Coast Guard, State of Alaska celebrate 150 years of shared history

Story by Chief Petty Officer Shawn Eggert and Petty Officer 2nd Class Lauren Steenson

Undated photo of USRC Lincoln circa 1865.

The Revenue Cutter Service had the most contact with early Alaska. It started with the revenue cutter Lincoln transporting officials to tour the new territory.

Dr. Dennis L. Noble and Petty Officer 1st Class Barbara Voulgaris wrote in Alaska and Hawaii, A brief history of U.S. Coast Guard operations; the Bering Sea became the center of the service’s multifaceted duties in the North. For nearly 100 years, revenue cutters sailed to the frigid, fog-shrouded waters of the Bering Sea in the spring and returned to their homeports in the fall. Eventually, the work would formally be called the Bering Sea Patrol

At the time, the patrols were focused on the illegal, large-scale harvest of fur seals. With that law enforcement presence, other duties arose. Cutters filled the need for search and rescue services, took on the role of a military presence when tensions grew with Great Britain over fur seal harvesting, and provided humanitarian aid.

When a smallpox epidemic broke out in Nome, the cutter Nunivak crew worked diligently to contain and stop the spread of the disease up the Yukon River.

Possibly the most notable humanitarian aid came from Captain Mike “Hell Roaring” Healy, the commanding officer of cutter Bear during the 1880s. Healy led his crew in a scientific program with naturalist John Muir to introduce reindeer from Siberia to Alaska. Alaska natives were experiencing a reduction in seal and whale populations, where they got the majority of their food and resources. The reindeer, already acclimated to a frozen tundra-like environment, were able to sustain a population and provide food, clothing and other necessities.

Undated photo of USRC Bear.

Being such an influential presence during a time of change came with many challenges but, through every trial, Coast Guard members forged supportive relationships that led to the strong bonds we share with Alaska’s diverse people and cultures today. Nurturing these relationships goes beyond search and rescue missions and seminars. Cutters on the Bering Sea and aircrews from Kodiak and Sitka often conduct community relations events with local schools or offer tours on the cutters or aircraft, and Coast Guard members continue to support their neighbors and communities through the Partnership in Education program, Santa to the Villages and other outreach projects.

Undated photo of Air Station Kodiak, Alaska, crew circa 1955 .

The Coast Guard is proud to live and serve alongside Alaskans throughout the state to maintain resources, protect the waters and save lives. Happy Birthday, Alaska. Here’s to another 150 years!

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