Coast Guard Cutter Sherman returns from 94-day Alaska patrol

The Honolulu-based Coast Guard Cutter Sherman (WHEC 720) returned home Sept. 20, 2017, after a 94-day, 16,000 mile patrol in the Arctic Ocean and Bering Sea. During the patrol the crew conducted community outreach, fisheries law enforcement, search and rescue, joint military work and national security missions. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by USCGC Sherman/Released)

The Honolulu-based Coast Guard Cutter Sherman returned home Sept. 20, 2017, after a 94-day, 16,000 mile patrol in the Arctic Ocean and Bering Sea.  (U.S. Coast Guard photo by USCGC Sherman)

HONOLULU — The Honolulu-based Coast Guard Cutter Sherman (WHEC 720) returned home Wednesday after a 94-day, 16,000 mile patrol in the Arctic Ocean and Bering Sea.

“Coast Guard men and women are critical to ensuring an Arctic region that is stable, safe and free of conflict,” said Vice Adm. Fred Midgette, commander Coast Guard Pacific Area. “We save those in distress from one of the most treacherous and unforgiving maritime environments on earth and we shield our Nation’s interests in the Arctic by ensuring maritime safety, security and stewardship.”

During the patrol the crew conducted community outreach, fisheries law enforcement, search and rescue, joint military work and national security missions. Following a relatively short in port, the ship will re-deploy to the North for the holiday season.

Over the course of 25 days above the Arctic Circle, in full daylight 24 hours a day, Sherman sent more than 70 crewmembers to seven of the most remote communities throughout northern Alaska, including Pt. Hope, Pt. Lay, Wainwright, Barrow (Utqiagvik), Kotzebue, Savoonga, and Gambell. All of these engagements provided the crew an opportunity to both teach maritime safety and learn about the region from residents, including a better understanding of their maritime concerns. In partnership with North Slope Borough Search and Rescue personnel, the crew provided boating safety and cold water survival training to more than 350 members of the Inupiat people.

Taking advantage of a unique opportunity, Sherman also met with the crew of the Canadian coast guard ship Sir Wilfrid Laurier, an icebreaker, above the Bering Strait, to conduct a professional exchange and search and rescue discussion in the remote Arctic. Continuing to build partnerships with the local North Slope Borough and the Canadian coast guard is critical to ensuring maritime safety and security throughout the region.

“Throughout our patrol, the crew conducted four search and rescue cases and enforced fishery regulations in the region, to ensure the $3 billion dollar industry, which provides 50 percent of the U.S. commercial catch, remains sustainable,” said Ensign Brandon Newman, Sherman’s public affairs officer.

Only days after arriving to the Gulf of Alaska, the crew was faced with a challenging search and rescue case, as they diverted to attempt a rescue of mariners potentially trapped in the capsized fishing vessel Miss Destinee several miles off Kodiak Island. Upon arriving on scene, two fishermen had been rescued by Air Station Kodiak crews and two fishermen were still missing. Sherman embarked eight National Guard parajumpers via an HH-60 Pavehawk vertical insertion from Alaska’s 212th Rescue Squadron to conduct an emergency night-time dive to locate the remaining crew.

“Unfortunately, despite the team’s best efforts, two lives were lost that night, hitting home for the crew the importance of the ship’s presence as a search and rescue platform in this unforgiving environment,” said Newman.

The Sherman’s participation in the annual operation Arctic Shield included a 44-day underway period from July 7 to August 19, whilst the cutter transited and remained north of St. Matthew Island without the advantage of a port calls to resupply. Critical to the success of this effort was coordination with Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak and commercial vendors to conduct two HC-130 Hercules airplane logistics flights of over 6,000 pounds of foodstuffs and parts to the Coast Guard’s forward operating location in Kotzebue, followed by MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter vertical replenishments out to the cutter. Sherman also conducted two refuel at sea evolutions via barge.

In late August, the crew along with the crew of the newest Coast Guard cutter in Alaska, the Bailey Barco, was given a rare task: to provide a Naval Vessel Protection Zone for a Navy ballistic missile submarine during a brief stop for logistics. Over the course of 30 hours, Sherman and Bailey Barco’s crews escorted the submarine in and out of Dutch Harbor on a 140 nautical mile transit, working with Coast Guard Sector Anchorage personnel and the regional Coast Guard captain of the port to ensure security in the port for this strategic national asset.

Sherman finished out the patrol in the Bering Sea, experiencing seas of up to 15-feet as the seasons change and the weather begins to deteriorate. Throughout the cutter’s final weeks Sherman conducted numerous law enforcement boardings aboard Alaskan fishing vessels to enforce regulations and ensure ship captains and companies are complying with safety standards, especially ahead of winter. This is a critical role in the Coast Guard’s mission to preserve a natural resource, fish, that is essential to the fishermen and economy of not only Alaska but also the United States.

Sherman is one of the Coast Guard’s four remaining 378-foot high endurance cutters still in operation. The 1960s and 70s era fleet of cutters is presently being replaced by the national security cutters which will soon serve as the Coast Guard’s primary, long-range asset; the Coast Guard Cutter Kimball (WMSL 756) is the first such ship set to arrive in Honolulu this coming spring.

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