FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska – Chilly weather and the threat of rain did not stop soldiers, civilian employees, and dependents from the Fort Wainwright community from participating in the local Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk through downtown Fairbanks on Saturday.
About 150 participants, clad in pink clothing and accessories, gathered in Griffin Park for a short warm-up before heading out on a 3-mile noncompetitive walk along the Chena River. The event was part of a nationwide series of walks designed to raise funds for the American Cancer Society to support breast cancer research and enable the organization to provide free information and support to those affected by breast cancer.
Four soldiers from Fort Wainwright’s Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers program came out early to assist with the walk. Spc. Adrian Gonzales, president of the Fort Wainwright BOSS chapter, said he and the others helped set up the 5k course, got all the signs up and “made sure everything was good to go” before the event started.
When asked why he was out there, particularly after coming off a late-night shift operating the Soldiers Against Drunk Driving van, Gonzales said, “I wanted to support and show that the Army also wants to provide support for breast cancer awareness and do what we can to give back to our local community as well as the American Cancer Society.”
Gonzales was accompanied by Spc. Joshuah Diguardi, Pfc. Thomas Paluszak, and Sgt. Matthew Ruiz who assisted him with the set-up duties.
The BOSS soldiers were not the only representatives from Fort Wainwright though. Among others, 1st Sgt Michael Nash, Directorate of Emergency Services provost sergeant, and his wife Jennifer Nash, operations program manager for USO Alaska North, attended with their daughter Kaydence.
“Our family is here to support breast cancer awareness. We’ve had many people touched by breast cancer and support however we can. We love seeing the community come together to support this event,” said 1st Sgt. Nash.
Also participating from Fort Wainwright was golf course superintendent George Howe. Many post employees and soldiers know him as the person who grooms the cross country ski trails at the Chena Bend Golf Course every winter. However, he and his wife also own a photobooth company, and they volunteered their equipment and time for the walk so participants could take fun selfie-style photos with their fellow walkers.
While the walk was characterized by a festival-like atmosphere, with participants in vibrant outfits and free musical performances and cheering stations along the route, there was a serious undertone. Local health centers provided information about breast cancer detection, and a prominent breast cancer survivor addressed the crowd about her personal experience with the disease before the walk started.
Angela Merkel, the event’s organizer from the American Cancer Society, talked about the prevalence of breast cancer in remarks before the event.
“Breast cancer has one degree of separation,” she said, “so chances are if you haven’t faced it, someone you know has.”