Home from the sea: Coast Guard Cutter Murno returns to Kodiak, Alaska

CGC Munro returns to Kodiak

Crew and families see one another for the first time in months.

  For the sailor there are two great joys: Going to sea is one. Coming home is the other.

Saturday morning, not long after sunrise, fair winds and a flood tide carried the Coast Guard Cutter Munro its mooring in Womens Bay, Kodiak, Alaska. All hands aboard had arrived home safely.

In the custom of sea faring families everywhere, loved ones lined the pier to see their ship come in: sons, daughters, wives, husbands, good friends and loyal huskies took the williwaws and spray in stride to greet their own. Munro had been away from home port since Jan. 12, a deployment of 64 days.

“Seeing your family on the pier is like opening a Christmas present on Christmas Eve,” commented Petty Officer 1st Class Adam Brown.

But the time sacrificed by families proved well invested. While steaming nearly 10,000 miles of tracklines throughout the Bering Sea, Munro was called to save seven lives and to render critical transport and medical assistance to three others in need from Akutan to the Pribilof Islands.

Munro’s Bering Sea deployment was a great success in other dimensions. The cutter conducted more than a dozen boardings in unforgiving seas and biting Arctic winds, enforcing fisheries regulations and ensuring a fair catch and the safest possible working environment in America’s most hazardous fishery. Especially rough weather often forced the cutter to break away from planned boardings, but even in these cases the crew attentively invested their time in preparing for future operations.

Departing Adak

Munro departs Adak at sunrise, bound for the Igitkin Pass

In those 64 days, Munro’s training teams administered 211 drills, honing the crew’s readiness in all areas of operation from fighting fires and flooding to launching helicopters and small boats, even recovering sailors from the water. Munro conducted 41 helicopter sorties for operations and training, while improving the proficiency of the next generation of cuttermen who will deploy the ship after this June’s change of command and transfer season.

Through hard work, diligence and the guiding hand of their instructors, and command, the Munro’s newest personnel, some as young as 18 years old, qualified in 79 watch stations. As early as next patrol, they will be the ones responsible for the navigation, propulsion, engineering maintenance, operational support, helicopter operations, boat operations, damage control and steering of the 3,300 ton cutter in all conditions.

“It really makes you feel relied upon,” said newly minted helmsman Jullia Skidmore, hailing from Petaluma, Calif. Skidmore, who reported aboard from Training Center Cape May, in Cape May, N.J., a mere two weeks before the cutter left port in January, qualified as a helmsman and has already maneuvered the ship many times, including storms and while operating close to fishing gear and other vessels. She looks forward to exploring Kodiak now that she is finally back.

Munro underway in the Bering

Coast Guard Cutter Munro underway in the Bering Sea.
Courtesy of Petty Officer 3rd Class J. Richey and Munro’s Aviation Detachment.

One of the final missions of this patrol was one of the most important, especially to the crew. On March 3, 137 nautical miles northeast of Unalaska, all hands gathered on the flight deck and the fantail in a light snowfall to conduct a burial at-sea. Tears, prayers, fond memories were shared and an earnest salute was rendered as the remains of Coast Guard Fireman Derek Winn Russell were commended to the deep, in keeping with sacred traditions of more than 2,000 years.

“Sea duty is the toughest assignment in the Coast Guard,” Capt. Mark Cawthorn, the Munro’s commanding officer, reminded all hands at Russell’s burial. “I don’t know what job is second hardest, and I don’t care…Fireman Russell understood this and embraced it, just as the sailors of the Revenue Cutter Service did – it was no different back then.”

Every one of the crew stood a little straighter. The national ensign was dipped to half mast, where the sun caught it in rays through an overcast sky, and Munro bade farewell to their shipmate who passed away on Barometer Mountain in a hiking accident last December.

CAPT and his son

Capt. Mark A. Cawthorn with his son Jacob on the starboard bridge wing, departing Unalaska.

This Bering Sea Patrol punctuates the career of Cawthorn, who has sailed with the Coast Guard since he was a cadet in 1982, picking up a mariner’s share of sea stories along the way. Under his command, the performance of Munro’s crew has excelled, saving lives, conducting boardings, completing qualifications and earning clean-sweep scores at biannual training and readiness trials: all bolstering an unmatched unit pride. Cawthorn sailed this last leg to Kodiak in the company of his son, Jacob, who reports to Training Center Cape May, N.J., April 2. There, he will take the oath that his father did and join the cutter fleet.

When asked for comment, Cawthorn could only say that, “Words can’t describe how wonderful it was to sail with my son and I am extremely proud of him as he begins his own career.”

In the last official deployment summary of his career, Cawthorn reported on the status of his cutter and mission, and provided policy recommendations based on his operational experiences.

“Lastly,” the Capt. entreated in his message, “this was the final deployment of my career, and I am very happy that [it] was a winter Bering Sea trip. I spent almost half of my career on sea-duty, and would have happily spent all of it at sea… The sea always gave me what I needed, not necessarily what I wanted. The lessons that I learned at sea will surely guide me for the rest of my life.”

With another patrol complete, Munro’s crew turns to an intense dockside availability in preparation for what lies ahead. Munro undergoes its change of command June 18 and will sail for a 100-plus day North Pacific Guard Patrol soon after.

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