Raymond Coppock from Kotzebue, Alaska speaks on February 29, 1996 during the Communities of Memory public storytelling event held at the NANA Museum in Kotzebue, Alaska from February 29 to March 2, 1996. He talks about his experience in the Alaska National Guard, including close contact with Russians during a search and rescue operation near the Siberian coast. He also shows great pride in his military service, thinks young people can learn a lot from being in the military, and suggests that those former Guard members can serve as role models in their communities.
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Joining the Alaska Territorial Guard (ATG) and Alaska National Guard
Commanding a unit, and pride in the Guard
Being on a search and rescue mission along the Siberian coast and getting close to Russian adversaries
Learning from being in the military, and guard members as role models in the community
Challenges of service, and respect and admiration for those that served
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RAYMOND COPPOCK: I -- the only recollection I -- I could think of with -- with the ATG (Alaska Territorial Guard) is -- is when I was little kid. I used to watch these guys and -- and in these green colored uniforms.
Doing something in front of town during the wintertime. And they used to gather at this one place right next to Vernon Richards’ place.
That used to be the -- the big gathering place I guess of -- of all those guys. And I’ve always been interested in -- in people in -- in uniform ‘cause they stood out. I mean, obviously.
So instead of being drafted I wanted to choose a service, so all my -- all my friends and all my cousins here in -- in -- in -- in Kotz were joining the guard so I said why not, can I join, too? They said yeah, come along. Boy, I -- I regretted it. I said that.
Because my first two weeks down in Anchorage, I thought was going to be a lot of fun, full of adventure, and rewarding, but then I pulled KP for the first two weeks. That wasn’t very --
My -- my first impression was I was gonna have fun and here I was stuck washing pots and pans for two weeks.
That -- that was way back in ’67 when I -- when I first joined. I -- I had the opportunity to serve with -- with Clarence Allen, Theodore Booth, Jonas Walton, and all those -- this guy right over here, Mr. Wells from Noorvik.
And a whole bun -- whole bunch of other guys that I can’t name. I mean there -- there’s too many.
I -- I started off at the very -- (bottom of the) totem pole. I thought I knew everything, but I didn’t.
My -- my dad -- the first time I ever heard him -- well, he didn’t say anything about my joining the ATG, the only thing I could remember what -- was opening the book. That Muktuk Marston's "Men of the Tundra."
And I saw his name there, I said, whoa, you know, he never told us he was in ATG before. And then I guess from listening back to the stories, it was a form of -- of precaution not to tell who was in the ATG for purpose of security.
Well, anyway, I’m -- I’m very proud to say I’m -- I'm part of the -- of the ATG component, mainly the Alaska Army Guard.
Anyway, I worked my way up. I -- I served twenty-five years.
And then I got to fulfill one dream that I wanted to -- to do for long time it -- it’s to command a guard unit. And I did it. I said wow, you know. And I’m -- I’m very, very proud to have served under the guys who had more experience than I did.
You know, who were members of the ATG. And it just made my heart swell, you know, so much. I’ll -- I’ll never forget it. Talking about experiences I -- I could go on forever, you know, re -- recalling experiences with -- with the guard people. But let me tell you one thing, these guys are smart.
You know, you tell them to do something they’ll do it without question. You know, the best shooters I’ve ever come across with.
I remember they’re always competing against each other, you know, to see who was the best unit. And by gosh, you know, it’s like I said it was -- it was a pleasure for me to -- to work with these -- with these people.
I used to be deathly afraid of -- of these people with, you know, higher ranks than I do. But then again, I had to realize, hey, we’re all people and we -- we all serve one -- one common purpose.
I had one opportunity to -- to -- to come in almost contact with -- with a soviet soldier.
That was when there was a big search and rescue for a whaling crew -- not a whaling crew but a walrus hunting crew. I -- it -- I think it might have been out of either Gambell or -- or Savoonga, but anyway, they got lost and they called out a major search and rescue.
And we were tasked to -- to go out and look for them with -- with a Twin Otter on the other side. You know, here I was trained all these years to fight those other guys over there, okay, and -- and to -- and to see them it’s just really scary.
You know, to almost come face to face. To be in their own country, you know. But yet again I’m -- I’m thinking -- I’ve been thinking all this time, shoot, they’re more scared than we are, you know.
And -- and a good example, we were flying over the -- the coast of Siberia looking for these guys. We were flying about two hundred feet all the way up and down the coast.
And of course, you know, the army Twin Otter they have the big U.S. sign, U.S. Army, you know. Could you imagine flying real low and them seeing U.S. Army, my god, we’re being attacked, you know? And you could actually see those people scrambling inside their houses, you know. Whoa, you know, they must be scared of us, too.
That -- that was the -- the -- to me, that was the ultimate in my training, you know, with -- with the army guard. To be able to see my quote adversary or whoever you call them. Our -- our enemies.
But then getting back to -- they were just as scared as we are, you know, they’re just ordinary people as we are trying to protect their own land as much as we are trying to protect -- protect our own.
To have, you know, fulfilled that -- that -- that dream of kinda walking in the footsteps of -- of -- of -- of our former ATG people, holy cow. I mean, it -- it’s just -- I -- I -- words can’t accept, you know I can’t tell how grateful I am to be a part of this big organization.
All the way -- it’s small now, compared to what it was before. I mean, we used to have a lot of people in all these villages, holy cow. To see the dedication, you know, that they had to -- to protect what’s theirs.
It -- it’s just great. And I would -- I was just thinking back there when I was sitting down is boy, you know, talk about the number of changes, you know, that’s been going on, you know, up here.
No -- no wonder, you know, there’s a lot of abuses going on. You know, mainly alcohol and drug abuse. Because there’s just too much going on all at once for -- for us to really catch up.
But I -- I can tell you one other thing too being in the ATG or being in the -- in the army guard that, you know, they’re the biggest teachers, you know, that I’ve -- I’ve ever had.
And I’m really glad, you know, for the -- for the discipline that -- that they taught me. I’ll -- not only that, but to, you know, come in contact with other people who -- who’s been in the service.
Every time I go to Anchorage or Fairbanks or -- or anyplace I run into a guard member. I say wow, this is really great. I remember you from back when.
So again, I -- I -- I know what’s -- what you’re telling when -- when yous -- when the stories come about that the people had a hard time when -- when the guardsmen went away for their two weeks. It -- it -- it is hard.
And when -- when -- now when they go away it’s easy, you know. They have everything. It was a challenge back then. But anyway, times have changed and we -- we should all adapt.
But, you know, like I said it -- it gives me great pleasure to have been a -- a parts of -- of this great history. I had a -- I had a chance to meet Muktuk Marston, you know, up when he dedi -- when we dedicated the -- the armory up here.
And boy, I had a great respect for the guy. You know, imagine being in a foreign territory and not knowing the language and -- and -- and trying to cope. And then he -- he did a good job of doing so.
He -- he saw a lot of dedication, a lot of good people, and honest people too.
So, with -- with that in mind, you know, I can’t help but say, you know, thank you all former ATG members for being who you are. And -- and I really appreciate you being here and sharing your stories. Thank you.