Coast Guard proudly sponsors Iditarod musher

Coast Guard sponsored Iditarod musher Ken Anderson exercises members of his sled dog team maintaining their conditioning in preparation for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Knik, Alaska, Feb. 29, 2012. The Coast Guard is sponsoring Anderson in the 40th Iditarod as part of an outreach effort to the villages in remote northern Alaska and in tribute to the Coast Guard’s historical partnership with the people of Alaska. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class David Mosley

Coast Guard sponsored Iditarod musher Ken Anderson exercises members of his sled dog team maintaining their conditioning in preparation for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Knik, Alaska, Feb. 29, 2012.
The Coast Guard is sponsoring Anderson in the 40th Iditarod as part of an outreach effort to the villages in remote northern Alaska and in tribute to the Coast Guard’s historical partnership with the people of Alaska.
U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class David Mosley

Members of the Coast Guard often fulfill a lifelong dream by joining the service.  The road to realizing that dream often begins in a person’s youth, when inspiration provides a starting point towards that lifelong dream.

For Ken Anderson, his dream of running the Iditarod sled dog race began in his youth when his parents gave him a book about the legendary race.  He realized his dream in 1999.

This week, for the fourth year in a row, with the Coast Guard’s support he will start his 13th running of the race.

In 2009, Anderson was approached by the Coast Guard regarding the service’s desire to sponsor his 2010 race to Nome, Alaska.  The sponsorship’s goal was to increase understanding of the Coast Guard in remote Alaskan communities.

Neither side knew what a great match they would be for each other.  The partnership allowed the Coast Guard to reach its goals of extending the Coast Guard’s name to Alaska’s remote communities while providing a way for Anderson to give back to his country by representing the service and championing its core values of honor, respect and devotion to duty as the “Coast Guard’s musher.”

“I was honored the first year that we did the sponsorship, it has been a huge honor that we have been able to work together for four years now,” said Anderson.  “It seems like things have been growing more and more and I have developed more of a relationship with the Coast Guard.”

Anderson and the Coast Guard sponsorship have been building in scope and momentum.  One of the requirements of the sponsorship is for Anderson to tell his and the Coast Guard’s story with dog mushing in Alaska.  Anderson has done this by visiting schools in person and across the country by using the internet to provide tours of his home and his dogs.  In November, he provided his first high school level visit at North Pole High School, where he addressed dozens of students about the Iditarod and the Coast Guard.

“This is huge for me personally, it totally validates what I am doing as a musher,” said Anderson.  “It is important for me to share what I do as a musher.  It gives more purpose to share what I do with other people to inspire them, and the Coast Guard sponsorship has given me an avenue to share.  The school visits always leave me energized after being able to share what I do and the history of mushing in Alaska.”

Well before Anderson’s sponsorship, the Coast Guard had a history of working with dog mushing teams. In 1897, in what has become known as the “overland expedition,” officers serving in the Revenue Cutter Service used dog teams to traverse more than 1,500 miles to save starving whalers who were trapped in the winter ice north of Point Barrow in the Arctic Ocean.  The efforts by these courageous officers saved 265 whalers and immortalized their names in Coast Guard lore with the modern day Coast Guard Cutters Jarvis and Bertholf named after these legendary men.

Another famous rescue occurred when two surfmen at U.S. Life Saving Service Station No. 305 in Nome, departed Nome with a dog sled team loaded with medical supplies on an expedition to assist the natives suffering from influenza at the community of Cape Prince of Whales, 160 miles from Nome, Dec. 6, 1918.  Arriving on Dec. 13, they found 122 natives sick and 157 deceased.  They converted the schoolhouse into a hospital, and the post office into a dispensary to care from the surviving members of the community.  Additionally they helped with the burial of the deceased beginning on Jan. 11, 1919.  By Feb. 20, the epidemic had subsided, and the two surfmen were able to return to Nome arriving March 1.

It is stories like the Overland Expedition, the Cape Prince of Whales response and the 1925 “great race for mercy” where 20 mushers and 150 dogs were used to deliver Diphtheria antitoxin to save the community of Nome, that inspire Anderson.   An additional inspiration has developed from the Coast Guard’s core values; they have become a personal standard for him in his daily life as well as while on the trail.

In 2011, while racing in the Yukon Quest, a 1,000-mile, two-country race, Anderson was racing along the banks of Birch Creek in Eastern Alaska when he observed a light flashing through fog which had developed from a fresh water breakout in the ice.

As Anderson neared the light he discovered it was originating from the lamp of fellow musher Dallas Seavey who had broken through the ice and was now soaking wet in negative 50-degree temperatures.

Fearing for his fellow musher, Anderson searched for a safe way across the semi-frozen creek. Anderson found a set of moose tracks nearby and followed them safely across the creek; the race was forgotten as a fellow musher needed help.

Anderson helped Seavey ring water from his clothing and boots then he used plastic bags to help protect Seavey’s feet from his wet and frozen boots and inserted hand warmers into Seavey’s clothing to help fight off hypothermia.

Anderson then guided both dog teams back onto the trail toward the next checkpoint, more than three hours away.

Anderson’s selfless display of respect for the conditions and the well being of his fellow mushers harkens to the very core of the Coast Guard and why the men and women of the Coast Guard serve.

“The Coast Guard’s values are something I think about while on the trail and dealing with the dogs,” said Anderson.  “The dogs will not perform without a good leader.  I have to stay focused, on task and devoted to my duty.  Respecting the people you are working with, in my case it is the dogs, and doing things in an upstanding, honorable way, it is my standard.  It is a great standard to live up to.”

When not working with his dogs and training for the next racing season, Anderson can often be found aboard his sailboat with his family enjoying the waters of Prince William Sound near Valdez during the summer months. 

“I have been a boater all my life, and have found that being sponsored by the Coast Guard has inspired me to be more safety minded and share those messages with others,” said Anderson.

Anderson officially joined the Coast Guard Auxiliary during the 2012 summer, becoming a member of the Fairbanks Flotilla.

“I didn’t do any military service, but I did just join the Auxiliary,” said Anderson.  “While I am not an enlisted person, I am working with the Coast Guard toward making my community better.  To me it is a way for me to give back; it is a real honor that I can work beside those who live up to the same standard that I set for myself.”

The Coast Guard is proud to sponsor Ken Anderson, 12-time veteran Iditarod veteran, because he exemplifies the Coast Guard’s core values of honor, respect and devotion to duty.

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