The high cost of physical and mental fitness | Editorials
Opinion of News-Miner: There’s one question we should all be asking about the US military’s unfunded priority item: a $99 million gymnasium annex at Fort Wainwright. The question? Why the hell isn’t it funded, especially at this amount?
The annex is necessary because the current gymnasium at Fort Wainwright is so overcrowded during the region’s long, dark winter months that it “impairs mission readiness and the quality of life of soldiers, dependents and civilian workers,” according to the army. Extreme cold in some conditions makes running and other outdoor activities dangerous.
Improving the quality of life for Army members at Alaskan installations is a top priority for the Army — and for good reason. Last year, suicide rates among soldiers stationed in Alaska were at an all-time high with 11 soldiers killing themselves and six other deaths under investigation. Seven soldiers died by suicide in 2020 and eight in 2019.
The proposed facility would be an annex to the existing fitness center and would include an elevated four-lane 200-meter indoor running track, multi-purpose field, cardio and weight training facilities, locker rooms, control office, an entrance hall, a laundry room. and elevator.
“The presence of our troops in Alaska is important for national security, but at the same time, it is a difficult climate for our troops there,” said Army General James McConville. “We want to give them the opportunity to train and have a fitness center that allows them to participate in activities regardless of the weather.”
Senator Lisa Murkowski was among senators who questioned why the appendix remained on the unfunded list when the matter was recently raised before the Senate Appropriations Committee.
That’s a good question given that the military is looking to build up its forces in Alaska and make them capable of countering growing competition from Russia and China in the region, not to mention the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Given all of this, it would make sense to have our troops in Alaska in top shape – mentally and physically – and ready to deploy, despite the weather.
The construction of a $99 million facility to help increase the focus on Arctic and cold weather combat would go a long way towards the success of this mission. The effect on the region’s economy – Fairbanks has an unemployment rate of over 4% – cannot be underestimated even if the cost raises an eyebrow. McConville and senior Army officials say the price reflects its expected size coupled with construction costs in Alaska.
From where we sit, the proposed new gym annex would be a win all around, even with the cost giving us pause. This would enhance national security, make life easier and better for troops, and give the region an economic boost.
It should be funded and built, but not before careful consideration of the expected price.