Updated On: 10/31/2012 10:58:43 AM
There are three ways to get to Eielson Air Force Base: drive your vehicle up the Alaska Highway, ride the Alaska Marine Highway ferry, or fly. read more...
Both the driving and ferry options might be considered vacations in themselves and could be one of the highlights of your career. Because there are several unique ways to travel to Alaska, contact the transportation management office before making travel plans. The local TMO office can explain each mode of travel and its specific monetary entitlement to you. You are encouraged to contact the Eielson TMO office for information on the most current official policies and regulations to assist you in deciding how to get to Eielson. Take the ferry for a marine adventure. The Sign Forest in Watson Lake, Yukon, has been an Alaska Highway landmark since 1942.
The Alaska Highway
If you've ever dreamed of driving the Alaska Highway, known as the ALCAN, get ready for the trip of a lifetime. Traveling from the Lower 48 through Canada, into the Yukon Territory and finally into Alaska is nothing less than spectacular. The trip takes you through some of the most remote and wild expanses left in North America, with snow-covered mountain ranges of majestic peaks and glacial streams, countless crystal-clear, fish-filled lakes, and forests filled with wildlife and big game. It is truly nature at its finest. You are also likely to experience good, old-fashioned hospitality along the way from some of the friendliest folks you'll ever meet.
Driving the Alaska Highway is easy. Unlike many bases in the United States, the directions to Eielson are fairly simple. Once you reach the start of the Alaska Highway at Dawson Creek, British Columbia, Canada, just point your vehicle north and 1,500 miles later you'll reach the main gate! There are several major routes leading to Dawson Creek, including roads from Seattle, Wash., Great Falls, Mont., and the eastern United States via Canada. Once you reach Dawson Creek, grab a travel guide for a list of scenic attractions, the best places to spot wildlife, mileage between towns, and the locations of restaurants, hotels and gas stations along the way. Given the remoteness of the area, knowing this information is critical to both your enjoyment and safety—even more so in the winter when most businesses close and traffic on the road noticeably declines.
Preparing for the drive
Most people who decide to drive the Alaska Highway choose to do so during the late spring through early fall. Although the entire road is completely paved, several hundred miles each year must be refurbished to keep it in good condition. Expect to drive on temporary gravel detours—often running 20 to 50 miles at a stretch—during the summer road construction season. Unfortunately, the gravel on these detours can damage windshields, headlights, radiators, tires and gas tanks. Many people find it prudent to install protective equipment beforehand, such as plastic headlight covers, grill/radiator deflectors, and some type of hard covering over the gas tank. Be sure to carry a spare tire.
PCS travelers are authorized to drive the Alaska Highway year round, including the winter months (mid- October to mid-April). Be aware when the summer tourist season ends, many facilities along the highway close for the year, including gas stations. Alaska-Canada travel guides indicate which facilities will be open during the winter. Winterize your vehicle prior to the trip. A block heater, oil pan heater, transmission pan heater and battery pad or battery blanket are the standard items. Studded snow tires should be considered, and tire chains should be carried for winter trips. Finally, be sure to carry appropriate cold-weather emergency equipment, including warm clothing, extra blankets or sleeping bags, a small folding shovel, safety flares, flashlight, matches, food, water, a signaling device and a first aid kit.
Driving through Canada
It's important to remember Canada has unique import and export laws and regulations. Be aware while crossing into Canada and while traveling through the entire Canadian region, you must comply with several Canadian firearm regulations and restrictions. For the most up-to-date information and required forms go to www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/cfp-pcaf/index-eng.htm. Pets require a current health certificate which must be less than 30 days old. Also, be sure to carry a birth certificate and government issued ID for each individual. Passports are now a requirement for military dependents and civilians driving through the Canadian border. For more information about driving to Alaska, visit your Airman & Family Readiness Center.
Military members with dependents are authorized to drive one vehicle and ship another at government expense. Single members are authorized to drive or ship one vehicle at government expense. Special rules apply if you will be utilizing the Alaska Marine Highway ferry; check with TMO for more information. During the drive, you will collect travel pay and per diem for each authorized travel day. Travel pay includes mileage. Current per diem and travel pay rates are available at www.defensetravel.dod.mil.
You can also drive and collect travel pay to Seattle, ship your vehicle from there and then fly to Fairbanks using a government travel request. Whether you drive all the way, or part of the way and then use the ferry system, your mode of travel must be authorized on your PCS orders. Keep a good record of the dates and times associated with your trip to Alaska, especially when you change modes of transportation and cross the Canadian border. You will need this information when you file your travel voucher.
Marine Highway System
Another often-used route to Eielson is the Alaska Marine Highway. The marine highway offers the advantages of a break from driving combined with breathtaking scenery along Alaska's inland waterways. Alaska operates 11 ferries, one of which sails for a four-night, five-day trip from Bellingham, Wash., (north of Seattle) to Alaska. Several ships operate in southeastern Alaska and can be boarded at Prince Rupert, British Columbia. Any of the Prince Rupert ships or the Seattle ship can provide vehicle and passenger accommodations all the way to Haines, Alaska. From Haines, it's about 600 miles to Eielson's main gate. If you prefer to see a bit of Canada before catching the ferry, then travel west on Yellowhead Highway 16 through Prince George to Prince Rupert. Travelers can board the ferry there. Tourist season is in full swing during the summer, so reservations must be made as early as possible. Reservations can be made as early as December for the following summer. The Alaska Marine Highway System is the only ferry system authorized for PCS travel to and from Alaska. There are various publications available concerning rates, schedules and reservations. The Web site mentioned above contains a complete ferry schedule for the summer travel season. If you are taking a pet, a current health certificate is needed or the pet will not be allowed on the ferry. Call your local TMO, and if you need further assistance, call the Eielson TMO at (907) 377-1771.
For more information about the marine highway call (800) 642-0066, or visit www.alaska.gov/ferry. If you travel via the Alaska Marine Highway System, you will be paid normal mileage and per diem for driving to and from each ferry port. The member must pay the deck fee in cash for any vehicle (cash withdrawal using a government travel card is recommended), but an advance by finance may be made prior to your departure. Under some circumstances, members can ship two vehicles aboard the ferry. Check with your local TMO for details. Whether you drive all the way or part of the way and then use the ferry system, it must be authorized on your orders.
Of course, the quickest and easiest mode of travel to Alaska is flying. You can fly the entire way, or drive your privately owned vehicle to Seattle for shipping and fly to Fairbanks. All travel from Seattle to Fairbanks must be governmentprocured transportation. Your local TMO will make the arrangements. If you fly the entire way, TMO can provide you with a government ticket or you can purchase your ticket from your base to Seattle. From Seattle to Fairbanks, a government ticket must be issued since it is considered transoceanic travel and cannot be personally procured. Be sure to save the airline tickets you purchase or are issued; they will be required for reimbursement. The Armed Services YMCA sponsors a military courtesy lounge for passengers departing from and arriving to Fairbanks International Airport. Hours of operation are noon to 11 p.m. local time. The lounge, located under the stairwell next to the baggage claim area, provides a comfortable waiting area for military members of all services and their families. Volunteers staff the lounge during heavy air traffic periods, providing traveler assistance and welcoming newcomers to the Fairbanks area. To contact the ASYMCA lounge, call (907) 455-0236 or visit www.asymcaofalaska.com.
If you fly to Fairbanks commercially, you'll arrive at Fairbanks International Airport—a 45-minute drive from the base. There is no commercial bus transportation to the base, and commercial taxis can be expensive. Ask your sponsor if he/she can pick you up at the airport upon your arrival, or have your sponsor call vehicle operations 24 hours in advance for pick up. To contact vehicle operations call (907) 377-1843.
Shipping Your Vehicle
Information on your vehicle shipping entitlement should be obtained from your local TMO well in advance of your departure date. They will direct you to the nearest port where you can ship your vehicle, or provide information on an alternate port if needed. Cars shipped from Seattle take two to three weeks to arrive in Fairbanks. Shipping a vehicle from the East Coast to Fairbanks can take two months. Living at Eielson without a vehicle can be difficult, so it is recommended that you ship your vehicle early. It's important you stress to your TMO staff and the staff at the vehicle processing center that you want your vehicle delivered all the way to inland Fairbanks. Not all TMO staffs are aware of this option. If you fail to specifically request this, your vehicle could easily be left at the port in Anchorage, 360 miles south of Fairbanks. Finally, if your vehicle is going to arrive in Alaska between October and March, make sure to have it winterized before shipping. See the Eielson listing for details at www.afcrossroads.com. People shipping a vehicle can track that vehicle by visiting www.whereismypov.com