Coast Guard finishes first half of deployment to FOL Kotzebue

Coast Guard stands up forward operating location in Kotzebue, Alaska

A Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter from Air Station Kodiak rests within the Alaska Army National Guard hangar in Kotzebue, Alaska, July 18, 2013. Coast Guard personnel from Air Station Kodiak and Base Kodiak deployed to Kotzebue as part of a forward operating location July 12-21. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Shawn Eggert

Coast Guard personnel from Base Kodiak and Air Station Kodiak spent nine days operating out of an Alaska Army National Guard hangar as part of a forward operating location in Kotzebue, July 12-21.

An MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew and support staff flew throughout the region to increase the Coast Guard’s knowledge about Western Alaska and met with local leaders to strengthen the Coast Guard’s bonds with the community.

“The Coast Guard stood up an FOL in Barrow last year to provide support for the North Slope communities. This year we’re concentrating on western Alaska and the Bering Strait,” said Lt. Zachary Vojtech, a MH-60 pilot from Air Station Kodiak deployed to FOL Kotzebue. “With the increased vessel traffic through the Bering Strait, it’s important for the Coast Guard to provide a presence in the region and to let the local communities know we’re there for them.”

In addition to providing aerial support for the Alaska Bureau of Land Management and standing ready for search and rescue and law enforcement missions, Coast Guard members reached out to federal, local, state and tribal partners in Kotzebue. Chief Petty Officer Rob Rusko, a contract manager at Base Kodiak, met with local leaders including Northwest Arctic Borough Mayor, the Kotzebue City Manager and with members of the Kikiktagruk native corporation, to discuss the Coast Guard’s ongoing mission in the Arctic and to address any concerns held by the community.

“Building on our outreach successes in Barrow, the Coast Guard is committed to engaging with the people of Kotzebue,” said Rusko. “We plan to work with the community to promote boating safety education and a stronger incident response relationship during our future visits.”

“The Coast Guard’s presence is tremendously valuable to Kotzebue,” said Northwest Arctic Borough Mayor Reggie Joule. “As vessel traffic to the Arctic increases, our community will benefit from the safety and training the Coast Guard can provide to our fishermen and our children will gain exposure to potential career choices in both the Coast Guard and the maritime industry.”

The crew’s work in Kotzebue wasn’t without its share of challenges. Adverse weather and a cracked windshield on the helicopter caused delays in operation. However, a new windshield was delivered by an HC-130 Hercules aircraft crew from Air Station Kodiak and the maintenance crew quickly got the helicopter back in the air.

“One of the goals of the FOL is to assess the Coast Guard’s capabilities to operate in the Arctic and remote locations throughout the state,” said Lt. John Filipowicz, a MH-60 pilot from Air Station Kodiak who also deployed to Kotzebue. “Something that seems as minor as fixing a broken windshield is very challenging because it requires an enormous amount of logistical coordination between the FOL Air Station Kodiak crews to arrange delivery of the parts and tools required to make repairs in the field.”

Coast Guard crews will return to Kotzebue in September. In addition to Kotzebue, the Coast Guard has deployed members to serve at FOLs in Cold Bay, St. Paul Island and Cordova. For more information about past FOL deployments, please click here and here.