When the Coast Guard comes to town

The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley sails into Nome, Alaska, Aug. 4, 2014. The crew's port call in Nome coincided with Coast Guard Day, and included many community engagements. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Grant DeVuyst.

The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley sails into Nome, Alaska, Aug. 4, 2014. The crew’s port call in Nome coincided with Coast Guard Day, and included many community engagements. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Grant DeVuyst.

At 165 degrees 25 minutes west longitude, Nome, Alaska, is about as west as a person can get on the North American continent. The city lives up to the location. Modern day prospectors toil for gold in the shadows of age-old mining dredges. Dusty streets meander through venerable buildings, reminders of the first gold rush at the turn of the last century. The combination of tribal, frontier and maritime history creates an atmosphere unlike any other.

Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley crew members clean the West Beach in Nome, Alaska, Aug. 5, 2014.

Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley crew members clean the West Beach in Nome, Alaska, Aug. 5, 2014.

Although the lack of any permanent personnel would suggest otherwise, the Coast Guard also has a storied past with the little city. It’s a relationship that was clearly ongoing on Coast Guard Day 2014.

Bulldog of the Bering

Moored at the pier was all 282-feet of the Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley, the Bulldog of the Bering. Aboard the cutter, members of the community gathered: city and tribal leaders with an interest in Coast Guard operations in their region. Out in town, the crewmembers celebrated the Coast Guard’s birthday by taking part in a softball game with the local youth league.

Bright and early the next morning, before the crew headed back out to sea to continue their mission, they took to the beaches to give back to the welcoming community. Over the course of a couple hours they cleared Nome’s West Beach of litter, restoring it to the natural beauty of the Bering Sea coast.

Boat on a Plane

An even stranger sight in Nome, Coast Guard personnel aboard a Station Valdez 25-foot Response Boat – Small zipped past the cutter at its berth. The RBS boatcrew and Sector Anchorage enforcement team members flew up to Nome on an Air Station Kodiak HC-130 Hercules airplane!

Coast Guard Station Valdez crewmembers lower a 25-foot Response Boat - Small into the Nome, Alaska, harbor Aug. 1, 2014.

Coast Guard Station Valdez crewmembers lower a 25-foot Response Boat – Small into the Nome, Alaska, harbor Aug. 1, 2014.

“The team I brought up is comprised of the boatcrew and Reservist law enforcement members from Sector Anchorage,” said Lt. j.g. Laura Gadziala, the lead boarding officer for Operation Gold Nugget, a part of Arctic Shield 2014. “The focus for Operation Gold Nugget is to come out here and target the gold dredge vessels that are mining off the coast of Nome.”

The boardings focused on two very important aspects of offshore dredging: safety and environmental stewardship. The boarding team members were trained to identify necessary safety equipment on board the dredging vessels, as well as ensure that steps were being taken to minimize the chance of pollution. It may have been a shock to the dredging crews to see a Coast Guard boat in Nome, so there was another team working on the shore to make sure the mining mariners were prepared.

Decals for Safety

Lt. Tom Pauser and Lt. j.g. Kat Martorelli travelled the furthest distance of all the Coast Guard crews in Alaska to make it to Nome. Hailing from 17th District headquarters in Juneau, they brought with them the expertise of the prevention department.

Lt. Tom Pauser, of the Coast Guard 17th District prevention department, presents a Coast Guard safety decal to a gold dredging vessel operator after an examination in the Nome, Alaska, harbor Aug. 2, 2014.

Lt. Tom Pauser, of the Coast Guard 17th District prevention department, presents a Coast Guard safety decal to a gold dredging vessel operator after an examination in the Nome, Alaska, harbor Aug. 2, 2014.

“We’ve had mariners seek us out because they don’t want to stop and come back in because they are missing something,” said Pauser. “The more mariners and vessels we get to at the docks, the more they’re able to perform other activities on the water.”

With the mariners in a more relaxed scenario, the prevention members were able to talk about regulations and other above-and-beyond means of ensuring safety at sea. The two-pronged approach gave the Coast Guard personnel a chance to learn more about the dredging industry and how to better regulate federal requirements.

The Story Continues

Before leaving Nome, Pauser, Martorelli and Petty Officer 2nd Class Sean Purcell, a maritime enforcement specialist from Sector Anchorage, stopped by a local summer camp to talk to kids about water safety. The program, Kids Don’t Float, focuses on older students teaching their younger peers life-long safety lessons. It’s looking forward to the future.

In much the same way, the Coast Guard continues to build ties with the city of Nome and other Arctic communities: learning more about the environment where we perform our statutory missions and the people we serve.

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