Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Rep. Don Young used the appearance of the commanding officer of the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Healy in the Capitol on Tuesday to renew a familiar theme, pleading for a bigger Arctic presence.
"The Coast Guard are those every-day heroes … plucking our fisherman out of the sea," Murkowski said. "They are the men and women who are making sure our fisheries are enforced."
The Healy guided the Russian fuel tanker Renda to Nome with an emergency delivery of fuel oil and gasoline when the Northwest Alaska town, where the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race ends each March, was deeply encased by sea ice.
"It is crucially important to remember America is not only a maritime nation -- we are an Arctic nation," Young said. "As the sea ice continues to thaw and the amount of vessel traffic in the Arctic increases, the Coast Guard's role will continue to grow. Our investment must not and cannot stop at just icebreakers. Continued investments such as a deep-water port, additional shore infrastructure and communications facilities must be priorities of Congress."
Coast Guard Capt. Beverly Havlik recalled that after November's massive storm battered Alaska's west coast and cancelled a scheduled fuel delivery to Nome "the bottom dropped out of the thermometer" -- leading to the "unprecedented undertaking" of the Healy guiding the Renda.
"This was a first for us," Havlik said, "for this ship particularly."
On Wednesday, the Arctic goals of the U.S. Coast Guard will be discussed further during a U.S. Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee hearing.