In the early spring of 2008, members of the Newtok Planning Group began meeting with the Pentagon’s Innovative Readiness Training (IRT) Program about the Newtok relocation effort. Sponsored by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs, IRT provides military personnel with real-world training opportunities on projects that benefit civilian communities. The relocation effort of the village of Newtok provided a winning situation for both Newtok and the military. "To do something so far away from home, up in an Alaskan tundra that's difficult to get to by boat or by air – this is exactly the type of challenge that will enhance our ability to go to war in the future, to do other engineering projects in remote locations," said Lt. Col. William Morgan, IRT program manager. "It just so happens the needs of the Newtok Planning Group, the needs of the state and the needs of the military all came together in this very specific project."
IRT Final Planning Conference 2009. Photo: Sally Russell Cox
After two years of planning conferences between members of the Newtok Planning Group, including village members, and the IRT, a strategy for the summer of 2009 was developed. Following completion of a barge landing facility at Mertarvik, the IRT would arrive and establish a base camp to support IRT activities for the next five years at Mertarvik. The IRT would help construct essential infrastructure to facilitate Newtok’s relocation effort: access roads, an evacuation shelter, a pioneer runway and develop a quarry.
To prepare the Newtok community for the enormous military landing craft that would carry IRT base camp supplies up the Ninglick River, members of the Newtok Planning Group developed the concept for a poster, in Yup’ik and in English, to be posted throughout the village. Nutaraq Ayagneq, “A New Beginning”, describes the IRT effort in the summer of 2009.
In July, 2009, The IRT arrived at Mertarvik. "We landed in pouring rain," Boatswain's Mate 2nd Class Adrian Diaz said. "There was just a little bit of Dura-Base and one tent that was flapping like a flag in the wind. We threw our stuff down and put up more tents. I think we all went to bed that night at 11:45 p.m. It was an experiment every day after that. If something didn't work, we'd have to improvise and make it happen."
IRT base camp at Mertarvik, summer 2009. Photo: Sally Russell Cox
The base camp was completed in the summer of 2009.
IRT base camp, summer 2009. Photo: Sally Russell Cox
IRT small boat landing with landing craft unit (LCU). Photo: Sally Russell Cox
IRT troops at Mertarvik. Photo: Bob Lundell, DOT/PF
An Air National Guard black hawk helicopter lands at Mertarvik. Photo: Bob Lundell, DOT/PF
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