KODIAK — Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Karl Schultz, the highest-ranking member of the Coast Guard, visited Kodiak on Monday, along with a congressional delegation that included representatives from California, Tennessee and Maryland.
The main purpose of the visit was to familiarize the congressional delegation with the unique challenges that come with the vast areas of responsibility that different units face to complete their various missions throughout Alaska, according to PA3 Lauren Dean, a public affairs officer for the Coast Guard.
“The Coast Guard (in Alaska) has always operated with less resources, doing more with less,” Dean said.
The congressional delegation included Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN) and Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD).
“The purpose of the trip is to gain a first hand experience inspecting Coast Guard assets and confirming budget request details,” said Kasey Lovett, communication director for Congressman Fleischmann.
Lovett added that the delegation was briefed on supporting the national objectives of the Arctic region while aboard the USCGC Healy, an icebreaker which left Kodiak yesterday on its way to the Arctic. The briefing addressed the Coast Guard’s Arctic mission and international traffic in the region.
During the Healy’s months-long deployment, it is expected to support multiple science missions, as well as Operation Arctic Shield, the service’s annual operation in the Arctic region.
“Thank you to our maritime first responders for your vigilance in ensuring our waterways are safe for travel and commerce,” Fleischmann said in a Tweet. He is the ranking member on the House Appropriations Homeland Security subcommittee.
According to the office of Congresswoman Roybal-Allard, who is the chairwoman of the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, this trip is part of her effort to stay informed about the Coast Guard’s needs and priorities in the Arctic.
As a member of the House-Senate Conference Committee on Homeland Security, Roybal-Allard fought to include funds for the Coast Guard’s first heavy icebreaker in 40 years, which will be built at a cost of $675 million and is expected to be completed in 2024.
A representative of Roybal-Allard’s office said that she will continue to do all she can to ensure a robust Coast Guard presence in the Arctic.
Before coming to Kodiak, the delegation visited Juneau. The delegation traveled to Ketchikan after departing Kodiak.
“The Coast Guard defends 6,640 miles of coastline across two oceans in Alaska. Our service members stand watch over America’s gateway to the Arctic, protect precious natural resources, and save those in peril in the unforgiving Alaskan elements,” Admiral Schultz wrote in a social media post about his visit to Kodiak. “There is no better investment of taxpayer dollars than the U.S. Coast Guard.”
Congressman Ruppersberger said that he was impressed by his experience at Base Kodiak.
“The three of us from the Appropriations Committee who oversee the Coast Guard came to Alaska to see their challenges and how they deal with the community,” Ruppersberger said. “The mission is really well-run.
“We talked to the front-line people. They love the community in Kodiak. A lot of them said they won’t leave when they retire.”
Ruppersberger said that funding is a central issue that was discussed during their visit to Kodiak. The Coast Guard requires not only the right air and sea assets, he said, but also extensive maintenance crews and docking equipment for icebreakers, among other things.
During his visit, Ruppersberger traveled briefly to Kotzebue, where the delegation learned about the Coast Guard’s forward deployment unit, which provides search and rescue services in the Arctic region.
“With the melting of the ice, more people will come to that area, which means there will be need for more search and rescue,” he said. “In the U.S., other than Alaska, you have first responders. Here, the Coast Guard does it all. They are the first responders.”
Despite the challenging Coast Guard mission in Alaska, Ruppersberger said “there’s a serenity here that you don’t get any place else.”
“We’re so lucky to have Alaska,” he said.