Navy SEAL Jeff Reid joined the military with one goal: to fight. After two kinetic deployments to Afghanistan, Reid found an unlikely calling — dog mushing in a remote corner of the Alaskan wilderness. In 2017, Reid launched Frozen Trident, his sled-dog operation on the icy edge of the Yukon. He sat down with Coffee or Die Magazine to discuss his time in the SEAL teams, the war in Afghanistan, and how a frogman found himself running sled dogs in the Yukon Territory.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
COD: You’re from rural Pennsylvania. What inspired you to join the Navy and pursue a career in Naval Special Warfare as a SEAL?
JR: My grandfather served in the Army during the Korean War and was awarded a Bronze Star Medal with Valor and a Purple Heart. I was always intrigued by his stories, and ever since I was a little kid, I wanted to be just like him. He suggested I look into the Navy Underwater Demolition Teams, so I went to the Navy recruiter and found out they don’t have UDTs anymore. Instead, they have SEALs. The recruiter guaranteed me a spot at BUD/S [Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training] right after boot camp, so I signed my contract right then and there.
COD: You deployed twice to Afghanistan, where your SEAL team was tasked with Village Stability Operations, a relatively new mission for Naval Special Warfare at the time. What was that like?
JR: We were one of the first SEAL platoons to do any kind of VSO operations. We were completely loaded out to deploy to Europe, and two weeks before leaving, we were told plans changed and we’d be heading into Afghanistan. We were lucky enough to have an ODA [Operational Detachment Alpha] unit nearby, so anything we had questions about, they’d help us out. That was their bread and butter, and they’d been doing it for years before we even got there. When we first went out, we literally found a spot and planted an American flag on it, then essentially built a base from nothing. We learned as we went.
COD: Halfway through that deployment, your team was pulled from that area of operations because the reward wasn’t deemed worth the risk. Do you feel like that decision was an early indicator for the course of the war?
JR: At the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013, we had a couple Afghan counterparts die, and it got to the point where we weren’t able to do certain operations because it was deemed not worth the risk. I was a JTAC [joint terminal attack controller], and getting aircraft to drop ordnance became increasingly difficult, even if you were in a gunfight. There was a lot of bureaucracy and red tape that made it clear things were starting to wind down. Then, when they finally pulled us out of there, it was kind of like, “What the hell were we even doing there the last couple months?” All the sacrifices everyone made up to that point were not worth it. That was when I decided the war was essentially coming to an end.
COD: You left the service without the immediate goal of starting a sled-dog kennel. When did you first come up with that idea, and how did you land on such a unique line of work?
JR: On my first deployment, I rescued a dog from Afghanistan named Frank. After my second deployment, I made the decision to get out because the war was coming to an end and I didn’t want to deploy just to go drink beers in Germany. A month before I got out, Frank was hit by a car and killed, and that really took the wind out of my sails. I kind of went down a dark hole for a while, so when I got out of the Navy, I didn’t have a plan. My wife ended up getting another dog, a husky, and I fell in love with dogs all over again.
My wife asked me, “If you took away every hurdle, what would you want to do?” And I had just finished reading a book about the Iditarod — a 1,000-mile sled-dog race across Alaska — and thought being a dog musher would be cool. She told me, if I found a way to make that happen, she was on board. Everything sort of fell into place: She landed a job up there, and I found a job in a kennel, so we moved to an area about an hour outside Fairbanks, Alaska.
COD: How do you think serving in the SEAL teams prepared you for dog mushing in Alaska?
JR: The big thing would be mission planning and gear prep. When it’s 40 below, if you lose a glove or go through the water, that could be catastrophic. You could die. Ensuring you have the right gear — and enough of it — is vital. Also, finding myself in a dangerous situation and knowing how to keep my cool. One time, I got my hands wet, and I had a pair of extra gloves, but my body was not capable of reheating my hands back to normal. I knew I had to get back, but you can only go so fast. I could feel my hand slowly starting to freeze, but allowing yourself to stay calm and not freak out is critical. The dogs can read off of those emotions, so I was able to stay calm, recognize the situation I was in, and accept that it was largely out of my control. I was able to get back and warm up with just a little superficial frostbite. Those types of situations get much worse if you freak out instead of staying focused on what you can control.
COD: The first year you were training sled dogs, those dogs and their owner went on to win the Yukon Quest. How do you think apprenticing under such an accomplished dog musher helped you in your journey to creating Frozen Trident?
JR: The first job I took was with a kennel whose dogs run the Iditarod and the Yukon Quest. I started with little to no real responsibilities, just scooping poop and cleaning kennels. As the owners got to know me and saw how eager I was to learn, they started throwing more responsibilities my way. I started taking the dogs out on little runs. Then the runs got longer. Next thing you know, I’m training their main race team. That dog team ended up winning the Yukon Quest: another 1,000-mile dog race.
I was so lucky to get that rare opportunity. I learned so much because I had to. It was like drinking through a fire hose, but when you have no other choice, you have to figure it out. I learned by messing up a lot. it wasn’t always a picture-perfect run.
COD: You established your own kennel, Frozen Trident, in 2018 in the dog-mushing capital of the world. Did living in such a remote piece of terrain take getting used to?
JR: We’re right off the Yukon Quest trail. If I step outside my front door and turn left, there’s about 1,000 miles of trail into the Yukon Territory. If I turn right, there’s another 1,000 miles that go all the way to the Bering Sea. It’s the best of both worlds. We’re only an hour from Fairbanks with all the conveniences of a modern city, but being on the fringes of that took a little getting used to. Now, it just feels right. We’re away from all the hustle and bustle of modern life.
COD: What is next for Frozen Trident?
JR: The main goal when we moved up here was doing the Iditarod. That’s still our goal, but having kids shifted our priorities. I do some remote training because I like being out in wild places when it’s just me and the dogs. There’s just something about being in the middle of the wilderness that helps me reset. So, until the kids get a little bit older, that kind of remote traveling is the focus here.
This article first appeared in the Winter 2022 edition of Coffee or Die’s print magazine as “A Lone SEAL on the Icy Edge of the Yukon.”