenty-three Reserve airmen from the 419th Civil Engineer Squadron at Hill AFB, Utah, are spending their two-week-long annual tour training this month assisting with the process of moving and reconstructing the town of Newtok, Alaska, which became unlivable due to the phenomenon, a 419th Fighter Wing release said. The effort is part of the DOD’s joint Innovative Readiness Training initiative, through which service members from the Air Force, Army and Navy support “key community services” throughout the country, the release states.

Some permafrost thaw is typically seen each year, but “thawing is expected to increase with climate change,” according to the National Park Service. Thawing permafrost is an expensive threat to infrastructure in Alaska, which is warming up faster than any other US state, according to the US Global Change Research Program’s Fourth National Climate Assessment.

A January 2019 Pentagon report on select DOD installations’ vulnerability to climate-related risks deemed thawing permafrost a significant threat. However, none of the Air Force installations studied were found to be endangered by its effects.

This story has been updated to reflect that the Fourth National Climate Assessment was produced by the US Global Change Research Program.