HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – On my flight from Seattle to Fairbanks, Alaska, I sat next to a young soldier stationed at Fort Wainwright. He was on the second leg of his return to duty following a week of leave in his hometown of Brooklyn, NY, and he wasn’t happy.
Used to the hustle and bustle of city life, he had not been won over by the beautiful mountain landscapes and outdoor activities Alaska has to offer, and he was dreading his remaining two years there.
Most of the people I talked to during my brief visit to Alaska agreed the state isn’t for everyone but said those who have learned to embrace the unique environment can’t imagine living anywhere else.
Proudly situated in the latter group is Bret Styers, the senior program manager for the Ballistic Missile Defense Center of Expertise at the U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville.
Styers was born in Valencia, California, but moved to Alaska when he was a toddler. He now lives with his wife and four children in Anchorage and serves as the Center’s lead on missile-defense projects across the state. In August, he led Col. Sebastien P. Joly, Huntsville Center commander, on tours of the Long-Range Discrimination Radar facilities at Clear Space Force Station and the Missile Defense Complex at Fort Greely in Alaska.
When it comes to missile defense, Styers is clearly an expert. He began his USACE career with the Alaska District in 2009 and spent nearly 12 years in their missile defense program before accepting his current position with Huntsville Center. He knows the ins and outs of blast protection and high-altitude electromagnetic pulse (HEMP) shielding, how to meet stringent Missile Defense Agency requirements, and what it takes to oversee construction in a challenging arctic environment.
Living in Alaska allows him to visit project sites much more frequently than if he lived in Huntsville, providing opportunities to help solve problems on the ground and maintain connections with key figures.
For Styers, the Alaskan life isn’t just a professional necessity; it’s exactly where he and his family want to be, he said.
“I just love, love the beauty of Alaska, and even more, I love sharing that with the kids now,” he said. “There’s just a real wildness to this kind of environment.”
Though his wife, Britta, is originally from Colorado, he said it wasn’t difficult to convince her to move. She also loves the outdoors and quickly adjusted to life in Alaska.
“Of course, it’s not easy being so far away from family, but we make it down to visit every year, and they come up to visit as well, so we make it work,” said Styers. “And Britta loves the outdoor stuff, too, so we go fishing, hiking, hunting, all of it. We love spending time up in the mountains, and we hunt sheep and mountain goats. It’s all just incredibly beautiful.”