A Bear With No Name

A polar bear cub wakes after being sedated by researchers studying bears on the pack ice in the Northern Arctic region.

A polar bear cub wakes after being sedated by researchers studying bears on the pack ice in the Northern Arctic region.

The polar bear, in its regal white coat, is as recognizably a part of the Arctic as perhaps any other symbol. It’s a tough creature, evolved very specifically from its southern kinfolk to survive in the world’s harshest environment.

The colossal ursine is at the top of the Arctic food chain, a force to be reckoned with on land or at sea.DSC_8925

A drawn likeness of the mighty polar bear is the defining characteristic of the Coast Guard 17th District logo. The bear walks upright, waving the star-spangled (Big Dipper, to be exact) flag of Alaska. Though it’s hard to trace the exact origin of the logo, it’s likely the first iteration appeared sometime after the end of World War II, when the 17th District was first established as the Coast Guard’s Alaska region.

It’s safe to assume the bear represents the harsh environment of the Last Frontier, which was not even a state when the district was founded. Northern Alaska’s lack of infrastructure, freezing temperatures and roaring winter storms are each as fearsome as the polar bear itself.

As a reminder of these challenges, the bear and its logo accompany Coast Guardsmen on their missions across the state of Alaska: from the rocky Aleutians, to the icy North Slope, to the forested islands of the Southeast.  For years the flag-toting behemoth has stood by silent and anonymous: a bear with no name.

When Rear Adm. Dan Abel assumed command of the 17th District in the summer of 2014, he posed the question: does our mascot have a name?

Knowing that his people were likely to have some useful input, Abel opened the issue to a vote.  Once nominees were submitted, from the stoic to the silly, the election began.

Choices ranged from thoughtful words from Alaska Native languages, like Qannik (snowflake), Nanuq (polar bear), or Innugati (friend), to historical references like Corwin (the first revenue cutter to conduct a Bering Sea patrol), Peary Cook (two Arctic explorers), or Augustine (aviation pioneer). Someone even threw Gandolf into the ring.

The elected name wasn’t quite so clever. It’s not a piece of trivia, and it didn’t require a dive into an Inupiat language dictionary. Rather, the bear is now named for something the Coast Guard does every day in Alaska: standing watch over the Last Frontier.

World, meet Sentinel.

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