Correction: A previous version of this article listed the John McCormick as the only fast-response cutter on the West Coast. It was the first one on the West Coast, but there are now two. The USCGC Bailey Barco was commissioned in 2017. The Empire regrets this error.
Across Alaska this week, more than 1,500 U.S. troops are testing their ability to operate in cold conditions. Some of them are in Juneau, preparing for the possibility of explosives on the sea.
More than two dozen U.S. Navy and Coast Guard representatives met Tuesday and began their week by touring Coast Guard facilities, including the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter (USCGC) John McCormick. The rest of the week will be spent doing so-called “tabletop meetings,” where representatives from the Coast Guard and Navy will sit down and coordinate how the two entities would work together in the case of a homeland security threat. Specifically, they were looking at what would happen with mines in the water.
Marvin Heinze, the deputy director of the Operations and Plans Mine Warfare Task Force, came up from San Diego for the week. Heinze, who wore a suit and tie instead of the fatigues that most of the attendees sported Tuesday, said “mine countermeasures” require execution from both the Coast Guard and the Navy.
“In the United States,” Heinze said, “it’s a combined effort between the Coast Guard, to prevent those things from happening and the Navy then if you find something in the water, we have the technology and the equipment to come find things and pick them out of the water.”
Having a Coast Guard presence and a small Navy presence in Juneau, Heinze said, made Juneau a good location for this training exercise. Having the meetings in Juneau also allows for Arctic Edge to stretch to another area of the state, he said.
Compact Fleet Maritime Homeland Defense Detachment Alaska Officer-in-Charge James Thompson, originally from Ketchikan and now stationed there, said Southeast Alaska offers extreme conditions that make the missions a little tougher.
“It’s actually exceptionally challenging with the topography and the water conditions to actually do things in the water,” Thompson said, “with the tidal exchange and the currents and even above water the weather conditions in February, March, April timeframe.”
There won’t be any activities in the water this week, Thompson said, but Juneau could be a location of drills in 2020. Along with Anchorage, Kodiak and Seward, Juneau is an option for having an exercise in the water where Coast Guard and Navy personnel have to go in and figure out how to remove mines from Gastineau Channel.
This week, the officials in town will run through hypothetical scenarios Heinze calls “vignettes.” Through these scenarios, they’ll get a better idea of what each specific person and organization does and how they can best be put to use during a bomb scenario.
Heinze, whose business card carries the Navy seal on the front and an image of a naval mine on the back, said this week is all about familiarizing officials with other departments and equipment.
“That’s really the goal of the week,” Heinze said, “for the Navy it’s a relatively low-cost way of gaining a lot of knowledge, and hopefully the Coast Guard also.”
The tour of the USCGC John McCormick was an important part of the visit, as Naval officials could get a look at how the vessel could aid in running missions. The John McCormick, homeported in Ketchikan, was the first fast-response cutter on the West Coast, and officials on the visit were looking forward to getting a closer look at the vessel.
Commanding Officer Mike Moyseowicz and his staff led the tour, which they said was a bit different than their regular tours. Instead of taking families through the vessel, they took high-level military officials. Instead of children playing on the ship, guests were examining equipment and posing detailed questions about the way the cutter operates.
Chief Boatswains Mate Tim Truitt said he enjoyed showing off the ship, taking people down below decks and having detailed discussions about all aspects of the vessel. Truitt stood between the two engines — 6,000 horsepower each — as he said Tuesday’s tour was the vessel’s only involvement with this week’s activities. The rest will take place elsewhere, where the officials will meet and go through the vignettes.
While some people peppered Moyseowicz, Truitt and others with questions, Thompson said he mostly wanted to see the basic capabilities of the ship.
“I was mostly just kind of looking at the layout of the ship and seeing how it might be used in a homeland defense type scenario,” Thompson said. “Obviously it depends on the scenario, what the response would be.”
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.