Barrow is vital to Coast Guard’s future Arctic presence

Adm. Papp with map of Barrow

Adm. Papp reviews a map of Barrow while discussing Arctic strategy. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

This is the first in a series of blogs covering Adm. Bob Papp’s visit this week to Alaska.

The City of Barrow, Alaska, is about as far north as a person can get on U.S. soil. Any further and you would step into the Arctic Ocean near the center of potential future oil and gas exploration in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas. With its strategic location in mind, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Bob Papp visited Barrow earlier this week to meet with local officials, walk the terrain and learn first-hand about the challenges that face future Coast Guard operations there.

Adm. Papp at Barrow Arctic Science Consortium

Glenn Sheehan with the Barrow Arctic Science Consortium briefs Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Bob Papp on operations being performed at the facility as Rear Adm. Thomas Ostebo and retired Master Chief Joel Casto listen. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

“Melting Arctic ice is opening a brand new ocean that may contains 20 percent of the world’s undiscovered natural gas and oil resources,” said Papp, adding, “With greater waters, comes greater Coast Guard responsibility.”

Adm. Papp’s visit to Barrow provided him with a greater appreciation for local heritage, resources and industry. This knowledge is important to building any concept of operations that involves stationing personnel in the region and flowing temporary forces in support of increased mission demands.

Probably the single most important outcome of these meetings, others conducted in Kotzebue and Nome, Alaska, in previous years, and the seasonal Arctic Crossroads operations is cultivating top-down Coast Guard experience for operating in the Arctic. The service cannot conduct missions in the area unless its people have the basic knowledge and proven methodology.

“The sun comes up at midnight and there is no east or west, so to be successful you need Arctic trained crews with high-latitude experience: experience that is essential to conducting search and rescue, law enforcement and oil spill response in the Arctic,” said Papp.

In addition to preparing the Coast Guard for Arctic duties, Adm. Papp also seeks to generate awareness about the rapidly changing Arctic region. It’s no longer Arctic tundra. Rather, it’s an increasingly wet ocean with tremendous promise for oil and gas, fisheries, viable shipping routes and tourism that is being eyed by many nations and private enterprises.

“America is a maritime nation, however, few Americans outside Alaska are aware that we are also an Arctic nation largely because the northern Arctic waters have been frozen and inaccessible,” Papp said.

With drilling, shipping and other activity in the Arctic certain to grow, the Coast Guard must be prepared to meet the resulting operational demands.

Adm. Papp at North Slope Borough Search and Rescue

Hugh Paktokuk with North Slope Borough Search and Rescue briefs Adm. Papp on local search and rescue capabilities. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

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