Coast Guard conducts winter awareness training in Kodiak


Chaplains use tools such as bibles, pamphlets and guide books for command advisement, these tools are current as of Dec. 17, 2010. Chaplains wear multiple uniform hats throughout their careers, they can wear a Navy, Marine or Coast Guard uniform in the course of their careers. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Lally.

The family motto of the Starks of Winterfell, from the novel “A Game of Thrones” by George R. R. Martin, is “winter is coming,” which is a prelude to not only a change of season, but a time of possible hardships and strife. In the Coast Guard, especially in Alaska, the winter months mean daylight is scarce, temperatures drop significantly and for many Coast Guardsmen not familiar with Alaskan winters, so does morale.

On Wednesday, many of the Kodiak-based members attended training that addressed prominent issues Coast Guardsmen face during these harsh winter months.

Mood, mental stability and suicide prevention was the first issue addressed. Lt. John Monahan, a Navy chaplain working with the Coast Guard, explained that because of the dark, the cold and the slowdown in extracurricular activities, it is easy for people to get clinically depressed during this season.

With depression comes a number of different personal risks including, general malaise, alcoholism and thoughts of suicide.

“Our spiritual, emotional and physical well being are all tied into our overall wellness,” said Monahan. “Vigorous exercise, seven to eight hours of sleep a night and a healthy diet are essential for combating stress and keeping the lethargy, malaise and frustration of the winter blues at bay.”

During the training, attendees learned how to recognize these symptoms and constructive ways to combat them such as group fitness, volunteerism, sad lights and counseling resources found through the Work-Life staff, local counseling services and the chaplains.

Emotions, though formidable, are not the only dangers during the winter months. For those who refuse to allow the cold of winter to keep them indoors, the wildlife of Alaska is also something to be aware and cautious of.

Larry Van Deale, a wildlife biologist at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Kodiak, gave advice about interactions with Kodiak brown bears. There are about 3,500 brown bears on the island, although most of them do not live near areas inhabited by humans.

During the fall, bears are storing up food and getting their systems ready for a long winter’s nap. However, according to Van Deale, when winter arrives brown bears, which have not eaten a proper amount, may be found to act more erratically and show up in places where bears usually would not be found in search of food.

“Only one person has been killed within the last 90 years in Kodiak” said Van Deale. “And only one person is hurt very other year by a Kodiak brown bear encounter.”

Van Deale explained that the most important tool a person can utilize when coming into contact with a bear is their brain. Knowledge of the animal and its behavior patterns is enough to save you in a bear encounter. However, if you surprise the bear, Van Deale explained that you should never run, either stand your ground or curl into a ball and play dead. This will let the bear know that you are not a threat.

Coast Guardsmen who plan on hiking in the Alaskan wilderness should always plan ahead for the weather, wildlife and leave word with a friend or family member on their route and intended return time.

The training finished out with reminders on driving safety from the Kodiak Police Department. Even though most of the things that were taught are common sense it is good to remember that in order to be a safe driver be sure that car windshields are clear of all snow before driving, drive slow over the icy roads and if you are going to drink, plan ahead. Never, under any circumstances, drink and drive.

Winter is a time to draw close and spend time with friends and family. It is precisely this support network that can help us through difficult times. The Coast Guard offers members many resources for help with personal issues from the chaplains and Work-Life to the clinic and base MWR staff. Coast Guardsmen are encouraged to be active and make smart decisions this holiday season.

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