Airmen help support 1,000-mile dog sled race
By Staff Sgt. Gloria Wilson, 354th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published February 27, 2007
EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska --
Interior Alaska's formidable winter chill couldn't deter Airmen from Eielson from volunteering to help support the local community during the Yukon Quest, the 1,000-mile international dog sled race.
More than 160 Airmen braved temperatures-- at times dipping to 40 degrees minus zero-- to help man the North Pole Dog Drop, a check-point for mushers and dog teams to rest and eat.
Mushers begin the race with teams of 14 dogs each at Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada.
However, mushers are frequently forced to drop injured dogs along the way.
Dog handlers and specially trained veterinarians follow the mushers and dog teams to every checkpoint in case the need to tend to one of the four-legged athletes arose.
If it's determined a dog can't continue the trek, the dog is left behind and cared for before retrieval later.
The North Pole location was added in 1993 and is now co-hosted by Eielson and the Greater Alaska Chamber of Commerce.
Ray Pulsifer, Yukon Quest North Pole manager is an Air Force retiree. He first became involved with Yukon Quest when he was still in the military and since retirement, he's become involved on a larger scale.
According to Mr. Pulsifer, volunteers at the North Pole location are almost exclusively personnel from Eielson.
"It's a wonderful opportunity for the people stationed at Eielson to do something most people won't ever have the opportunity to do," he said.
Mr. Pulsifer said volunteers seem to love working the race because he sees many repeat participants.
"They get an opportunity to assist the teams and sometimes they get to speak with the competitors; the experience is incomparable," he said.
Eielson's volunteers also assisted with the North Pole Championship Sprint Races, which occur the two days following the Yukon Quest finish.
To ensure all runs smooth, a project officer from Eielson oversees and coordinates the support the Icemen provide.
"It was great to see Eielson personnel pull together they way they have on this," said,
2nd Lt. Sunni Edinger, 354th Mission Support Group executive offices and Yukon Quest's Eielson support coordinator. "Once the information was out there, the phones started ringing off the hook and the e-mails started flowing from people wanting to assist."
Lieutenant Edinger not only received calls from people volunteering for individual slots, but also calls from units whose personnel volunteered en masse.
"The 354th Logistics Readiness Squadron had more than 50 people sign up for slots, which consist of a four-hour shift for either the Yukon Quest or the Sprint races," she said. "Our people and their families are working around the clock to help ensure this event is a success."
And the support provided doesn't stop with people volunteering their time.
In an effort to thwart Alaska's icy breath and prepare for sleds and mushers pulled by energy bundled in fur and harness, Eielson provides a number of supplies to include tents, light alls, heat, cots, water coolers and fuel.
"With the heat, light and overwhelming support received from Eielson and the community, the North Pole location is one of the better stops along the trail," Mr. Pulsifer said. "It's like a Tāj Mahal in the middle of nowhere."
With the finish line a mere 33 miles away and no mandated layover time, not all mushers take advantage of this haven in mainly austere conditions. This year's Yukon Quest winner Lance Mackey spent four minutes at the North Pole location before proceeding on to Fairbanks and breaking the Yukon Quest run time record by more than 13 hours.
Next year, the route will reversed and instead of the North Pole Dog Drop being the last checkpoint, it will be the first.
"Next year North Pole will be the place where the mad dash starts and more than 1000 people will watch as the first day of this usually two week event unfolds," Mr. Pulsifer said.
First held in 1984, The Yukon Quest pits mushers and dog teams against each other in a race on a trail that follows historic Gold Rush and mail-delivery routes from the turn of the 20th Century; the race is run in a harsh and sometimes unforgiving climate.