FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska -- Soldiers here helped give a smooth send-off to this year's Yukon Quest sled dog race Feb. 6.

The event, now in its 27th year, starts in Fairbanks, and takes mushers 1,000 miles to Whitehorse, Yukon. Soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 8th Field Artillery Regiment helped set up the starting line, provided crowd control and helped escort the mushers and their dogs to the start line.

For many of the soldiers the opportunity to help with the event was not only a way to get out of the barracks, but also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

"I just wanted to show the soldiers there's more to Alaska than just the barracks," said Capt. Justino Lopez, C Company, 2-8th commander.

Soldiers were jumping at the chance to volunteer, according to Lopez.

"There is nowhere in the lower 48 where you will get this kind of opportunity," said Pfc. Salvatore Zurawski, a cannon crew member for the 2-8th and a Pensacola, Fla., native. "You don't get these kinds of opportunities in Florida."

For Zurawski and the soldiers of the 2-8th the day included many firsts. "This is the first time I have had the opportunity to see the Yukon Quest," said Pfc. Christopher Petri, cannon crew member and New York native.

"I was surprised at how much time and effort is put into these events."

Attending the race gave Petri the chance to help out the local community and the Quest and see a uniquely Alaskan event, he said.

After all of the mushers cleared the chute and the sun started to set over the Cushman Bridge Mark Winterstein, the Fairbanks checkpoint manager, thanked Lopez and the soldiers for all of their time and support for this year's 2010 Yukon Quest.

"I would love to have them back," Winterstein said.