Tough Sledding

A Navy SEAL Sets His Sights On The Iditarod

By Tank Hoover

Serving our country as a Navy SEAL for 9 years, Jeff (no last names here!) has made a lot of sacrifices for you and me. Just hearing the acronym “SEAL” conjures up visions of bad-azzery — men forged from one of the most challenging training programs in the world. SEALS are stone-cold confident, but with a surprising degree of low-key humility and respect.

A New Life

Being from a small Pennsylvania town, Jeff had his epiphany working line-service at the town airport. His duties included fueling planes and keeping the hanger shipshape during the midnight shift. After all the chores were completed one night, he watched Tears of the Son, a movie about Navy SEALS.

The movie lit a fuse, inspiring him to enlist with the sole purpose of becoming a SEAL. During recruitment he was promised a slot at Basic Underwater Demolition School (the first step to becoming a SEAL) after completing basic training.

Jeff blew through basic training and went to BUDS where hour by hour, day by day, he completed the grueling 6-month program, including the infamous “Hell Week.” After this, Jeff went on to SEAL Qualification Training — another 6-month course — before becoming a full-fledged team member.

Let’s just say he was deployed several times and in the thick of things, hunting “bad men” over the years…

Mushing toward the Midnight Sun. What a way to train!

Happy Hour in Jeff’s Alaskan dog yard.

Frank The Tank

During his first deployment, Jeff rescued a pup he named Frank. Like most rescues, the dogs “rescue the rescuer” as well. Frank was given official status, allowing him to fly to those places where Jeff was deployed, as well as being allowed to live on base as the squad mascot.

During deployments, Frank provided needed comfort, stability and relief to Jeff and his teammates between ops. “Just knowing he’d be there when I got back from an op was reassuring,” Jeff told me.

Ties between men and dogs have always run deep. Frank was no different. He’s Jeff’s inspiration for life after the team. A SEAL is a goal-orientated individual, but with goals a lot higher than most of us. And Jeff eventually came up with a doozy!

Somewhere in a faraway land, in full battle gear…

Breaking Away

SEAL units are called “teams” for a reason. You prepare yourself for the good of your team and teammates. It’s that simple. Leaving is a tough, bittersweet moment, full of conflicting emotions.

Think about what this entails for a bunch of highly trained Type A individuals who are key components to keeping each other alive? The bond of trust, respect and love for each other is immense.

For his last few years on duty, Jeff is stationed in Alaska as an instructor, training fellow SEALS for Land Warfare. Combining a love for dogs with a love of Alaska made it natural for him to become a dog musher. Which is how his new goal came to life.

Jeff with puppy “Frank the Tank” while training on deployment.

Iditarod Inclinations

Jeff’s new dream is to complete the Alaskan Iditarod. Now his teammates are sled dogs. He’s completed a few 100-mile races as he prepares for the Super Bowl of mushers.

The Iditarod is over 1,000 miles of frozen tundra. It pits man against the elements, requiring a knowledge of dog teams, diet, cold weather conditions, survival and navigational skills, just to name a few.

Jeff told me it’s not uncommon to have total “white-out” conditions during this grueling race, where the dogs follow the trail by scent as the musher gives total trust to his well-trained team to stay the course.

Jeff has a team of 16 dogs, and it’s still growing. Besides keeping them in the dog yard, he brings them in everyday, usually in groups of four, for some individual loving, coffee time, or watching movies. He observes their idiosyncrasies, learning their habits for the trail.

I’m excited for Jeff, as he and his team gobble up miles of trail towards their latest goal. I have no doubts they’ll complete their mission, all while taking care of each other, like any great team does.

You can follow Jeff’s exploits on Instagram @Frozentrident where you’ll see Jeff train himself and his dogs and show you the beauty of Alaska while chasing adventure. I’m excited and pumped up for Jeff as he takes on this new challenge.

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