By Army Sgt. Karima Turner
Special to American Forces Press Service
Jan. 30, 2009 - An Alaska Army National Guardsman is one step closer to competing in the Iditarod, Alaska's famous 1,150-mile sled-dog race. Staff Sgt. Harry Alexie finished ninth with a time of 59 hours, 8 minutes, and was named "Rookie of the Year" in the Copper Basin 300 Dog Sled Race here last week.
The 300-mile race is the second qualifying race for Alexie before the 2009 Iditarod and is considered to be the toughest mid-distance sled-dog race in the world.
The first qualifying race Alexie completed was Alaska's Gin Gin 200 Dog Sled Race in December, in which he placed fifth in the men's division with a time of 10 hours, 48 minutes, after battling 40 mph winds and temperatures that reached minus 40.
In line with National Guard recruiting and retention efforts, the National Guard Bureau is sponsoring Alexie to race in the 2009 Iditarod, to be held in March.
As part of this sponsorship, Alexie asked veteran musher Lance Mackey, a two-time Iditarod champion, to be his trainer, and will use one of Mackey's dog sled teams to run in the upcoming race.
Alexie has been training since October at Mackey's Comeback Kennel training facility in Fairbanks.
"Up to this point, Staff Sgt. Alexie has been doing quite well," Army Sgt. Maj. Clinton Brown II of the Alaska Army National Guard's Recruiting and Retention office said. "Given the experience that he has accumulated and the trainer that is preparing him, Staff Sgt. Alexie has the ability to finish in the top 20 of the Iditarod.
"Anything can happen on the trail, but Staff Sgt. Alexie is determined to show that he has what it takes to compete in the Last Great Race."
Alexie, a Yupik Alaska native of Kwethluk and resident of Bethel, has been mushing for about 15 years. He has competed in such races as the Fur Rondy World Championship Sled Dog Race and several sprint races.
"My [race] times have been surprising," Alexie said. "I'm very pleased and surprised for our finishes. Before I started racing distance races, I didn't know it would be so challenging.
"But every race I've competed in, I've learned something, and the Iditarod is something I'm up for. I've completed all of the qualifying races -- the Gin Gin and the Copper Basin 300, and now I'm looking forward to the Iditarod. I can't wait 'till it kicks off."
(Army Sgt. Karima Turner serves in the Alaska National Guard public affairs office.)