Sullivan Honors Alaskan of the Week: Aves Thompson

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK) this week recognized Aves Thompson on the floor of the U.S. Senate. Thompson, from Anchorage, has a long history of making Alaska better and, more fundamentally, making Alaska work well and efficiently. At the end of the month, Thompson will be retiring from a long career as the head of the Alaska Trucking Association, but will continue to serve our nation’s veterans and his community through his work on numerous boards and commissions. Senator Sullivan recognized Thompson as part of his series, “Alaskan of the Week.”


   Mr. President, it is that time of week again. It is the time when I get to recognize a special person from a special place--the great State of Alaska--in what we call our ``Alaskan of the Week.'' It is one of the best times of the week for me because I get to talk about Alaska's community and its individuals. I think we have new pages here, but I think the pages unanimously agree every year that this is the most exciting speech of the week. I will not disappoint because you get to learn about Alaska, and whether it is summer--right now--or winter, you get to learn about what people are doing in Alaska.

   I recognize Mr. Aves Thompson today. He is one of the many people in my State who has worked diligently to ensure that Alaska runs well and that goods get properly transported from one place in Alaska to another place. We are a big State. He ensures that when delivering things, the systems that make a functional State and a functional society are in working order in Alaska. Now, I will get to what Aves has done in a minute here and will talk about him. What I always like to do is talk a little bit about what is going on in Alaska right now.

   The weather is gorgeous, and the fishing is great. A couple of weeks ago, I was up on the mighty Yukon River, which is way up north. I was with my wife and three daughters and a bunch of family members. We were fishing for one of the most iconic fish on the planet--the Yukon River king. It is a time of festivals and parades all across the State.

   Last week, I was at Eagle River, which is about 15 minutes north of Anchorage, for the Bear Paw Festival. Among other things, many Alaskans--myself included--partook in the Slippery Salmon Olympics. I am not going to describe exactly what happened, but as you can imagine, it involved running and obstacles with salmon. It was a lot of fun. So it is a great time to be in Alaska, and I encourage everybody who is watching on TV to come on up. You will love it. I guarantee it will be the trip of a lifetime.

   As you know, events like these reflect something larger about a place. They reflect ties and commitment and, importantly, people and community. They reflect people who help each other and spend their lives working to make things better. So let me introduce you to Aves Thompson, our Alaskan of the Week. He is someone who has definitely spent his life making Alaska better and, more fundamentally, making Alaska work well and efficiently.

   I will admit it. Alaska is not the easiest place in which to live. For one, it is really far away from the rest of the lower 48. I am going to get on a plane. I try to get home every weekend, so I will go home tomorrow afternoon. It will be about 11 1/2 hours door-to-door, one way, to get to my home in Anchorage. That is pretty far. The winter weather, of course, can be brutal. Our mountains and our tundra are beautiful, but it can be challenging, to say the least, to build on that terrain.

   Getting goods in and out of Alaska is particularly vexing in a State the size of Alaska. Now, my colleagues from Texas don't always like to hear about it, but I like to say, if you were to split Alaska in half, then Texas would be the third largest State in the country because we are 2 1/2 times the size of the State of Texas. More than that, we are a continental-wide, expansive State. When you look at communities like Ketchikan, which is down in the southeast, at communities like Barrow, which is in the north, and all the way out west to the end of the Aleutian Islands chain, you will literally cover Florida, North Dakota, and San Francisco. That is the size of Alaska. So it is a challenge to move things.

   Aves Thompson is currently the head of the Alaska Trucking Association. He has spent his entire career working to make sure Alaskans get the goods they need not only to survive but to thrive. He has also worked to ensure that the goods are measured properly and that people aren't overpaying for them. This is very important.

   Aves and Phyllis, his wife, came to Alaska in 1970. First, it was to visit friends, then to build a life. They love the State. They love the weather. They love the people. They love the community. Phyllis taught elementary school, and eventually Aves worked for a small trucking company. Then he worked for the State as, first, the division director of the Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Program and then as the director and the chief of the Alaska State Division of Measurement Standards. Now, that is a mouthful, but it is a really important job.

   What does it mean?

   It means that he was in charge of all of the scales in Alaska--everything from the scales to weigh your fruit at the grocery store and your gas at the pump to the scales that weigh huge shipments of goods that come into our State.

   When she was a little girl, Kristin, who is Aves' daughter, remembers how her father used to always check the scales at the grocery store. So she told her friends that her father weighed cheese for a living. That is a family joke; that he weighed cheese for a living.

   Aves became the chairman of the 3,500-member National Conference on Weights and Measures, and he was given a lifetime achievement award for his work, particularly around his work in setting the standards for international weights and measurements, which is incredibly important for the global economy, much of which runs through Alaska.

   In 2006, Aves became the head of the Alaska Trucking Association. Why? Well, his daughter said he wasn't a trucker himself but that he was always one at heart. He loves the music of Waylon Jennings and Kenny Rogers. He loves the culture. Most of all, he loves the truckers themselves. They are great, hard-working Americans who drive our trucks.

   Aves said:

   The thing I like most about this industry is that it is made up of hard-working, tough people who want to make a living. We are not looking for a handout; we are looking to pay our fair share. Our drivers work hard. They make a good living throughout Alaska.

   Kristin, his daughter, said that as she was growing up, a trucker was always calling, and her dad was always offering to help.

   Let me tell you a little bit about the trucking industry in Alaska. Trucking employs over 13,700 people in Alaska--almost 1 out of every 19 workers. They are good-paying jobs with benefits, and they are sorely needed in my State. With the exception of communities in Southeast Alaska, almost everything that we get in Alaska comes into the Port of Alaska and is delivered by truck.

   The rides themselves are unlike any rides in the country. We actually had a reality show--one of the first of many reality shows about Alaska--called ``Ice Road Truckers.'' These were the guys--the men and the women--who drove the haul road, as we call it. I was just on it going up to our fish camp on the Yukon. In the winter and on ice, they drive these trucks hundreds of miles up the haul road to Prudhoe Bay. That show ran for 10 years. Americans loved it. Those were our truckers.

   As Aves puts it, ``in Alaska, if you got it, a truck brought it. It's absolutely essential to our economy. If trucking in Alaska stopped,'' the entire Alaskan economy ``would stop.''

   Now, Aves is going to be retiring from the Alaska Trucking Association at the end of this month, but he sits on so many other boards and associations and he is involved in so many other elements of his community, his State, and his country, that I guarantee you there is not going to be much time for him to rest during his well-deserved retirement.

   He is the kind of guy--and we all know him--who when people call on him to do things, he gets things done.

   But one project he is passionate about, as am I, and it is still ongoing, and he is still leading on it and he is absolutely determined to finish--let me explain what this is.

   Like so many Alaskans, Aves is a veteran. I like to brag about Alaska. We have more veterans per capita than any State in the United States of America. He is one of them.

   He served in the Army from 1964 to 1966, in the 2nd Infantry Division. He was stationed at the DMZ in Korea. Like so many of our veterans in America and Alaska, these experiences never left him.

   In 2002 he read about a 2nd Infantry Division reunion, and he thought he would go. He found kinship among his fellow veterans and got talked into becoming an officer, eventually becoming the chair of the 2nd Indianhead Division Association and chair of the association's Memorial Foundation Board of Trustees.

   As I said, this guy is a doer and a leader. Among other things, he has led and raised money for two trips for veterans from the Korean conflict and who have served in Korea to go to Korea, and he has been working diligently to update the U.S. Army 2nd Division Memorial, which is located here at 17th and Constitution in Washington, DC.

   The memorial was first erected in 1936 to honor the 2nd Division fallen soldiers in World War I. It was then modified to honor the 2nd Division fallen soldiers in both World War II and Korea. This is a very highly decorated Army division.

   Aves and other veterans of the 2nd Division thought that the memorial should be expanded even further to honor even more of the members of the 2nd Division who have lost their lives and to leave space for future modifications of this important memorial for soldiers from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

   Like so much of what happens here, none of this was easy. When he first started to work on the memorial, he went to the Park Service, which gave him a firm ``No, we are not going to help you. We are not going to let you move it. We are not going to let you expand it.''

   Eventually, he came to us, his congressional delegation from Alaska, and we gave him a firm ``Yes, we will help.''

   We were able last year to include a provision in the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act to allow for the expansion of the 2nd Division Infantry Memorial.

   Aves has been working hard at this ever since--working with agencies, raising private money for this memorial, and getting design approval.

   Aves has been married to Phyllis for almost 51 years. Kristin is a wonderful daughter who has two sons of her own. Aves is proud of his grandsons, Logan and Aaron Michael, and we are all very grateful for his work on the economy of Alaska, on the logistics, on the supply, and for his work for veterans. He is someone who cares so much and so deeply about his State, about his community, about his industry, about his country.

   So, Aves, happy retirement, although we know you are going to continue to work hard. Thanks for all you have done for Alaska, for America, and thank you for being our Alaskan of the Week.

   I yield the floor.