JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska --
It's not every day someone gets a phone call to ride along in Alaska's Iditarod sled-dog race with the reigning champion.
When Tech Sgt. Gerald Ingram of the 477th Fighter Group received this call, he said, "Yes," with a big smile on his face and without a moment's hesitation.
Ingram teamed up with champion musher, Dallas Seavey, for the Ceremonial Start of the event and mushed with last year's winner for the first 11 miles of the race.
The Air Force Reserve is sponsoring this year's Iditarod as part of its recruiting mission. As the only Air Force Reserve unit in Alaska, the 477th FG provided an "IditaRider" and volunteer support to the world-famous sled-dog race to make the mission a success.
The 477th FG is a small unit of just under 400 members who maintain and support F-22 Raptor operations alongside their 3rd Wing partners. They are interested in supporting this uniquely Alaskan event to recruit new Citizen Airmen into part-time positions in the unit.
The sponsorship kicked off with an invitation to Seavey for a tour of the F-22 Raptor and an introduction to the Airmen of the 477th FG. With enthusiasm very similar to Ingram's, Seavey accepted the invitation.
"I thought about it for all of three seconds and then said 'Absolutely this is going to be awesome!'" Seavey said.
Seavey toured the aircraft March 4, with his jaw agape. He shook hands with unit members, posed for photos and furthered recruiting efforts while speaking to news-media.
As part of the Iditarod sponsorship, members of the 477th FG served as dog handlers, crossing guards and recruiting assistants during the Iditarod's Ceremonial Start in Anchorage, Alaska. The dog handlers assisted mushers with leading dogs down Fourth Avenue to the starting line. Every Citizen Airman at the event wore recruiting gear and answered spectator inquiries to increase awareness of the Air Force Reserve's presence in Alaska.
Ingram furthered the recruiting mission when he rode the first eleven miles of the Iditarod with Seavey on Saturday as an IditaRider representing the Air Force Reserve. His words describing the experience echoed Seavey's he simply said, "Awesome!"
The sergeant is an aircraft-maintenance supervisor for the Air Force Reserve, overseeing upkeep and repairs on F-22 Raptors, and a medical assistant in Anchorage, Alaska, in his civilian occupation.
This year's sponsorship is the beginning of what Stan Hooley, Iditarod CEO, would like to be an ongoing relationship. He said the Iditarod is beginning to draw national media attention and they are looking to draw the interest of the same young audience from which the Air Force Reserve recruits.
The Air Force Reserve's sponsorship of the Iditarod can benefit the Iditarod, a long-standing Alaskan tradition and the Air Force Reserve's recruitment of Alaskan Citizen Airmen.