By Paul Burgarino
HOKKAIDO, Japan -- Alexianna Morton was a bit surprised recently when a naval commanding officer asked if she had extra layers of winter clothing.
After all, temperatures this time of year in Misawa, Japan, at the U.S. Navy facility where the petty officer 2nd class from Antioch is stationed, hover around 30 degrees.
As it turns out, Morton, 21, a 2010 Deer Valley High graduate, was being picked as one of seven sailors stationed at the base to build a snow sculpture for the 65th annual Sapporo Snow Festival.
The international festival, one of Japan's largest winter events, draws about 2 million spectators each year.
"I was really honored to be chosen, and it's been a great experience to meet the others I'm working with. It's a really good group," Morton said. "It's a lot of work, but it's a really nice break, too."
The team is turning a six-foot block of ice into a three-dimensional sculpture of the U.S. Navy Seabee logo: "The Fighting Bee."
The group started working on the sculpture on Tuesday, and it must be completed by next Wednesday.
Sailors from Misawa have participated in the festival for the past 31 years, but this marks the first time women are able to participate.
Senior Chief Daniel Sanford said the topic hadn't been broached before with their hosts, the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force at Sapporo. The Japanese said they could accommodate having the sailors stay in separate barracks, he said.
Sanford explains that each tenant command chooses one sailor to represent it during the festival, based on the person's maturity, work ethic, positive attitude and outgoing nature.
The group, nicknamed the "Sapporo Seven," has already run into a few challenges. One is that they are all from warm weather states. The team leader is from Hawaii and says he has experience sculpting sand, but not ice, Sanford said.
Also, the weather has been intermittently mild and freezing, which complicates sculpting work because it can melt or get slushy when it's warmer.
"There's a lot of striking a balance with the weather. I've been having to pack a lot of water and snow, to make like a cement paste," Morton said.
Adds Sanford: "A lot of it they are learning as they go."
The work also includes laying on a platform of snow to work on some of the intricate details.
"I'm really glad I brought layers and thick gloves," she said.
Morton also said she has had to make runs to the group's car to warm up.
Back home in East Contra Costa County, family and friends are eager to see the progress the group is making.
"My family is all over Facebook, and they expect an update every day, and are so excited to see all the pictures," Morton said.
Morgan, a cryptologic technician, enlisted in the Navy after graduating in 2010 as a way to pay for college, see the world and experience new opportunities. She plans to re-enlist when her first stint is done and be stationed at Fort Meade, Md., and hopes to one day work in the State Department and do "embassy work."
Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.
To see more pictures and updates of the sculpting work by the "Sapporo Seven" and Antioch's Alexianna Morton, visit https://www.facebook.com/NAFMisawa.