A Coast Guard helicopter lands at the seasonal base in Kotzebue.

A crew from the Coast Guard’s Air Station in Kodiak opened the seasonal forward operating location in Kotzebue as a response to warming waters and increased ship traffic in the Arctic.

The forward operating location (FOL) opened on July 1st and houses a small crew and a couple helicopters. The FOL has been operating seasonally as part of the Arctic Shield operations since 2009 and serves communities on the Seward Peninsula and Northwest Arctic.

Petty Officer First Class Nate Littlejohn says the FOL crew will mainly be used for search and rescue.

“[The crew’s] primary responsibility at the forward operation location in Kotzebue is going to be search and rescue, both on the water and occasionally we may be called upon to conduct search and rescue operations inland as well.”

– Officer Nate Littlejohn

Despite USCG’s presence, Littlejohn encourages residents of Northwest Alaska who are doing recreational or subsistence activities on the water to continue to follow safety precautions, like wearing a lifejacket.

“Be well aware that, yes, the Coast Guard is there. And we’re there to look out for you. However, that does not mean that we’re always going to be able to respond the moment you’re in trouble. And so looking out for one another, as folks always do, is something that we rely on the community to continue to do.”

In the past, USCG has rescued stranded hunters and located missing boats in Western Alaska. During last year’s season, Operation Arctic Shield responded to 10 search and rescue cases and saved 25 lives.

Littlejohn also mentioned that for the Fourth of July weekend there was an increased Coast Guard presence all across the state on the water as a part of Operation Dry Water, a national campaign focused on boating under the influence.

The Kotzebue location will be operating throughout the summer and into the fall.

Image at top: The MH-60T Jayhawk helicopter is the workhorse of the Coast Guard’s search and rescue missions. Photo: KNOM.