U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis stopped through Alaska on Monday, making stops at Eielson Air Force Base and Fort Greely’s missile defense system while on his way to Asia, which will include stops in China, Japan and South Korea.
Mattis was hosted by U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, and the comments from the trip praised the role the 49th state has in the country’s military defense. It’s the sort of comments Alaskans have come to expect from national officials visiting the state, but it’ll come as good news to anyone concerned about force reductions and the incoming beddown of shiny new F-35s at Eielson.
But perhaps the biggest news out of the visit was Mattis’ confirmation that the military will be joining in on the detention of illegal immigrants by holding an unspecified number of detainees at Fort Bliss and Goodfellow Air Force Base, both of which are in Texas. Though Mattis didn’t get into specifics, the Associated Press reports that the Pentagon said last week that it’s been asked to get ready to house as many as 20,000 unaccompanied children. One base would be used to house unaccompanied children and the other for detained families, according to the report.
Here’s a collection of comments that Mattis made during his trip.
On Fort Greely (via News-Miner): “That is a critical component in the American deterrent effort against the use of missiles against our country,” Mattis said. “It’s also a reminder of Alaska’s role in our nation’s defense. And geography matters, and even if something was called ‘Seward’s folly’ years ago when he bought it, I think we’re all so proud of Alaska now and the key role it plays in the defense of our country.”
On F-35s: “The F-35 is going to be used by the Air Force, the Navy, the Marines, plus a host of allies. Inside the Department of Defense, we’re looking at what is the mix that we need on aircraft carrier decks. We’re looking at sustainment costs. … We want to make sure it comes with the proper support facilities, the proper training facilities, all the things that keep an airplane flying. Notice we’re talking about how we’re going to incorporate it, we’re not talking about if it’s coming. It’s coming.”
On the Arctic (via ADN): “Certainly America’s got to up its game in the Arctic. There’s no doubt about that. … It’s cited as an area of concern with our national security strategy. Part of it will certainly see an increased Coast Guard presence, I believe, because, in fact, we have waterways that are open today that were not open five years ago. The reality is, we’re going to have to deal with the developing Arctic, and it is developing. It’s also going to open not only to transport but also to energy exploration.”
He also sounded off on migrant detention (via Associated Press): “We’ll provide whatever support the Department of Homeland Security needs in order to house the people that they have under their custody,” Mattis said. “We will work that out week by week, the numbers obviously are dynamic so we will have to stay flexible in our logistics support. We provide logistics support and we’re not going to get into the political aspect,” he said. “Providing housing, shelter for those who need it is a legitimate governmental function.”
Full press conference