Josh Revak

We are making Alaska’s Purple Heart Trail the longest in the nation

Nine hundred miles of highway winds through Interior and Southcentral Alaska, beginning at the border with Canada and ending on the Homer Spit at the "End of the Road." Covering an even larger area, the Alaska Marine Highway system connects 3,500 miles of coastal Alaska from the Aleutians to the Inside Passage. Every year, thousands of visitors and residents traverse these highways in cars and on ferries. Seeing this opportunity, the Military Order of the Purple Heart (MOPH) has been working for years to designate Purple Heart cities, boroughs, roads, and bridges across the US to honor and thank veterans who have been wounded or killed in combat while serving our nation. The MOPH began efforts in Alaska in 2008 with the designation of the highways between Alaska-Canada as the Purple Heart Trail. Nearly 15 years later, my colleagues and I in the Alaska Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 203, a bill that I sponsored that extends Alaska's Purple Heart Trail highway designation. Once the House passes the bill, the trail honoring veterans' service will run continuously from the Alaska-Canada border down to the End of the Road in Homer and on the entire Alaska Marine Highway System.  At approximately 4,500 miles, Alaska's Purple Heart Trail will be the longest in the nation's already-expansive network of trails and will include the first-ever marine highway.  It is a fitting record for the years of dedicated effort and thousands of hours given to the project by the MOPH, Alaska MOPH state and chapter Commanders, and veterans with the support and cooperation of numerous city, borough, and state elected officials and employees.  With more resident veterans per capita than any other state, the Purple Heart Trail serves as a tangible demonstration of Alaska's appreciation for the sacrifices made by our wounded and fallen soldiers. Of our 65,000 veterans and approximately 21,000 active-duty military members, many carry with them the scars that earned them a Purple Heart medal.  Signs on the highway and AMHS ferries will stand as a thank you to veterans and an opportunity for those traveling to or around our great State to begin solemn conversations about the meaning of the Purple Heart and the sacrifices that Purple Heart recipients made. In the words of combat-wounded Army Veteran and Alaska Commander of the MOPH, John Knott III, "Let everyone who drives or rides the ferry on the Purple Heart Trail think about the risk all veterans willingly take when they serve our country in the military and know that Alaska recognizes and honors the sacrifices made by Purple Heart recipients and their families." In 2008, the Military Order of the Purple Heart, spearheaded by future National MOPH Commander Ron Siebels, partnered with Sen. Johnny Ellis and the 25th Alaska State Legislature to designate the highway between the Alaska-Canada border and Fairbanks as the Purple Heart Trail. In subsequent years, cities, boroughs, university campuses, roads, bridges, and even the State of Alaska have been given the Purple Heart designation.  Like his predecessors who established the original trail, Commander Knott and the Alaska MOPH spent the last three years reaching out to communities along the highway we propose to designate, gathering letters and resolutions of support from each one.  The Purple Heart Trail designation reflects Alaska's heart for our veterans and the enthusiastic support for the Trail's extension by my colleagues and communities around the state has decisively demonstrated that it is time to make it happen. It is an honor to partner with the Alaska Military Order of the Purple Heart on this legislation and an even greater honor to serve those who have paved the way for our freedom.   Senate Bill 203 unanimously passed the Alaska State Senate on Monday, April 11th, 2022. It is now being considered by the House of Representatives. If passed, construction would be completed this fall. Sen. Josh Revak represents District M in South Anchorage. He is also a candidate for U.S. House.

Biden administration needs to keep its promise to Alaska Native veterans

The federal administration’s broken promises are a slap in the face of Alaska Native Vietnam veterans. Federal overreach has always affected our way of life in Alaska. It is no secret that the federal government has been quick to lock up federal lands and slow to deliver on its promises. In a deeply troubling move last year, the Biden administration delayed a program that gives qualified Alaska Native Vietnam veterans the opportunity to select a plot of federal land in Alaska. As you are reading this, 50 years after these veterans last had the opportunity to apply for their land, take a guess at how many of these applicants have been awarded land. If you guessed just a few, you’d be right. More than 50 years have passed since these veterans were promised land allotments. The administration needs to pick up the pace and keep its promise. The slow-walking of this promise is a slap in the face to our Alaska Native Veterans. It is completely unacceptable, and action is needed — and needed now. They have waited long enough, and they are dying. The timeline During the Vietnam War, 2,800 Alaska Natives served in the military — a higher rate per capita than any other group. Since the conflict did not end until 1973, service members were unable to apply for land before the December 1971 deadline created by the passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. Alaska Native Veterans were finally given that opportunity once again under the 1998 Alaska Native Vietnam Veterans Land Allotment Act, which authorized a new 18-month filing period for qualifying Alaska Native Veterans to apply for up to 160 acres of Alaska land. But 20 more years of delay ensued. Eligible veterans began passing away. In response, the Alaska congressional delegation worked to include provisions within the Dingell Act of 2019, signed into law by President Donald Trump, to extend eligibility to qualified veterans and their heirs. These provisions also removed a five-year occupancy requirement — freeing applicants to apply for available lands anywhere in the state. Promises made and broken As a veteran, I deeply appreciate the sacrifices and dedication required to serve our nation — all the more present in those who served during the Vietnam era. Subjected to Agent Orange, numerous other toxins on the battlefield and vilification upon their return, these veterans’ scars run uniquely deep. The continued disrespect shown to those who served honorably makes my heart ache and my blood boil. Alaska Native veteran Jerry Ward shared his perspective with me recently. “Many Alaska Natives who were in combat were unable to apply for an allotment. I was in the jungle in combat. I had no idea that the federal government was doing away with this. Thanks to our congressional delegation here in Alaska, this problem is being solved. The problem is that this process is outliving Alaska Natives. I can list half a dozen friends of mine who I served with that have now died.” The trail of broken promises speaks for itself. But it is the stories of veterans like Jerry who motivate me to fight for solutions. How is it fair to tell these Alaska Native Veterans to “pound sand” after decades of waiting? Perhaps most frustratingly, the land that is currently allotted by the federal government, through the administration, is largely unusable, inaccessible land; on top of mountains of glacial land that is not native to those to whom it is allotted. Is this the treatment our veterans deserve? As Alaskans and Americans, we owe these veterans far more than a debt of gratitude for the blood, sweat and tears they’ve given to this country. We owe them the land that was promised. “This was a right that was supposed to be given to Alaska Natives that they will never have,” Ward continued, “It is a promise that we are still waiting for half a century later. I am glad that Sen. Revak along with the delegation is looking at this and I am hopeful that there will be a resolution for my fellow veterans.” Please join me in signing a petition to the Biden administration asking them to keep their promise to our Alaska Native veterans. Email my office today to sign: [email protected] Sen. Josh Revak represents Senate District M in the Alaska Legislature, encompassing the Huffman, O’Malley, Abbott Loop, Independence Park, and East Dowling areas of Anchorage.
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