Why do I love my job? Great question! It is currently 4:00 a.m. in Alaska. I have carefully planned my morning to have at least 20 minutes to write before I need to load my car up and get ready to head to the gas station, grocery store, and the local coffee shop in preparation for today’s events at 10:00 a.m. Sounds easy enough- except that there is a 100 mile drive through the Nanana Range (mountains) that needs to happen also. These are mornings that I wonder why I didn’t take an average 9-5, sitting behind some desk with a window view, coffee pot, and easy access to bathrooms.
I travel a lot for my job- at least 3-4 times a month. Sounds easy enough- there are a lot of people who travel for their jobs. However, I spend a great deal of time in hotels, on planes, driving, floating on ferries, and there is sometimes even a bit of a hike to my final destination. As a result, I find myself in the middle of snowstorms on a single-lane highway, standing under a tree in a hail storm, or trying to hold on to my coffee cup as a ferry sways with a winter storm in summer off the Alaskan coast.
And not that my job is more challenging than anyone else’s; however, there are precisely ten rest stops in the whole of Alaskan roadways! As I get older, I am beginning to miss the convenience of a gas stop with a bathroom and cheap coffee. Furthermore, the Interstate Highway System in Alaska comprises four highways that cover only 1,082.22 miles of the 570,374 square miles of Alaska, which are land areas and 86,051 square miles of Alaska covered by water. So let’s do that math- that leaves me….well, a lot of damn areas that are not accessible by car. But I need to get there! So there are planes, ferries, and occasionally a dog sled team in my arsenal of options.
What do I do? I work for the USO. Not a lot of people know what a USO is. It is a non-profit that works solely to support our military and their families. Remember Bob Hope? He was a big supporter of the USO- he performed his first show in 1941 and traveled with the USO to support our military until 1990. Robin Williams did six USO tours from 2002 to 2013. Gary Sinise has been a fantastic supporter of the organization and has been instrumental in me getting some pretty impressive meals to our military community. So what do I personally do? I travel to the outlying military communities in Alaska and bring programming and food to them. Door Dash with a smile and paintbrushes.
Now, wait- before you say anything- Door Dash with a smile is my motivation. Many of these outlying communities do not have the comfort of a Wal-Mart, Safeway, or, heaven forbid- Starbucks. Some of my most recent requests were for bear spray, deodorant, and hair clippers because there is no barber/hairdresser on their islands, and of course- Taco Bell. Last night, I got a call from a mother whose child is located on a remote island in the middle of nowhere Alaska- but it is his birthday coming up, and could I help her get him a birthday cake? Yes, mam! I can and will…
Logistically speaking- Amazon even has a hard time getting to some locations, so that means I have to get creative on how to get materials and food to them. There are days that I have sat on the runway of our bush planes, stopped pilots, and begged them to take a package of toothbrushes and Pizza to some remote location. I have even become best friends with the Alaskan Marine Highway employees because they are fearless and are willing to always carry a package for me to a port for pickup.
Working for the USO is a fantastic second career. I have visited places that are only seen on ‘Deadliest Catch’ or ‘Ice Road Truckers.’ I have met some of the most resilient family members who always welcome the USO with open arms and a warm cup of coffee. I have met the most heroic service members who are willing to jump into the raging Alaskan waters to save a person. I have witnessed military pilots fly to the steepest of mountain ranges to answer a distress call. I have seen that in this state- the military is not just here to train for war; it is also here to be a part of the community regardless of where the call takes them.
There is an African proverb that states- ‘It takes a village to raise a child’- and here in the outlying communities of the Alaskan military, I am beyond proud that I can be considered a member of their tribes.