CAMP DENALI, Alaska - An Alaska Army National Guardsman, 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 held last week.

The 300-mile race is the second qualifying race for Staff Sgt. Harry 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 the Gin Gin 200 Dog Sled Race, in which he placed fifth in the men's division with a time of 10 hours and 48 minutes after battling 40 mph winds and temperatures that reached 40 below zero.

In line with National Guard recruiting and retention efforts, the National Guard Bureau is sponsoring Alexie to race in the 2009 Iditarod, which will be held in March.

As part of this sponsorship, Alexie asked veteran musher, Lance Mackey, to be his trainer and used one of his dog sled teams to run in the upcoming race.

Alexie has been training since October with Mackey in Fairbanks at Mackey's Comeback Kennel training facility.

"Up to this point Staff Sgt. Alexie has been doing quite well," said Sgt. Maj. Clinton Brown II of the Alaska Army National Guard's Recruiting and Retention office. "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, previously competing in such races as the Fur Rondy World Championship Sled Dog Race and several sprint races in the past.

"My [race] times have been surprising," said Alexie. "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."