The U.S. Coast Guard recently disciplined several service members for damaging a house and a church on Adak, highlighting the problem of vandalism on the deteriorating former military base.
Last month, the Coast Guard helped repair damages to property in Adak caused by young cutter crew members, according to Lt. Brian Dykens, who said 10 service members were demoted and confined to the ship and made to pay the homeowner.
The damage happened at the former military church and at a private residence, said Adak City Manager Layton Lockett, who is quick to say it's not just the Coast Guard trashing the former Naval Air Station.
"They just smashed stuff beyond belief," said Clem Tillion, a former senator and the fisheries lobbyist for the Aleut Enterprise Corp., a subsidiary of The Aleut Corp., the regional Native corporation that acquired the old Cold War Navy base after it was shut down in the late 1990s.
Tillion said the home of his son Will was vandalized.
"It looked like an army had been turned loose on the place just for the fun of it. … The people who did it were United States Coast Guard enlisted men and women," he said.
Dykens said that "10 junior Coast Guardsmen stationed aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley were disciplined after an internal inquiry revealed they had vandalized private property on Adak in January. The 10 crew members paid more than $15,000 in restitution to the property owners, received 43 days restriction to the ship and were reduced in paygrade. Following the incident, the Cutter Alex Haley command immediately reached out to the city of Adak and worked alongside city officials to ensure repairs were completed to full satisfaction."
The Coast Guard's 17th district spokesman added, "This type of behavior is in direct conflict with our core values. Coast Guardsmen have a long history of service to our nation, and we will not tolerate any behavior that would jeopardize the trust we have with not only with communities along the Aleutian Chain but throughout Alaska."
Lockett said the vandalism was a wider problem than the Coast Guard incident.
"There's just a lot of people running around town, including hunters, fishermen, fish processing workers, history buffs, television crews and tourists drawn by TV shows featuring caribou hunting and antiques," he said. "People think they can do whatever they want, and it makes it incredibly difficult, especially for a city government with just six employees… People that come to the island just don't care."
Lockett said the Coast Guard flew out a work crew of four to help with repairs at Bering Chapel, the multi-denominational church built by the Navy in the 1980s. Not only were windows broken, but also vandalized was the island's emergency food supply of barrels of meals-ready-to-eat, he said. Significant damage still remains, but at least the church is securely boarded up, he said.
The church hasn't been used for religious services in a long time, and there are no clergy on the island, Lockett said.
"Adak is not a deeply religious community," but if it was, Lockett said "alcohol and football" would be the major faith. "That seems to me to be the predominant religion today."
The $15,000 in restitution from the Coast Guard went to the homeowner, not the city, Lockett said. The work crew also helped with various community projects, including moving city records into storage, Lockett said.
Much of the property on Adak is decaying from the severe weather conditions, with the buildings that once housed 7,500 Navy personnel and contractors and children abandoned to the winds. The town's population is now about 300, Lockett said, mostly fisheries workers.
This story originally appeared in the Bristol Bay Times/Dutch Harbor Fisherman. It is republished here with permission.