As Alaska forges ahead in the brave new world of coronavirus existence, Coast Guard Sector Juneau is reaching out once again to their partner organizations, said the new commander, Capt. Darwin R. Jensen.
Community partnerships and cooperation with other agencies continues to be the only way for the Coast Guard to operate in Alaska, Jensen said in an interview Thursday.
“There couldn’t be more good and positive to say about how the agencies work together, both state and local,” Jensen said. “We do things here that I haven’t seen done in other places.”
Whether assisting with medevacs in the small communities of Southeast Alaska or responding to potential oil leaks, the Coast Guard has long had a particularly visible role for the region, married as it is to the sea.
“We don’t stop on the shore as the traditional Coast Guard does,” Jensen said.
Whether working with Hoonah on emergency preparedness planning or visiting Ketchikan as they were recertified as a U.S. Coast Guard City earlier this week, Jensen said a lot of his time as the new leader of the sector has been spent visiting the communities under his purview and meeting with leaders there.
“I’ll be in Petersburg and Wrangell next week,” Jensen said. “I’m taking the opportunity to go to each community to introduce myself.”
That engagement is critical to their mission here, Jensen said. Sector Juneau has more than 10,000 miles of shoreline, according to the sector website, and can’t be covered without working with the people and agencies that exist there, Jensen said. More than 250 Coast Guardsmen are spread across 10 field commands to cover an area the size of the Florida peninsula, said District 17 commander Rear Adm. Nathan Moore during the recent Sector Juneau change of command.
“Next year we’re hoping that the cruise ship season will be even more robust. We’ll see that engagement more often,” Jensen said. “We’ve had some really good relationships built up in the last few years. We haven’t had a chance to do in person meetings. The relief in our partner’s eyes has been rewarding.”
Sector Juneau took the rapid return of the cruise season — and its requirements on the Coast Guard — in stride, Jensen said.
“As people come back to Alaska, we have to make sure things are safe, and keep things safe,” Jensen said. “Some of our smaller companies that do passenger vessel trips needed inspections at the beginning of the cruise ship season. The industry did a good job working with us.”
Increased numbers of visitors to the Southeast have also increased the workload for the sector, Jensen said, but the Coast Guardsmen are handling it.
“We’ve had to do more because we’ve had more people,” Jensen said. “We’re starting to do more flights, more inspections, more more.”
While the coronavirus hasn’t abated since last year, and indeed, has intensified in many ways, the sector is handling it, Jensen said.
“So far, we’ve been fortunate. The Coast Guard is working to make sure everyone that’s possible to vaccinate is vaccinated, and we’re using proper PPE to protect our service members,” Jensen said. “That’s what we want to do, to continue to do our mission.”
Looking toward the future, Jensen said, the sector is due to receive several new vessels to phase out aging craft and provide better coverage across the region.
“It helps so that we do have an incident out there we have a little more capability,” Jensen said. “Mostly, as we move through the pandemic and get to our new normal, making sure we’re prepared to meet the needs of our communities at large.”
Those craft are scheduled to arrive next year, Jensen said, but specific dates aren’t available yet.
Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at (757) 621-1197 or firstname.lastname@example.org.