African-American Heroes of Alaska’s Coast Guard

Rear Adm. Erroll Brown began his Coast Guard career in Alaska aboard the icebreaker CGC Burton Island in the early 1970's.  Brown went on to become the Coast Guard's first African-American flag officer.  U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Rear Adm. Erroll Brown began his Coast Guard career in Alaska aboard the icebreaker CGC Burton Island in the early 1970’s. Brown went on to become the Coast Guard’s first African-American flag officer. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Every February, the Coast Guard, along with the rest of the nation, commemorates the contributions and hardships faced by African-Americans. From Capt. Richard Etheridge and the brave men who served at the Pea Island Lifesaving Station to Master Chief Vince Patton, the first African-American Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard, the Coast Guard is proud to celebrate and acknowledge the accomplishments of African-American Coast Guard men and women throughout its storied history.

The history of African-Americans within the Coast Guard extends more than 130 years and spans every ocean across the globe, and that includes the Arctic and Pacific waters off the coast of Alaska. Black Coast Guard men and women have sailed the freezing seas and soared through the howling, northern skies since Alaska’s earliest days as a U.S. territory, many of them going on to leave an indelible mark on the service and strengthening the proud legacy of African-American heroes to the nation.

One of the most accomplished African-American Coast Guard members to serve within Alaska is Rear Adm. Erroll Brown. Brown began his career in the Coast Guard as a damage control assistant and assistant engineering officer aboard the icebreaker CGC Burton Island conducting oceanographic and scientific studies of Cook Inlet and other Alaskan waters during the early 1970’s. In addition to earning an Arctic Service Medal for his time in the Bering Sea, Brown went on to become the Coast Guard’s first African-American flag officer. Brown retired from the Coast Guard in 2005 after 33 years of distinguished service and now serves as the program evaluator for the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology.

Chief Petty Officer Alex Haley became the Coast Guard's first Chief Journalist after sharing the stories of his shipmates with the world.  The CGC Alex Haley, homeported in Kodiak, Alaska, honors his contributions to the Coast Guard.  U.S. coast Guard photo.

Chief Petty Officer Alex Haley became the Coast Guard’s first Chief Journalist after sharing the stories of his shipmates with the world. The CGC Alex Haley, homeported in Kodiak, Alaska, honors his contributions to the Coast Guard. U.S. coast Guard photo.

Though he never served aboard a ship in Alaska, the name Alex Haley should be familiar to anyone who has looked out over the waters of Kodiak. Chief Petty Officer Alex Haley, perhaps best known for authoring the Pulitzer Prize-winning Roots: The Saga of an American Family, enlisted with the Coast Guard in 1939 and rose from mess attendant 3rd Class to become the Coast Guard’s first and only chief journalist ten years later. Haley collected and published the stories of his shipmates, earning the Coast Guard the attention of the public during World War II, and the Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley, homeported in Kodiak, bears his name in honor of his tremendous contributions to the Coast Guard and the American people.

Finally, no list of heroic Alaskan mariners would be complete without mention of Capt. “Hell Roaring Mike” Healy. Following the purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1876, Healy earned his place in the future state’s history books for his accomplishments with the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service, a forbearer of the U.S. Coast Guard. The son of an Irish immigrant and a mixed-race African-American slave, Healy is now recognized as the first American of African descent to command a ship of the U.S. government. The icebreaker CGC Healy, a frequent visitor to Alaskan waters, bears his name and continues his legacy of search and rescue, law enforcement, exploration and the pursuit of knowledge.

African-American Coast Guard members make incredible contributions to the service every day and these are only a few examples of their historic accomplishments; proof positive that the performance of the Coast Guard’s diverse missions and responsibilities is only improved by the diversity of those who serve. To learn more about the history of African-Americans in the Coast Guard, please visit the Coast Guard historian’s website at http://www.uscg.mil/history/AfricanAmericanIndex.asp.

Capt. "Hell Roaring Mike" Healy was the son of an Irish immigrant and a mixed-race African-American slave.  He is today regarded as the first American of African descent to command a ship of the U.S. govnerment.  U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Capt. “Hell Roaring Mike” Healy was the son of an Irish immigrant and a mixed-race African-American slave. He is today regarded as the first American of African descent to command a ship of the U.S. govnerment. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

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