An Open Letter to the People of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Region:

Happy New Year to everyone!

For over a quarter of a century Bethel Search and Rescue has faithfully served the People of the region. Our all-volunteer organization has grown from just a handful of caring individuals to over one hundred registered members.

From our humble grass roots beginnings we have grown into a highly recognized professionally-oriented group that is constantly striving to serve the region in better ways.

Over the years BSAR has been able, through the support of many businesses and individuals, to acquire a headquarters building, an equipment maintenance shop, a boat, snow machines, ATVs, an ARGO, and many other pieces of equipment that support search, rescue, and recovery missions.

Following one of the core cultural values of our region – sharing – everything that BSAR has been blessed with is used to support SAR efforts throughout the region. This includes not only physical assets but our human resources as well. Our members often leave their families and jobs for extended periods to assist with search, rescue, and recovery missions across the region.

In more recent years BSAR has developed a focus on prevention – working hard in advance to keep travelers safe – so that search and rescue missions are reduced. This is done by aerial and ground surveys of River conditions during freeze up, break up, and adverse weather conditions. Written reports with maps and pictures are widely distributed throughout the region.

Possibly the most important prevention work that BSAR does each year is winter open water marking. Our members have marked hundreds of open holes over the years.

Now with the establishment of legal liquor sales in Bethel, BSAR is feeling a strain on both our members and our equipment.

Historically, many of our SAR missions were alcohol related. Almost all of our body recoveries were.

Long ago BSAR members agreed that we would help anybody – drunk or not they are still human beings to be cared for.

But with a legal liquor store now operating in Bethel, and the potential for another one, the number of alcohol related search and rescue calls has been increasing.

Our recent records are showing that 95% of the calls we get are for assistance to intoxicated travelers from nearby villages. And these calls are increasing.

Many of these calls for help come during the middle of the night. Our members are getting worn out.

We are thankful that to date these calls have all resulted in rescues and not body recoveries. But as the load of calls for assistance to intoxicated travelers continues to increase BSAR is fearful that we will not be able to respond as we have in past years. The outcomes may be entirely different.

Through this letter BSAR is reaching out to the People of the region, especially to those villages close to Bethel, for help.

To everyone in general: Please do not drink while traveling. Do not let others drink and travel.

To the VPSO’s, Search & Rescue Groups, and other caring People of the surrounding villages: when a traveler from your community is intoxicated and in need of assistance – please go help them – don’t let BSAR do it unless it is very close to Bethel.

BSAR is getting tired and we need your help. Thank you for your consideration.

Bethel Search & Rescue Membership

Bethel, AK

Why I Love Alaska

Governor Bill Walker issued a proclamation designating 2017 as a “Year of History and Heritage” in recognition of Alaska’s sesquicentennial — the 150th year since Russia ceded its possessions and interests in Alaska to the United States. Governor Walker’s proclamation encourages all Alaskans “to study, teach, reflect upon our past, and apply its lessons to a brighter, more inclusive future.”

Our goal for this coming year of History and Heritage is to be inclusive of all Alaskans — the indigenous, the native born, and those who have chosen to move here and make their lives as our neighbors. 

During 2017 events and projects will be presented for the enjoyment and education of Alaskans, including theatrical plays and special curriculum for school children; panel discussions by historians about the causes and consequences of the Treaty of Cession with Russia; a traveling exhibit of the original painting depicting the Treaty of Cession negotiations; special events commemorating the 150th anniversary; and a magazine, to be printed and distributed by Alaska Dispatch News, that will include brief essays (150 words or less) from 150 Alaskans on the theme, “Why We Love Alaska.” 

I’m sure we share many of the same reasons we love Alaska — its scenic splendors, recreational pleasures, unique history, career opportunities, and because, for most of us, Alaska has proven so hospitable to raising our families in safe, enriching communities.

At the core of our love of Alaska is that this is our home. For many of you who have moved out of state, you retain your love of Alaska. Home truly is where our hearts reside.

For all of the above, I love Alaska. But more particularly I love and honor Alaska for giving me and so many of my family, friends, and colleagues opportunities we were unlikely to have found elsewhere. In regards to those of us who are Alaska Natives, we take great pride that our predecessors took it upon themselves to win the rights and responsibilities we enjoy today.

There is another perspective, one of resentment, disappointment, and confusion about why so many Alaskan are bound by poverty, discrimination, and exclusion. I grew up with plenty of that: alcoholism cast its dark shadow on my family and friends, poverty crushed the spirits of far too many people I have known, and Alaska Natives remain at the top of all measures of social injustice. Let us all accept the challenge before us: to make Alaska an ever-more equitable society.

In picking out one of the many, many reasons I love Alaska, in less than 150 words, I offer this:

My friend, Dr. Walter Soboleff

He was born in November 1908 in the tiny Tlingit village of Killisnoo. Educated in Russian Orthodox and Protestant boarding schools, and at a Midwest college where he was ordained a Presbyterian minister, Walter retained fluency in Tlingit and deep ties to his cultural traditions. With the exception of his college years, Walter lived in Alaska until his passing in 2011.

From the time of his birth, 14 years would lapse before Alaska Natives attained status as citizens. He lived 36 years before he could be assured entry to commercial establishments, and for most of his life expressions of crude prejudice were common. Yet throughout his 102 years, Walter radiated dignity, good will, and love. Truly a wise man, his friendship enriched my life and the lives of so many others. Being the man he was, Walter Soboleff helped make a brighter and more inclusive future for all Alaskans.

For more information, see: for “150th Anniversary” information and “statewide calendar of events.” For Sitka activities, go to:

[I invite my fellow Alaskans to share why we love Alaska — in 150 words or less — by emailing to my office through [email protected], who can also provide further information.] 

Byron Mallott

Juneau, AK

We Are Here to Help You Realize Your Dream

January 16 is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day — a national holiday and a day of remembrance. Martin Luther King Jr. dedicated his life to creating and fostering equal rights for African Americans, and he died during his efforts to make his dream a reality.

Many people commemorate this holiday by serving their community and giving to others who may be less fortunate. In many ways, this is what Social Security does every day, all year long.

A great way to be of service to others is to help someone you know who may need assistance applying for Social Security, Medicare, or Extra Help with Medicare prescription drug costs. This is easy to do at

Some people who need these benefits may not be comfortable with computers or may not even know applying online is an option. But now, it’s easier than ever to apply for such benefits from the convenience of a home computer at

For example, it’s easy to apply for retirement benefits at It can take as little as 15 minutes from start to finish.  Once the application is electronically submitted, in most cases, there is nothing more to do.

It’s even easier to apply for Medicare, for people who do not plan to begin their Social Security retirement payments yet but who do want Medicare coverage. The application takes about 10 minutes and you can find it at

People who already have Medicare coverage, but who need help meeting prescription drug costs, can apply for Extra Help online at

This holiday, you may want to make a trip to see the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington D.C. or read or listen to a recording of his legendary I Have a Dream speech. You can also make your Martin Luther King Day a day of service to someone who can use your help. Lead them to It may be easy for you, but it may help someone you love realize their own dreams.

Robin Schmidt

Social Security Public Affairs Specialist for Alaska