Adm. Karl Schultz, Commandant of the Coast Guard and uniformed head of the service, visited Juneau Saturday, July 27, with three members of the U.S. House of Representatives.
The visit was to do a quick familiarization with the mission of the Coast Guard in Alaska, which differs from their operations in the Lower 48, and to see some of the equipment and stations in use by the Coast Guard here, as the Coast Guard’s mission in the Arctic undergoes evolution.
Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-California, Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tennessee and Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Maryland, visited with the Commandant. All three representatives are members of the House Appropriations Committee, on the Department of Homeland Security subcommittee. The Coast Guard falls under DHS during peacetime.
The representatives met with Coast Guardsmen, went aboard the aircraft and vessels of the service and visited USCG stations in Juneau and Kodiak. They also visited the USCGC Healy, the Coast Guard’s newest icebreaker, for an overview of the USCG mission in the Arctic, according to Roybal-Allard’s official Twitter account.
“Bringing these folks up here: It’s one thing to get that picture of how big Alaska is, but it’s a whole other thing to see,” said Chief Petty Officer Matt Schofield, Public Affairs chief for the Coast Guard’s 17th District. Part of the reason for the trip was to familiarize the people responsible for funding the Coast Guard see what they’re funding, said Schofield. “It’s also good to get people aboard the assets, to see what they can do.”
The Coast Guardsmen in the state are spread across just a handful of stations. Alaska’s vast size, limited personnel and tough climate can make carrying out their mission here challenging, said Schofield.
“It’s a whole different ball of wax compared to the Lower 48,” Schofield said. “Just on the Great Lakes, there’s 47 stations.”
In contrast, Alaska has three permanent stations, said Schofield, augmented with a number of air stations, forward operating stations and cutters deployed up from stations further south. The dichotomy in manning reflects the considerably lower level of traffic in Alaska, Schofield said.
A spokesperson from Roybal-Allard’s office said that Roybal-Allard made the trip in her capacity of head of the DHS Subcommittee for Appropriations, reviewing the assets and capability of Coast Guard forces in the region to protect U.S. interests. In a time when the Arctic ice is receding and Russian and Chinese entities are beginning to show an active interest in the region, the spokesperson said, the U.S. needs to be prepared.
China and Russia have sent several expeditions to the Arctic ice pack in recent years, even though China has no territory on the Arctic Ocean. In response, according to a Coast Guard press release, the Coast Guard has laid down the keel for the first of a new class of icebreaker, which it hopes to eventually commission six of for Arctic operations. Russia currently has 14 icebreakers in commission to the Coast Guard’s two, according to the press release. One of the Coast Guard’s icebreakers, the USCGC Polar Star, is also more than 40 years old.
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