By Capt. Michael Odgers (100th April 16, 2013
FORT GREELY, Alaska - Spring is in the air. Days are getting warmer. People are beginning to plan and participate in more outdoor activities, but for the Soldiers of Fort Greely, Alaska, they never stopped.
All winter, Soldiers have been enjoying the outdoors of interior Alaska. Understanding that safety can never take a holiday, Warrant Officer 1 Russell Craig, 49th Missile Defense Battalion, hosted a snow-machine safety course the last weekend of March.
Craig, a Colorado native and avid rider, was concerned with the increasing number of riders and the increasing power of the machines and the fact that the Army really did not have a very robust snow machine safety program. He felt obligated to hold a course and this was the third one he has offered.
"It helps get people into a sport they haven't tried before," said Craig. "Anybody who wanted to go could go."
The course instructed students on how to brake, how to dig out if stuck or buried in snow, helping friends and how to read the terrain, snow conditions, and how to watch for potential hazards. In addition to teaching riders and owners safe practices, Craig was able to negotiate with Fort Greely Morale Welfare and Recreation, for his course to fulfill their requirement to rent a machine.
Craig was able to pool his resources by getting Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers and MWR to assist in renting and transporting the machines and help put on the event.
After all the safety instruction was out of the way, Cousin said the rest of the day was spent with Soldiers breaking off into ability groups to practice what they learned and enjoy what they love, complete with a barbeque.
"It was excellent, the weather was great and we learned a lot," remarked Sgt. Trevor Cousin, 49th Missile Defense Battalion. "I was surprised at the skill level of the other riders and how quickly everyone caught on."
Winter conditions at Fort Greely can last from early October to late April. Snow machining is a popular way to spend those long winters and enjoy the outdoors. Within a short drive of the post, one can find trails to ride or hills to climb. Snow machining is such an integral part of life in the area that one will see them all over town. Kids even take them to school. Residents on Fort Greely are allowed to ride snow machines out the front gate to ride some of the nearby trails.
"It definitely gives you something to do. There's plenty of challenges, you can hill climb, trail ride or ride around town," said Cousino. Originally from Michigan, he is no stranger to snow, and had been an avid snowmobiler before arriving at Fort Greely.
In a remote location like Fort Greely, having an outdoor activity allows one to enjoy the area, and relieve stress, and it will go a long way to help surviving the long winters.
"It's imperative that you motivate the Soldiers within the battalion to stay active during the winter months," said Command Sgt. Maj. John Drew, 49th Missile Defense Battalion. "Whether it's just going outdoors when weather permits, or picking up an activity like snow machining, ice-fishing, or trapping."
The course was taught at Summit Lake, about an hour and a half drive from Fort Greely. Summit Lake is beautiful in the summer and a winter paradise for snow machiners. It is home to one of the most popular snow machine events in Alaska -- Arctic Man Classic and Sno-Go. Each year 10,000 spectators and thousands of snow machines spend a week there racing and snow machining.
"In order to enjoy Alaska and what it has to offer, you need to adapt to the winter activities as well as the summer activities," said Drew. And we're 65 miles from some of the best snow machine areas in the state of Alaska."