By Kalei Rupp
Camp Denali, AK - With roughly 2,000 miles of riding to log within the next t record books, the Alaska National Guard Iron Dog team is gearing up to hit the snowmachine trails in the coming weeks.
Sgt. Maj. Pamela Harrington, of Palmer, and Sgt. 1st Class Elaine Jackson, of Anchorage, will represent the Alaska National Guard in the pro-class division of the Iron Dog, known as the world's longest and toughest snowmobile race. They will be the only all-female team of 30 teams to race in the 2011 pro-class, which traverses more than 2,000 miles of trail from Big Lake to Nome, then on to Fairbanks. If they finish, they will be only the second all-female team to ever finish the race, the first since 2000 and the first to cover the trail to Fairbanks.
"To me, it's one of those challenges I couldn't help but say yes to," said Harrington, who is the command sergeant major for the Alaska Army National Guard's 38th Troop Command. "We're taking this seriously-failure is not an option. We're running to represent the Alaska National Guard."
For the second year in a row, the Alaska National Guard is the presenting partner for the Iron Dog. The Guard became the lead sponsor in 2009 in order to support a uniquely Alaska event and bolster the Alaska National Guard throughout the state and nation.
"We view the Alaska National Guard as an excellent partner to help us elevate the race and grow to the next level," Kevin Kastner, Iron Dog executive director, said. "With the Guard, we have the opportunity to strengthen our relationships with the community and work on the education side to really connect on the ground with the youth. If we can engage and excite the communities out there, that's a huge benefit."
Last year, Jackson raced in the trail-class division and drew large crowds at each of the checkpoints. She's hoping to bring the same enthusiasm to the pro-class.
"I enjoyed interacting with people from the various communities during the race and I hope my participation and presence on the trail this year can bring inspiration and excitement," said Jackson, the operations non-commissioned officer for the Alaska Army National Guard's Recruiting and Retention detachment.
Right now, the focus is on training and preparing for the long haul to Fairbanks and they feel being a Guard member gives them an edge.
"An advantage we have as National Guardsmen is that we train for the mental aspect-the stamina, the sleep deprivation, the perseverance," Harrington said. "You never quit, you never leave a fallen Soldier behind. You know you will both prevail. That mental strategy is going to help us overcome any physical challenge."
Harrington said she will rely on her background in maintenance to help the team on the unforgiving trail.
Having run the race to Nome last year, Jackson will utilize her knowledge of the trail, but more importantly her insight of the race.
"My experience last year taught me to expect the unexpected," Jackson said. "The trail changes because of the weather, so ultimately, when you're on the trail anything can happen."
The 2011 Iron Dog pro-class will start Feb. 20 in Big Lake. Harrington and Jackson will be among 13 rookie teams and 32 rookie drivers. They're looking to make their mark and become the first all-female team to cross the Fairbanks finish line.
"We're hungry and ready for the challenge," Jackson said.