75 days patrolling the Last Frontier

The crew of Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley patrols the North Pacific in support of Operation Arctic Shield 2015. The main objective of Operation Arctic Shield is to enhance and improve preparedness, prevention and response capabilities due to increasing human activity in the Arctic. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jesse Kristofferson)

The crew of Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley patrols the North Pacific in support of Operation Arctic Shield 2015. The main objective of Operation Arctic Shield is to enhance and improve preparedness, prevention and response capabilities due to increasing human activity in the Arctic. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jesse Kristofferson.

The Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley returned to their homeport of Kodiak, Alaska, Jan. 22, 2017, after a 75-day patrol. The cutter’s path took the crew 10,000 miles through the Bering Sea.

One of the crew’s primary objectives was to enforce fishery laws and commercial fishing vessel safety. The crew conducted 32 boardings for vessel safety and adherence to fisheries regulations. Two of the major violations found were a crew fishing without its federal permit on board and another vessel operating with expired distress signals. The normal process to resolve these discrepancies includes immediate correction and follow-up with the local Coast Guard Inspections Office, which ensures all vessels are operating consistent with the established regulations.

Something that made the voyage unique from those of other cutters patrolling waters throughout Alaska, is the Alex Haley’s capability to embark an Air Station Kodiak MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew throughout the entire deployment. This extended the Alex Haley’s operational capability by deploying the helicopter far beyond their normal reach and leveraging the remote airports within the Bering Sea. Through the use of the embarked helicopter, the cutter was able to quickly respond to four search-and-rescue cases. One case involved saving the lives of a civilian helicopter crew that had crashed into the side of a mountain on Unalaska Island.

Petty Officer Andrew Johnston from the embarked helicopter crew aboard the CGC Alex Haley provides medical attention to a medevac patient from Akutan, AK.

Petty Officer Andrew Johnston from the embarked helicopter crew aboard the CGC Alex Haley provides medical attention to a medevac patient from Akutan, Alaska.

“From an operational standpoint, this time of year is traditionally slower in between various fishery seasons, but more extreme with the weather present over the Bering Sea,” said Cmdr. Seth Denning, commanding officer of the Alex Haley.

The aircrew’s skills were also put to use during the search for survivors from the sunken M/V Exito. As the on scene coordinator for several assets, the crew of the cutter took direction from District 17 and executed a multi-day, search-and-rescue plan. The crew also witnessed a rare natural phenomenon when they discovered the Bogoslof volcano erupting. This prompted an air advisory that warned travelers to avoid certain air corridors.

The crew remained busy but found rest and relaxation during its four port calls to Adak and Dutch Harbor, Alaska. These mid-patrol breaks allowed the crew to recover their mental and physical energy in between long stretches of standing watches and serving Alaska. Some of the port call highlights included a holiday party, hiking up Mount Ballyhoo, joining Dutch Harbor residents for holiday meals, and varied sports events.

Also during the deployment, the crew found ways to serve the local communities during port calls and devoted time for outreach events. Various teams dedicated their in-port days to decorate the Dutch Harbor Senior Center for Christmas, deliver donations to the victims of domestic violence at the local shelter and organize donations for community distribution. Additionally, a group replaced lights at the school in Adak with high efficiency LED bulbs, which is expected to save enough money on energy bills to heat their gym for the community.

Crewmembers from the Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley help decorate the Senior Center in Dutch Harbor, AK, in preparation for the Holidays.

Crewmembers from the Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley help decorate the Senior Center in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, in preparation for the Holidays.

While patrolling Alaska waters and giving back to the communities, the Alex Haley crew also found camaraderie in each other while deployed away from their families.

“A priority was to celebrate all of our traditions and keep our spirits high,” said Cmdr. Denning.

While underway, the crew held a grand Thanksgiving dinner, a six-team gingerbread house competition, decorated 22 shop and berthing area doors with various festive designs and baked over a thousand holiday cookies. One of the most well-planned and popular events onboard was the first Alex Haley Random Scrap Derby, similar in concept to the well-known Pinewood Derby. Known as the Chicken-Shack 5000, this derby included 28 different cars made from scrap, using everything from leftover ornaments to old boots on wheels. While still conducting almost daily drills to maintain crew proficiency and boardings, this event helped bring the patrol to a joyous close.

Members of the Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley share smiles after racing their scrap derby racers and finishing out their long 74-day close on a happy and strong note.

Members of the Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley share smiles after racing their scrap derby racers and finishing out their long 74-day close on a happy and strong note.

“The end of this patrol does mark a turning point in the Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley’s history as the cutter gets ready for a major crew rotation, including a change of command,” said Cmdr. Denning. “Looking ahead, it’s a bittersweet feeling to have such a prepared and diverse crew and knowing this will be my final deployment with them. It does, however, feel terrific to have such a capable crew to leave behind.”

Despite a number of equipment casualties, the limited daylight, and long days underway, the crew stayed strong and resilient to the end. The crew who missed the holiday season returned to happy family faces and well deserved downtime upon their return.

Story by: Ensign Matt Schoen

 

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