Military installation becomes learning academy, benefit hundreds

  • Published
  • By Tommie Baker
  • 611th Civil Engineer Squadron
Normally, when a community is in the area of a military installation that gets listed on the Base Realignment and Closure list, it does not bode well for many involved.

In a ceremonial exchange of ownership Tuesday, the Air Force, through the 611th Air Support Group, which is responsible for the forward operating location at Galena Airport, handed over the key to the installation to the city of Galena.

On August 25, 2005, the Base Realignment and Closure Commission voted unanimously to end Galena's mission as a Forward Operating Location, and cease the Air Force presence in Galena. The vote marked the beginning of the end of a relationship between the Air Force and Galena, going back to the early days of World War II and intensifying during the Cold War.

By April 2006, the Air Force announced that the mission previously served by Galena had already been reassigned to Eielson Air Force Base in Fairbanks.

What was to become of the facilities at the air base? Through a "three-legged stool" partnership formed by the efforts of the Air Force, the Galena community and the State of Alaska, the land owners, the Galena Interior Learning Academy, established at the Galena Airport in 1996, was the front runner in considering what to do with the facilities.
GILA needed space to house the school and the Air Force needed a partnership to keep many of the facilities open.

Today, that partnership has lead to an ideal "win, win situation" for the community and the Air Force said Col. Brent Johnson, 611th ASG commander
GILA now houses their students and faculty in a more up-to-date, energy efficient dormitory. They now also have a larger dining facility, capable of feeding all its students and faculty at one time. After October 1, they will have another dormitory available which is scheduled to be used for teachers' quarters and a few other classrooms.

"There have been some very visionary people that have embraced this concept of using the former military facilities for a school and turning these students into very productive partners in our communities," said Colonel Johnson.

"The base here at Galena was formed to fight tyranny. As we transition from a military base to a learning academy, not much is changing today," said Colonel Johnson. "The Galena Interior Learning Academy is expanding and there is nothing in this world that education cannot overcome."

With plans to further expand the enrollment at GILA, Harry White, GILA principal, applauded the Air Force for its efforts to assist the school. He said, to date, about 850 students have benefitted from the school's association with the Air Force.

With a current enrollment of about 250 students, White said "The Air Force does more than defend our freedoms; they provide a place for students to come to when other schools close."

The pullout deadline for the Air Force is October 1. The Air Force presence in Galena has scaled down to the point that there are only 11 employees of the base contractor, Chugach Support Services left at the site, many of which will continue to working at the site, but be employed by the city of Galena.