Operation: Iron Warrior completes next mission

Outside the Gates: A new group of combat vets conquers the Iron Dog trail
Outside the Gates: A new group of combat vets conquers the Iron Dog trail
Published: Mar. 2, 2023 at 6:06 PM AKST
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WASILLA, Alaska (KTUU) - Preparation is the key to any successful mission, something Jeremiah Brewington learned throughout his 17 years of service in the Army, and again last year when he completed the expedition class of the Iron Dog his first time running it.

“It was an experience that I was able to learn a lot from and take all those lessons learned and form them into this year,” Brewington said.

He’s the heart behind what is now known as Operation: Iron Warrior, a project that operates under the umbrella of the Battle Dawgs organization. Its purpose is to create a sense of camaraderie many veterans miss in life after service while also providing a purpose: ride a snowmachine from Big Lake to Nome as a team.

Last year, Brewington and four other military veterans — Frankie Navarro, Charlie Potter, and Shawn Rich — successfully ran the unforgiving trail as Team 87, an experience that has been on his mind since.

“You come off of the high of actually completing it and then, you know, you roll into typical Alaska fishing, hunting, stuff like that,” Brewington said. “In the back of my head the whole time I’m thinking ‘okay, I’ve got this coming up, I’ve got this coming up.”'

Brewington has been open about his struggle with mental health and suicidal ideations when he was in the thick of his depression after leaving the military. In an effort to get him out of his head and into the great outdoors, a fellow veteran took him on a supply run to a lodge off the Denali Highway on snowmachines. Brewington called it the trip that saved his life — where he fell in love with the sport of snowmachining.

He always knew that after becoming a race veteran, Brewington would lead a new group of rookies up the trail. Brewington heads a group of other servicemembers, who perhaps like him, needed another mission.

This year, those rookies consisted of Army veteran Trent White as well as Air Force veteran James Chopik, together they made up Team 78.

White said he was inspired by Brewington’s story.

“If it wasn’t for Jeremiah I wouldn’t have done it,” White said. “There’s no way.”

Chopik was referred to the group by someone he was working with at the Wasilla Veteran Center.

“I was looking for people like myself that wanted to be a part of something again,” Chopik said.

The group of combat vets spent months garnering sponsorships, making sled modifications, and going out on practice runs leading up to the start line in Big Lake on Feb. 15. Four days, a number of blizzards, and a handful of broken snowmachines later, the band of military brothers crossed the finish line in Nome.

For White and Chopik, it was exactly what they had been missing.

“The biggest thing was putting you back with a team,” White said. “Everything took a team in the military, you never did anything on your own.”

For Brewington, it was another mission complete.

“If we can save one life, if we can save one veteran’s life, then we’re winning,” Brewington said. “That’s what it’s all about.”

If you or someone you know is a veteran that is struggling with mental health, you are encouraged to reach out to the national Veteran Crisis Line at 988.