The Last Frontier: Ready for Operations

Coast Guard Cutter Liberty crewmembers detach the cutter’s smallboat during Ready for Operations training near Juneau, Alaska, Oct. 17, 2014. The crew practiced launching the smallboat as part of a law enforcement drill. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Grant DeVuyst.

Coast Guard Cutter Liberty crewmembers detach the cutter’s smallboat during Ready for Operations training near Juneau, Alaska, Oct. 17, 2014. The crew practiced launching the smallboat as part of a law enforcement drill. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Grant DeVuyst.

As the sun only begins to hint at rising over the mountains of Tongass National Forest, the crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Liberty is already hard at work.

Coast Guard Cutter Liberty deck department members remove a cover from the cutter’s boat while preparing to get underway.

Coast Guard Cutter Liberty deck department members remove a cover from the cutter’s boat while preparing to get underway.

The deck department is singling up lines and preparing the cutter’s boat for operations. The engineering department shifts from shore power to ship’s power, an important step in preparations to get underway.

As the day begins and the Auke Bay Harbor starts to bustle, a voice over the ship’s intercom announces that a brief is being held on the bridge, also known as a pilothouse.

Today is special, not just an ordinary patrol. Today the crew will be tested during Ready for Operations drills. Throughout the day, a team of observers will evaluate the crew’s ability to respond to machinery casualties, navigate in adverse conditions, initiate law enforcement operations and recover a person in the water.

“The reason we do all these drills is to make sure that we are ready for any and all situations that might arise on a cutter,” said Lt. j.g. Cori Mikkalo, executive officer of the Liberty. “That’s why we practice rescue and assistance drills, so we know exactly what we’re going to do when we need to help someone out.”

Throughout the Coast Guard, RFO teams work with operational units to ensure standardization and that all crews are able to perform their missions safely. In Alaska, the harsh environment and limited infrastructure make readiness that much more critical to success.

Lt. j.g. Cori Mikkalo, executive officer, Coast Guard Cutter Liberty, briefs part of the crew and the Ready for Operations team before getting underway from Juneau, Alaska, Oct. 17, 2014. The RFO team spent the day aboard the Liberty observing the crew as they performed drills and practiced operations. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Grant DeVuyst.

Lt. j.g. Cori Mikkalo, executive officer, Coast Guard Cutter Liberty, briefs part of the crew and the Ready for Operations team before getting underway from Juneau, Alaska, Oct. 17, 2014. The RFO team spent the day aboard the Liberty observing the crew as they performed drills and practiced operations. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Grant DeVuyst.

In the narrow waterways and countless islands that make up Southeast Alaska, the Liberty crew safeguards not only mariners, but also the fish stocks that drive the local economy and feeds people all over the world.

Coast Guard Cutter Liberty crewmembers lower the cutter’s smallboat into its cradle after a law enforcement drill.

Coast Guard Cutter Liberty crewmembers lower the cutter’s smallboat into its cradle after a law enforcement drill.

“Our area of responsibility is so large that we are, at any time, four hours away from help and six to 10 hours from the nearest port,” said Mikkalo. “We need to be able to survive on our own.”

The Liberty’s crew completed each drill successfully, showing off their skills to the evaluation team, and picking up some lessons along the way.

“I learned a lot,” said Seaman Alex Carlson, a member of the Liberty’s deck department who reported to the cutter only a week and half before RFO. “Everything handles a lot differently underway, so it’s not like in-port drills.”

And that is the purpose of RFO: to sharpen the techniques of veteran crewmembers while introducing new personnel to emergency procedures in a safe environment. Through this process, not just the Liberty, but units all over the country maintain standardization for operational excellence.

“The 110-foot patrol boats in Sector Juneau are all well equipped and trained to Commandant standards,” said Cmdr. Marc Burd, chief of response at Coast Guard Sector Juneau. “We value each and every member of each crew and greatly appreciate the hard work they accomplish every day.”

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