As the Coast Guard’s only remaining heavy icebreaker USCGC Polar Star gets underway, the servicemembers aboard will join the tens of thousands of Americans deployed over the waves and far from home over the winter holidays.
Being deployed over the holidays isn’t particularly unusual, but the Alaska Navy League is holding a drive to ease the separation from home and hearth at least a little.
“These people on the Polar Star need Alaskans’ love. One thing people in Alaska do super well is love their veterans and active duty,” said Lindsey Cashman, acting president of the Alaska Navy League Board, in a phone interview. “It’s a huge deal to have the Polar Star in Alaskan waters. Typically they go elsewhere, and I want to support their decision to be in Alaska.”
The heavy icebreaker, which put to sea on Dec. 4, will stop in Dutch Harbor en route to points north, where the Navy League will welcome them for the holidays as best they can as part of their mission, Cashman said. The Polar Star’s deployment comes at a time of mounting international tension in the Arctic, as the United States seeks to bolster its presence in the region while China and Russia become increasingly aggressive.
“It’s a nonprofit citizens group that comes together to help with all the sea services,” Cashman said. “We have some people in the community who have relationships with the people on the Polar Star.”
The Navy League, which supports all the sea services — the Coast Guard, Marine Corps and Navy — will collect money and resources to allow for video calls home, stuffed stockings and a coffee bar for the crew — and possibly a socially distanced event in town, Cashman said.
“We are grateful to the Navy League for their kindness this holiday season,” said Cmdr. Thomas Przybyla, the Polar Star’s executive officer, in a statement. “Since the crew will be celebrating the holidays apart from their families this year, the Navy League’s generosity is greatly appreciated.”
The Alaska Navy League learned about the rare Arctic deployment recently when the plans shifted and put together the drive on the fly, Cashman said. The Polar Star was diverted from its usual mission supporting Operation Deep Freeze, breaking ice to McMurdo Station in Antarctica, as a result of the pandemic.
“We heard about this in November. In our Navy League November meeting, we pitched the idea to our general membership,” Cashman said. “This is a pretty urgent, fresh request. We don’t have a lot of time to order or plan things. We’re just going to find what we can locally and be resilient. It’s been a quick turnaround.”
The league worked with the USO, YMCA and Coast Guard Foundation to rapidly prepare for the arrival of the Polar Star, Cashman said. In the past, the Navy League raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the commissioning ceremony of the USS Anchorage, a Navy amphibious assault vessel. The next major event on the league’s radar is the commissioning of the USS Ted Stevens, a new guided-missile destroyer. The warship began construction earlier in 2020.
“We raised over $700,000 for the USS Anchorage. It was historical. It was Alaska’s first commissioning,” Cashman said. “Alaskans support the military like nowhere else in the world.”
Want to help out?
The Alaska Navy League has started a crowdfunding effort to support the Coast Guardsmen aboard the Polar Star this holiday season at https://fundly.com/the-uscgc-polar-star-visits-alaska