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Arlington son, M-PHS grad takes part in 'Northern Edge'
ELMENDORF AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska — When the son of an Arlington couple steps outside, inhaling crisp Alaskan air on a base surrounded by mountains and pristine wilderness in America's "last frontier," he is far more likely to run into a bear or a moose than an enemy of the United States.
But Air Force Senior Airman Christopher Waggoner, son of Donald Waggoner Jr. and Marie Waggoner of Arlington, and the rest of his colleagues are strategically as close to North Korea as they are to Washington, D.C. Waggoner recently participated in a massive American military exercise called "Northern Edge," in which more than 9,000 U.S. service members sharpened their skills for responding to crises throughout the Asia-Pacific region.
Waggoner is a weapons technician with the 3rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Elmendorf Air Force Base.
"I am a munitions loader on the F-22 Raptor and I take care of the weapons systems," said Waggoner, a 2005 graduate of Marysville-Pilchuck High School.
Military maneuvers over the Gulf of Alaska and areas of the Alaskan wilderness, in a region the size of New Mexico, allowed for aircraft to conduct maneuvers in ways that could not be done anywhere else.
Air Force, Navy, Army, Marine Corps and Coast Guard personnel participated with aircraft flying in simulated air combat, many times flying in excess of the speed of sound, a restriction found nearly everywhere else in the United States. Naval warships and land-based forces also synchronized with aircraft in creating a large combined force.
For Waggoner, this exercise provided an opportunity for his unit to better itself in combat situations and in working with other American military services.
"Weapons loading during an exercise is vital in order for pilots to get the training they need," Waggoner said. "In return, this helps the command by gaining experience and a stronger defense against our enemies."
With Alaska situated between Russia and Canada, and within a good part of the Arctic Circle, the region provides a unique setting for both professional and personal experiences.
"I love this state," Waggoner said. "It's unlike any place I've ever been. The training is brutal, due to the bitterly cold winters."
Waggoner's personal military background illustrates why his experience is ideal for military operations in Alaska.
"I have been in the service for four years," Waggoner said. "I plan to continue my career in the Air Force and hope one day to become an officer."
With the sounds of jet aircraft screaming overhead, wildlife such as moose and bears are undeterred from randomly appearing at this frontier base. But the vigilance of service members in this geographically important location is intended to ensure that the region's greater threats will be kept at bay.