Return to the Arctic
Longer-range helicopters, lighter boats take part in summer mission
By JOHN C. MARCARIO, Assistant Editor
The Coast Guard also will conduct small boat operations in the
Norton Sound and Nome areas to
improve operational capabilities and
gather information about the maritime operating environment. A
small community service project and
recruiting effort also are planned.
A 225-foot buoy tender, will provide some transportation support
and conduct a community outreach
visit in the village of Gambell. Approximately 70 personnel from the
departments of Defense and Homeland Security and other agencies
will be involved.
The summer operation will conclude Aug. 30, after
a stop in Barrow to test the operational effectiveness
and overall capabilities of various small boat platforms
in Alaska’s northern-most community. A community
service project is planned there as well.
Similar to last year, a lessons-learned document will be
compiled after the mission has been concluded and
evaluated. Leaders from Alaska-based District 17 will meet
in September to go over the results. Recommendations for
a way forward then will be sent to Pacific Area Command
and to Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington.
One mission the Coast Guard’s summer operations
will not address is icebreaking, which has become a
hot-button issue for the service given its relative lack
of capability and assets at a time when the shrinking
ice pack is allowing greater commercial access to the
still hazardous Arctic region.
“If I have a concern regarding Arctic operations, it lies
with our icebreaker fleet,” Adm. Thad Allen, Coast Guard
commandant, said during his State of the Coast Guard address March 3 at the National Press Club in Washington.
He reiterated this concern during a June symposium
on the “Impacts of an Ice-Diminishing Arctic on Naval
and Maritime Operations” in Annapolis, Md.
The Coast Guard continues to assess the type of infrastructure
it would need for a more prominent presence in the Arctic.
■ The summer mission includes boat and helicopter operations
and talking to local residents about the shore improvements they
would like to see.
■ Asking Congress for increased funding for Arctic operations
could be a problem in a weak economy.
■ The commandant fears the service will not have adequate resources or capabilities to rescue victims of an accident in the Arctic.
For the second consecutive summer, the Coast Guard is conducting multimission operations in the Arctic to determine if increased infrastructure and resources are needed in the region.
During operations last summer, the service learned
that its 25-foot Defender-class boats were too heavy to
maneuver in the ice, and port facilities and communications capabilities were extremely limited.
Rear Adm. Arthur Brooks, commander, 17th Coast
Guard District, called the service’s increased focus and
operations in the region “a learning experience.”
This summer’s mission kicked off July 20-25, with
the service conducting small boat operations with
Defender-class and 33-foot Special Purpose-class boats
in Prudhoe Bay on the North Slope of Alaska.
From there, the Coast Guard was to establish a forward operating location in Nome for operations Aug.
10-24. While in Nome, the service will be working with
the Army National Guard, U.S. Public Health Service,
Air National Guard and active-duty U.S. Air Force personnel to provide medical, dental and optometry services to nine remote villages. The medical teams will be
accompanied by a recreational boating safety team that
aims to expand boating safety awareness in the region.
SEAPOWER / AUGUST 2009