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Tuesday, January 25, 2011


In November I wrote about Fairbanks, Alaska, where my son is stationed at Ft. Wainwright:

The temperature has averaged between twenty and thirty below for the past two months. Two weekends ago the city had a heat wave where it actually got up to eleven degrees above zero for a couple days. But this past week it's been down to negative forty.

When Johnny was first sent there, he was happy, thinking that being in such a remote place would be an adventure. The problem is, when it's 30 below all the time, all you can really do is run from building to building. At that temperature, after as little as two minutes outside without a hat you can get frostbite of the ears.

The Army is extremely strict about making sure that nobody goes outside without a regulation hat and gloves. One member of Johnny's battalion got caught outside once without his hat, and was punished by having to do a 48 hour work detail with no sleep. Another member of his battalion had a couple of drinks and went outside wearing only a baseball cap for a few minutes, got frostbite, and had to have part of his ear chopped off.

So soldiers like Johnny, who just arrived there in November, haven't really gotten to see Alaska at all. Last night, Johnny told us that several of the guys in his squad have said that when they were younger they would see nature shows about Alaska, and would think, wow, that would be cool place to go. Now their almost universal attitude is, screw this place.

The 25th Infantry Division -- most of Ft. Wainwright -- will be deploying to Afghanistan sometime this spring, for approximately twelve months. So they'll miss the Alaskan summer. For those who get back safe and sound, they should be able to enjoy the relatively brief Alaskan summer of 2012. Then they'll get to get outside and do some hiking.

The only problem with that, as any native will tell you, is that the state bird of Alaska is the mosquito.


Anonymous said...

John, How much light do they get up there in Alaska at this time of year? Does Johnny ever comment on how that affects the mood of soldiers who aren't used to less sunlight? Julie

John Craig said...

Julie -- Thanks for asking, I was going to mention that in the post and forgot. According to the Wikipedia entry on Fairbanks, at the peak of winter they get only three hours and forty three minutes of sunlight.

This was confirmed by Johnny. He didn't say anything about how it was affecting the soldiers' moods. But judging from their "Screw this place" attitude, it can't be for the better.

Anonymous said...

With the weather here in the Northeast this winter I'm thinking, "screw this place". Can't even imagine 30 below, especially with less than 4 hours per day of sunlight.

John Craig said...

Anonymous --
Amen to that! This is the winter that would never end. I'd actually prefer zero hours of sunlight a day if it meant I didn't have to get out and shovel.

Anonymous said...

Wimps! You Southern New Englanders are just winter wussies. ;)
(Easy for me to say as I'm in no shoveling mode for a while.)
I'm guessing that the benefit for the Army is that the soldiers may be happy to get to Afghanistan if only for a little more light and outside time.

John Craig said...

G -- Johnny's squad is actually leaving on February 9th for the Mojave Desert, where the Army has set up a fake Afghan village for training purposes. He'll be there for a month, will go back to Fairbanks, will then have his last (two week) leave before Afghanistan during which he'll come home, will return to Fairbanks for three or four weeks, then deploy. So there's actually not much more Fairbanks winter for him.