The highest funded allotment in Alaska is a $99 million gym in Fort Wainwright. Officials say it will boost military mental health.

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WASHINGTON — The most expensive Alaskan project in a federal spending bill funds a $99 million gym in Fort Wainwright.

The Fort Wainwright Fitness Center extension in Fairbanks will include an indoor track and AstroTurf field that military personnel and their families can use for formal training and recreational activities, such as indoor sports tournaments.

Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said the annex was the Army’s first unfunded priority last year. It called for congressional spending on the project of $99 million.

The US Army of Alaska responds Rise in suicides In recent years, officials say the facility is central to wellbeing on base.

“From my point of view, it was a tremendous excitement,” said the garrison commander, Col. Nate Surrey. “Just seeing the sparkle in the eyes – the sparkle in the soldiers’ eyes when I show them the board, all these things will open up in the next three years.”

When asked about the project’s $99 million cost, Murkowski reiterated her belief that the project is an important investment in quality of life but also in military readiness and preparedness.

[What’s in the $1.7 trillion government spending bill for Alaska? Lots.]

“This isn’t just a fun gym to go to where you go to shoot hoops,” Murkowski said. “This is also an effective training center for soldiers when it can be really hard to keep them in good physical shape when you can’t go out jogging.”

Surrey also cited exorbitant construction prices in Inland Alaska to calculate the price, though he said he was optimistic the project would come within budget.

Surrey said the weather presents a unique challenge to well-being in Fort Wainwright. With temperatures reaching -40 below zero, it can be difficult to exercise and find camaraderie on the base without the necessary indoor facilities. The annex will provide space to complete required training and testing while also facilitating community activities.

“The key to having strong mental health is being balanced, and that includes the social side, the fitness side, the spiritual side, you know, they all come together to provide strong mental well-being,” said Surrey. “The kind of facilities we’re talking about gives you both social and physical.”

“It allows you to get out of your home and be with other people, recreate your physique and get fit which we all know is great for the mind,” Sarri said. “If you don’t have these facilities, it’s going to be difficult to do.”

Lawmakers and military officials have sought to improve the quality of life for soldiers in Alaska. it was there A high degree of US Army suicides in Alaska in recent years. In 2021, at least 11 Alaskan soldiers died by suicide. With legislation like the Arctic Warrior Act, Alaskan federal lawmakers have it Issuance Policies to raise wages, provide flights home, and provide other benefits. The US Army in Alaska also launched a program in early 2022 called “Mission 100” to provide every soldier in Alaska with an annual counseling session.

[Federal spending bill includes $3M for rural Alaska trooper housing and other facilities]

Last year, six of the United States Army in Alaska Soldiers died By confirmed or suspected suicide. The decline is encouraging, Sarri said, but work on improving soldiers’ mental health will continue.

“I think we’ve made great strides in the last year and a half, but by no means have we released the gas,” Sarri said.

Surrey added that he believes the growing interest in mental health among military personnel in Alaska has helped influence federal lawmakers to advocate for and fund the supplement.

“When you talk about the massive push for more quality-of-life initiatives in Fort Wainwright, it gave us more strength, because (the supplement) is one of the blatant and obvious things that the community has been asking for, and it’s been asking for it for over a decade,” Suri said.

Fort Wainwright is undergoing a few other construction projects aimed at improving quality of life, including centers for aquatics, child development, and community activities—complete with a 16-lane bowling alley.

Sari said the annex will be designed over the next year and a half, with the aim of laying the foundation stone in 2024 and completing the project in 2026.

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Reporter Riley Rogerson is a full-time ADN correspondent based in Washington, DC. Her position is supported by Report for America, which is working to close gaps in reporting across America and position a new generation of journalists in community news organizations around the world. country. Report on AmericaFunded by private and public donors, it covers up to 50% of a journalist’s salary. It’s up to the Anchorage Daily News to find your other half, through local community donors, benefactors, grants, or other fundraising activities.

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