On the leading edge – Operation Arctic Crossroads

Located in one of the most remote areas, 33 miles north of the Arctic Circle on Alaska’s Western coast, is the native village of Kotzebue, Alaska. Settled by Inupiat Eskimos for more than 600 years, Kotzebue has long been known as the passage to the Northwest Arctic and served as a central trading post for international travelers with access to three major rivers.

Auxiliary member Mike Morries insturcts on the proper wear of a life jacket.

Mike Morris, a Coast Guard Auxiliarist and resident of Sitka, demonstrates an inflatable life jacket to a resident of Little Diomede. Coast Guard photo by PA3 Walter Shinn

This native village of just over 3,000 people has welcomed more than 70 temporary residents, as personnel from Coast Guard, Army National Guard, Air National Guard and U.S. Public Health Service take part in Operation Arctic Crossroads 2010.

Operation Arctic Crossroads is a community outreach effort across Northern Alaska that incorporates local knowledge with the expertise from military and humanitarian responders.

In only 20 days, the team visits far-reaching Northern Alaska villages including Pt. Hope, Koyuk, Wales, Selawik, Shishmaref, Kivalina, Little Diomede and Shaktoolik to provide medical, dental and veterinary care. The medical aide provided is crucial for these populations, as the nearest medical facility can be hundreds of miles away.

Coast Guardsmen navigate through a narrow channel

Coast Guardsmen navigate through a narrow channel prior to mooring the small boat to examine navigational markers in Hotham Inlet, southeast of Kotzebue. Coast Guard photo by PA3 Walter Shinn

The mission is fundamental for not only the people of these remote villages, but for federal responders. Coast Guard personnel with the support of the Army and Air National Guards are conducting tests and exercises to determine operational effectiveness and overall capabilities of Coast Guard assets in the Arctic.

Of increasing importance in the Arctic Region is testing the capabilities for small response boats operating in shallow waters. Personnel are looking at their compatibility with local infrastructure as well as how the assets perform in the unique Western Alaska Coastline. Communications equipment was also tested to determine reliability and limitations.

“The Coast Guard has been involved with Alaska since it was a territory, but now we have increasing territory to cover up here for our 11 mission areas,” said Admiral Bob Papp. “So we need to experiment. We need to find out what equipment we need and what kind of challenges we will face up here. And you are all on the leading edge.”

Operation Arctic Crossroads 2010 will continue into the month of September and you can find updates, including photos and videos here.

Admiral Papp and Senator Begich

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Bob Papp and Sen. Mark Begich visit Operation Arctic Crossroads personnel at Kotzebue. During the visit Papp held a meeting with community leaders regarding what role the Coast Guard plays in operating in the Arctic Region. Coast Guard photo by PA3 Walter Shinn

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