Army wife embraces community, Alaska adventures
January 16, 2014
FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska - Interior Alaska can be harsh during the cold dark winter months. Everyday life can be arduous and the weather can be raw, but Karen, wife of 1st Lt. Ryan Findley, Field Maintenance Company, 25th Brigade Support Battalion, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, believes there is no such thing as bad weather, "just bad clothing," she said. "Just dress in the appropriate winter gear and go enjoy the outdoors."
Her spirit for adventure is nothing new. She was a member of the Lubbock, Texas, Police Department for seven years after graduating from Texas Tech University with a bachelor's degree in psychology and a master's degree in forensic science. Findley resigned her commission when her husband received his active duty military orders, "which we proudly accepted," she said.
Findley wasted no time jumping into her new role. She has not only taken on the duties of FMC family readiness group leader, but is also a substitute teacher for the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District, an active member and competitor in the Alaska State Barbecue Association and a member of the Gold Diggers, a Fairbanks roller derby team.
"We have experienced both wonderful winter and summer activities that are available in the great state of Alaska," she said. "Many people only dream of visiting this place and spend years saving money so they can experience a small portion of what we encounter on a regular basis."
The Findleys participate in as many of the Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation programs as they can. "Last winter we went ice-fishing, ice-climbing, snowshoeing, snowmachining and skiing. I also went on the Women in the Wilderness Snowshoe hike last May."
They also found many activities to do on their own. "During the summer," she said, "we drove to Ninilchik and went fishing. We also drove to Seward, spent a week at the Seward Military Resort and went on a charter boat for halibut and salmon. We also visited Denali State Park, went berry picking at Wickersham Dome and went caribou-hunting together during the Steese Highway hunt." She said they continue to embrace new Alaskan adventures whenever possible.
This year they want to do more.
One of the many things they love doing together, and occasionally head-to-head, is cook in barbecue competitions. In 2011 they worked together to become grand champions of the Wolfforth Area Chamber of Commerce Agriculture Boot Scoot and Barbecue Cook-Off in Texas. The following year, her husband was stationed in Fort Lee, Va., at officer training school. She felt they should have an entry in the 2012 competition "since we won the previous year, but Ryan wasn't going to be home in time." Even though her duties usually involved washing utensils and assisting, she had never done a lot of the steps involved in smoking the meat herself. She said, "I pretty much told Ryan [over the phone], 'Hey, I got this'". She had a neighbor help her load the cooking pit, supplies and do some of the prep work, but mostly relied on phone calls, photos and texts to her husband during the competition. Miles apart, they were still working as a team. "He was very encouraging throughout the process," she said.
Since then she's embraced the art of barbecue. Last winter the Findleys competed together in their first Alaska competition during the 5th Annual Alaska State BBQ Association BrrrBQ on the banks of the Chena River in Fairbanks in late February, in conjunction with the Tired Iron and Iron Dog snowmachine races. Although the air temperature hovered at 25 below zero throughout the day, they set up their tent in the courthouse parking lot, were bundled to the hilt and fired up the smokers and grills. At the end they claimed the title of grand champions over the other eight teams competing.
David Pruhs, president, Alaska State Barbecue Association said, "The Findleys have attacked Alaska with optimism and fervor, and quickly became a part of the community on-and-off post. Their enthusiasm is infectious."
"There's still plenty on the to-do list," Findley said. "We want to do some dog-sledding, tubing, cross-country skiing and of course defend our championship at the BrrrBQ."