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Northernmost U.S. Immigration Agent Greets Visitors in Nome

April 10, 1990

NOME, Alaska (AP) _ Charles ″Chick″ Trainor has what he thinks is the ideal job for an Alaskan in the age of glasnost.

Since February, when he became the nation’s northernmost Immigration and Naturalization Service officer, Trainor has enjoyed what he sees as his dual role of federal agent and one-man welcome wagon for Soviets coming to Alaska.

″My intention out there at the airport is to let them know we’re happy to have them here. None of this ’Let me see your papers,‴ Trainor said.

With cultural, educational and scientific exchanges between Alaska and the Soviet Far East burgeoning in the last year, Nome has become a principal contact point for citizens of both countries.

Whenever a plane load of Soviet Young Pioneers (roughly equivalent to Boy Scouts), artists, educators or others visit Nome, it’s Trainor’s job to examine their papers and stamp their passports. He also occasionally goes to nearby Wales on the western tip of Seward Peninsula, or to Barrow, about 550 miles to the north on the Arctic Ocean,

Although Trainor works for the INS, his duties also include those of a customs inspector. He must watch for the illegal importation of whale ivory, animal furs, and Soviet reindeer or any other meat products possibly carrying diseases.

The 45-year-old former Marine has a background different from that of most federal agents.

Since coming to Alaska in 1966, he has owned a saloon, scratched for gold, driven a truck, run a local housing agency and worked on the trans-Alaska pipeline. He also has been a guard at a local mental hospital.

Flights between Nome and the Soviet Far East are strictly charter, so Trainor drives over to the Nome Airport only when summoned. Most of the calls come from Jim Rowe, whose Bering Air Service has pioneered flights between northwest Alaska and the Soviet Far East.

Soviets who visit Nome, a community of 3,600 with boom-town roots dating to turn-of-the-century gold-rush days, arrive wide-eyed and often gawk at the stacks of consumer goods in local stores, Trainor said.

″They think we stock the shelves just to impress them,″ he said. Many return home carrying computers, stereos and other items hard to find in the Soviet Union - especially in the Far East. Some stores in Nome accept rubles as a goodwill gesture, although the Soviet currency is virtually worthless on the world market.

Trainor thinks U.S.-Soviet exchanges will help break down barriers to international understanding.

″I see no reason why we should be fighting them,″ he said. ″We don’t even know them.″

One barrier between Trainor and visiting Soviets is created, however, by the INS uniform he wears.

″They are extremely suspicious of me because I’m a police official, and I guess over there they don’t hobnob with police officials,″ said Trainor, who’s studying Russian to help break down the barriers.

Whatever happens with superpower relations between Moscow and Washington, Trainor and others in this coastal community think people-to-people contact between Nome and the Soviet Far East will have some lasting effects.

″They’ve had a taste of it now,″ Trainor said. ″They like this town.″