FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska - The Alaska Federation of Natives met in Fairbanks Oct. 24 through 26 to discuss the needs and concerns of the Native community. More than 1,200 delegates from member Alaska Native Corporations, villages, tribes, tribal consortia and tribal non-profits came together during the state's largest Native gathering to discuss and debate, and set an agenda for the organization for the upcoming year.

The event wasn't all business. More than 3,500 people attended a traditional potlatch feed Oct. 24 and attendees were treated to traditional entertainment.

Command Sgt. Maj. David Perkins, command sergeant major, United States Army Garrison Fort Wainwright, and Master Sgt. Nathan Quinn, first sergeant, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, led a group of more than 30 Soldiers to assist with the initial set-up and conversions between events at the Carlson Center.

"There is no way we could have done the switch-over in such a short amount of time if it wasn't for the great support from the Fort Wainwright Soldiers," said Helen Renfrew, director of meetings and conventions for the Fairbanks Convention and Visitor Bureau. It required moving hundreds of tables and chairs to rearrange the venue and prepare the vendor tent for local artists. "Without the help of these Soldiers, we wouldn't have been able to move things around from the Youth and Elder meetings we had this morning, to convention-style seating we needed the rest of the day," she said.

Perkins said he was there to provide leadership to young Soldiers and show them how important it is to give back to the community that has shown so much support to Fort Wainwright over the years. "I remember an old saying I learned when I was a young Soldier," he said. "'To whom has been given so much. much is expected.' Whenever we have an opportunity to return that support, we should."

The event is also one of those unique events that many people never have an opportunity to experience. Command Sgt. Maj. Bernie Knight, command sergeant major, United States Army Alaska, Perkins and members of the Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers also assisted with feeding more than 3,500 people at the Big Dipper Ice Arena. "Helping out at the AFN was an outstanding opportunity for our Soldiers and Family members to experience a part of Alaska they might not otherwise see," Perkins said. He and the Soldiers spent that evening serving the guests and were then treated to traditional moose and salmon stew, as well as a variety of customary meats.

"Being able to help out and experience an event like this and learn more about the Alaska Native culture meant a lot," said Spc. David Freer, BOSS president. "The Fairbanks community was able to see Soldiers who cared about their culture and they were able to find out more about the BOSS program." He said the elders shared stories and "I found out about what part of the moose goes to certain members of the family and why. It was a great learning experience."

Knight and Perkins praised the hard work of the Soldiers who made a positive impression on the Fairbanks and Alaska Native communities. Perkins said, "The efforts of Quinn, Freer, Sgt.1st Class Eric Smith, 184th Military Intelligence Company [who provided 30 of the 60 BOSS volunteers] and the other dedicated Soldiers demonstrated the epitome of selfless service."

The senior leadership and Soldiers served food, mingled with visitors and exchanged ideas with community members throughout the evening.

Freer said, "It's important for the Soldiers and attendees to see the command sergeant majors out here. The best leadership and morale builder is seeing someone lead by example. They figure, that if someone of that caliber has the time to give back to the community, there is no reason they themselves shouldn't find the time."

"It was special to see the youth from outer villages also interact with Soldiers, who were blending with our neighbors and setting a good example. It may have even fostered ideas of a long-standing tradition of young Alaska Natives who have served for their country in the United States Army," Perkins said.