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march/april 2008

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Region 8 REPORT
Warming Up In Alaska

We thought it was cold in Montana at 23° below, but at least it did get up to +11°. It never got up to zero in Alaska; it went down to 50° and 70° below in the central part of the state. Harbors in Anchorage looked like frozen iceberg debris. But the outpouring of hospitality was as abundant as elsewhere in the Region. Thank-you does not do justice to how our members greet visitors there.

Starting in Idaho, continuing to Montana, it is very warm in the heart of Alaska. The pending programs, programs already in progress, and those ongoing have drawn national attention. A rehab center and domiciliary in Anchorage provides shelter, training, and medical and mental health services that the chapter takes great pride in—and rightfully so. Rehab veterans take care in making hand-stained wooden flag boxes that are presented to the family of any deceased veteran laid to rest in Alaska. The boxes include engraved names and dates of birth and death.

Although only having four chapters, the state has just certified its first VVA Service Officer and is the first state in Region 8 to meet its goal of at least one new Service Officer this year. Twenty five members attended the council meeting, so imagine what it will be when we double the chapters this year? It’s a realistic goal and we only lack two members in order to add a new native tribal chapter.

What are other chapters doing in Alaska? The valley chapter drew national media attention with Alaska Trail Riders operated by Bob Moore, VVA’s founding Alaska member and first SC president. Disabled veterans find solace in the peaceful rides into the wilderness that the VVA chapter provides. Did you know that Bob has a special saddle so a veteran without legs can still ride on horseback? The guest list reads like a who’s who in Alaska. Most of the members of the state legislature and most governors past and present have visited. Children from all over the state and as far away as Arizona come to the bunkhouse and are treated like royalty by the chapter members. Thanks Dan, Jim, and the rest of Wasilla, which spelled backwards is “All I Saw,” the first pioneer description of the area. Did you know the trail riders raised over $40,000 riding 800 miles to take 20 veterans to The Wall for the 25th anniversary?

In most of Region 8 there is no cell phone coverage or Internet for hundreds of miles. In Alaska, the distance between some areas stretches nearly one thousand miles. Although many veterans reside in remote suburbs of the cities in the Lower 48, in Alaska the Palmer chapter provides the only service of its kind in the nation: They fly in food and supplies to veterans via bush pilots, the only way in or out. Thanks go to Mo Bailey and his VVA crew.

It is with great anticipation that I look forward to returning in the spring to fly into the bush to honor those veterans’ service with the Alaska medal. Bailey has to fly these guys in and out for medical treatment. He has to wait until it gets up to zero degrees in order to make it in to where veterans are cut off in the Tundra for four months of the year.

What about interaction in the community and government? State Council President Ric Davidge, Vice President Al Bafone, and I attended a Senate hearing on a bill in the Alaska legislature to urge adoption of the assured funding bill in Congress. We all testified, nine VVA members altogether, the committee passed the resolution, and it is now on to the floor for final passage. I also sat in on a Blue Ribbon Task Force hearing held by the Mayor of Anchorage.

Locally and in state legislative action, VVA consults with the governor.

Hearing about the medal program our State Council is creating, the governor was one of the first to jump on our bandwagon and give full support. Ric Davidge was asked to travel to the state capital to meet with legislators. The mayor and the governor were quick to add their support. They are looking at ways to help VVA honor the service of every Alaska veteran in the state with equal funding. The plan was on the Governor’s lips less than 12 hours after VVA voted to “Get It Done.” How, you might ask? Telecommunication is how Alaska handles its geographic and transportation obstacles.

The Veterans of Alaska Honorable Service Medal program already is attracting support from virtually every veterans’ organization in the state, and VVA is leading the way. The goal set during this trip was to start the program immediately, including a large ceremony in the state capitol during the biannual native celebration week in June.

We often hear about problems within and between chapters. In Alaska, we have members with the temperament and skills to deal with political venues at the state and at the grass-roots community levels. I can’t think of any more challenging geographical area in our nation, and yet here our VVA members are a role model. We need to work with one another and use the talents that we possess, rather than jump on the differences that make each of us unique. Perhaps it is the pioneer spirit, but veterans who focus on helping veterans are proving day in and day out they get results when they make that extra effort to help one another.

Thank you, Alaska. Thank you, Region 8. You keep raising the bar a notch higher, and we continue to exceed levels we thought could never be reached. I hope I can keep up with you.



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