CAMP DENALI, Alaska - For the first time, the Alaska Army National Guard is being represented in the 2009 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race by an Alaska Army National Guardsman.
In an effort to celebrate and restore its ties to the Iditarod, the Guard selected Staff Sgt. Harry Alexie, Alaska Army National Guard, Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 1/297th Cavalry to run this year’s race.
“We’re going back to our roots,” said Lt. Col. Joseph Lawendowski, 38th Troop Command, Recruiting and Retention commander. “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’re getting back to basics, and Alexie represents all that this organization was founded on and how we started.”
The Alaska Army National Guard Recruiting and Retention leadership chose Alexie, 31, because he represents what every Guardsman should. With high moral character, tenacity, and perseverance in the face of adversity, Alexie also has roots firmly planted in the culture of Alaska, the Alaska Army National Guard and sled dog racing.
“Alexie was a perfect candidate for the Iditarod,” said Sgt. Maj. Clinton Brown, 38th Troop Command, Recruiting and Retention command sergeant major. “He has experience with this sport, and he has the physical and mental strength to be a real contender.”
Alexie, a senior human resources non-commissioned officer, began the more than 1,049-mile journey to Nome in the 37th Annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race at the ceremonial start of the race in Anchorage March 7. But before he left the starting line, the Kwethluk native racked up months of valuable training with one of the Last Great Race’s best.
Since October 2008, Alexie trained with veteran musher and two-time Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race winner Lance Mackey at Mackey’s comeback kennel outside of Fairbanks. Alexie said the training was highly motivating and he wishes 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 can be attributed to his desire to train with a champion, but also the pioneering efforts of Brown and Lawendowski, who wished to highlight the history and partnership between Alaska and its Army National Guard.
“We have a history with this sport because this is how we [the Alaska Army National Guard] started,” Lawendowski said. “Alexie will be following in the tracks of “Muktuk” Marston’s 1942 recruitment effort.”
According to Mackey, to compete in the Iditarod takes a great deal of mental strength and fortitude, and he has great confidence 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.”