National Native American Heritage Month – The Alaska Territorial Guard

During World War II, a unique and far-flung reserve force of volunteers under the command of the U.S. Army took shape in the then-U.S. territory of Alaska. The Alaska Territorial Guard (ATG) was established in 1942 in response to both the attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii and the occupation of parts of Alaska by the Japanese. The ATG brought together in an unprecedented way a number of Alaska Natives in a shared effort to protect their part of the world against Axis aggression. The groups that helped comprise the ATG included the Aleut, Inupiaq, Haida, Tlingit, Tsimshian, and Yupik peoples.

The organizers of the ATG traveled throughout Alaska by plane, boat, snowmobile, dogsled, and foot to recruit individuals for the wartime effort. Thousands of Alaska Natives, ranging in age from 12 to 80, ultimately served in the ATG. A significant portion of their duties involved transportation.

ATG members helped construct military airstrips. These individuals also worked on preparing long stretches of trails for use as supply routes. In addition, ATG members regularly placed and double-checked on survival caches – containing everything from emergency food rations to cold-weather gear – for military servicemen who might find themselves stranded along coastal regions or other transportation corridors within Alaska. Another vital function performed by the ATG entailed safeguarding the terrain around Alaska-based air routes used by the U.S. to deliver military equipment and other critical supplies to the Soviet Union in its fight against Germany.     

In carrying out these duties and others, the ATG proved to be instrumental in protecting much of Alaska against further Japanese attacks. The courage and contributions of Alaska Natives in the ATG, which remained in service until 1947, also helped encourage greater racial integration and equality in the U.S. military. For more information on the Alaska Territorial Guard (ATG), please check out  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alaska_Territorial_Guard.

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