Face of Defense: Alaska Army National Guard Soldier Takes on Iditarod
By Army Spc. Paizley Ramsey
Special to American Forces Press Service
CAMP DENALI, Alaska, Mar. 10, 2009 An Alaska Army National Guardsman is running in the grueling 2009 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race under way in Alaska.
Army Staff Sgt. Harry Alexie of the Alaska Army National Guard prepares his team to move to the starting line of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in downtown Anchorage, Alaska, March 7, 2009. Alexie trained with famed Alaskan race champion Lance Mackey. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Paizley Ramsey
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Army Staff Sgt. Harry Alexie’s selection marks the first time an Alaska Army National Guardsman has represented the Alaska Army Guard in the race.
The Kwethluk, Alaska, native has roots firmly planted in Alaska’s culture, the Alaska Army National Guard and sled dog racing.
“Alexie was a perfect candidate for the Iditarod,” Army Command Sgt. Maj. Clinton Brown, recruiting and retention command sergeant major for the 38th Troop Command, said. “He has experience with this sport, and he has the physical and mental strength to be a real contender.”
Alexie, who serves with the Alaska Guard’s Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 1-297th Cavalry, began the 1,150-mile journey to Nome on March 7 at the ceremonial start of the race in Anchorage, Alaska. The “musher” and a team of dogs cover the distance in 10 to 17 days. But before he left the starting line, the soldier racked up months of valuable training with one of the race’s best.
Alexie has trained since October with veteran musher and two-time Iditarod winner Lance Mackey at Mackey’s Comeback Kennel outside of Fairbanks, Alaska. Alexie said the training was highly motivating, and that he hopes to represent the Alaska Army National Guard with the highest degree of pride of service and professionalism.
“Training has been going great since I started working with Lance,” Alexie said.
“The past few weeks have been pretty tough, and I’ve lost a lot of sleep, but no worse than basic training,” he joked. “It’s part of the training and conditioning for the trail. I’m just happy to be a part of this.”
Alexie’s apprenticeship under Mackey demonstrates not only his desire to train with a champion, but also the pioneering efforts of Guard leaders wanting to highlight the history and partnership between Alaska and its Army National Guard.
“We’re going back to our roots,” Army Lt. Col. Joseph Lawendowski, recruiting and retention commander for the 38th Troop Command, said. “The Guard was founded by the efforts of people like ‘Muktuk’ Marston, who recruited nearly 4,000 individuals using sled dogs as a means of transportation to remote villages to bolster the Alaska Territorial Guard during the World War II era.
“We have a history with this sport, because this is how [the Alaska Army National Guard] started,” he continued. “Alexie will be following in the tracks of Muktuk Marston’s 1942 recruitment effort.”
Mackey said competing in the Iditarod takes a great deal of mental strength and fortitude, and he is confident that Alexie will be able to successfully complete the race.
“I believe Harry has what it takes,” Mackey said. “I have the utmost confidence in his abilities, but in the end it’s up to him to make it to Nome.”
(Army Spc. Paizley Ramsey serves with the Alaska Army National Guard.)