From the deck plate of the Bertholf: Alaska Patrol

As one of the Coast Guard’s newest assets, the national security cutters bring operational capabilities the fleet needs for mission success. The enlisted crew of the service’s first NSC continue to share their unique perspective on how the fleet’s newest class of cutters will perform in the world’s most challenging operating environments from the deck plate of the Bertholf. You can also check with Coast Guard Compass for the view from the wardroom, focusing on the capabilities of the Bertholf and the crew’s adaptability that make their missions a success.

Written by Lt. j.g. Beth Denicola, acting operations officer aboard the Bertholf.

It has been neat to be a part of the first Alaska Patrol for the national security cutter. I was aboard for the first Joint Interagency Task Force South patrol where our primary mission was counter drug operations and so this patrol has been a bit of a shock for me! The missions are very different, as is the operational tempo. In addition, this mission is much more weather dependant than our mission was down south. We are here to for Safety of Life at Sea, protecting the resource, the fisheries, and leveling the playing field, ensuring fair opportunity for all partaking in the Alaskan commercial fishing industry. In bad weather, it is not safe for us to conduct boardings, which is how we accomplish the three goals above.

Lt. j.g. Beth Denicola

Lt. j.g. Beth Denicola is the acting operations officer aboard Bertholf and holds several other collateral duties. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Charly Hengen.

It was difficult at first to understand why Bertholf was needed in Alaska. Looking back on my initial confusion I realize it is because I didn’t really understand District 17’s missions. Bertholf’s capabilities are extremely useful in the Bering Sea. We can easily conduct helicopter operations as we conduct boardings, enabling us to look for future boarding opportunities even while engaged in them. We also conducted two boardings simultaneously, launching both small boats and maintaining the communications necessary from the cutter to monitor the progress of both. The endurance of the cutter and the capabilities of its propulsion plant, combined with the advanced tracking technology on board, allow us to identify and subsequently board the next day contacts that were hundreds of miles away from us. Finally, the platform rides more smoothly than we anticipated, keeping us within parameters for flight operations even in 14-foot seas.

I have been primarily involved in the operational planning aspect of the patrol, as well as the law enforcement aspect. I recently became a certified boarding officer, and the other day was able to run my first boarding! This is what makes what we do worthwhile. Not only being able to plan and execute the Coast Guard mission, but to see first-hand the direct impact it has on the lives of others. We make it a point to not disrupt what the fishermen are doing when we go aboard their vessels, and they know that we are there to make sure they are safe and to ensure a fair trade for all participating. We check the vessel’s required permits, logbooks, crewmember identification and safety gear. For a small “catcher vessel,” a fishing vessel that catches fish and transports it back to land for processing, a boarding can be as quick as an hour and a half. For the larger “catcher processors,” vessels that not only catch their own fish but also turn them on the spot into a finished fish product, boardings can last more than six hours. Learning the regulations was difficult too. The fisherman commercially fish under different programs. All have different regulations and types of permits and documentation. Also, different types of fish caught fall under different programs. Going aboard a fishing vessel and speaking credibly about the fishery they are partaking in is a challenging but important part of our mission out here.

Bertholf mooring in Dutch Harbor

The Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf moors in Dutch Harbor May 20, 2011, for its second port call in the Western Alaska city during a Bering Sea patrol. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Charly Hengen.

My greatest accomplishment this patrol was when, due to others’ medical and “C” school requirements, I ended up being the acting operations officer for the first month of the patrol. It gave me a unique perspective on the military chain of command and how it relates to the mission that I don’t think I could have gotten otherwise. And never did I think that I would be working with the captain and District 17 to decide the ship’s operational intentions, making recommendations and following through with decisions that led to 17 boardings in the first month of our patrol!

Despite all of the rewards of the mission, the best part about being here is the people I work with every day. This is an extremely hard-working group of people, and everyone here is patient and willing to teach what they know. There are many moving parts that are required to move in sync when underway on a patrol, and no one person has the knowledge or skill to accomplish everything. Being able to trust and rely on each other is vital, and I am lucky to be with a group of people where that is possible. The demands of working on an optimally-manned platform make this billet difficult for many, but everyone here maintains a generally optimistic and positive attitude day in and day out.

Lt. j.g. Beth Denicola, 22, has been aboard the Bertholf for almost two years. Since reporting aboard she has been in the operations department, first as the Combat Information Center Officer and then as the Command Intelligence Officer. She is an Underway Officer of the Deck and also currently the Training Officer, Public Affairs Officer, Helicopter Control Officer, and a Boarding Officer for the ship. This is her first operational tour in the Coast Guard, as she reported to the ship immediately after graduating from the Coast Guard Academy in 2009. She’s from Pittsburgh. She doesn’t get much free time on the ship, but when she does she uses it to go running in the gym or to listen to music and read.

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