The U.S. Coast Guard in Alaska has a new commanding officer. Rear Adm. Dan Abel took over from Rear Adm. Tom Ostebo at a change of command ceremony Thursday in Juneau.
Ostebo is known for his work in the Arctic, and Abel says he’s ready to continue what his predecessor started. KTOO’s Casey Kelly reports.
With the buoy tender Sycamore as a backdrop, and Coast Guardsmen and
women in their dress blues, Rear Adm. Tom Ostebo turned over the Coast
Guard’s 17th District over to Rear Adm. Dan Abel. Pacific Area
commander, Vice Adm. Charles Ray, praised Ostebo’s leadership over the
past three years.
Ostebo has flown over, sailed across, walked the beaches more than any
Coast Guardsman, I believe, in the history of this district.”
Ostebo’s tenure, the Coast Guard launched seasonal operations in the
Arctic, where shipping traffic is on the rise. When a winter storm
prevented a fuel delivery to Nome in 2012, he sent the icebreaker Healy
to clear a path for a Russian tanker. He also supervised the Coast
Guard’s response to the grounding of the Shell drill rig Kulluk near
Kodiak in early 2013. For these and other successes, Ostebo gave credit
to the men and women under his command.
“Every day you protect the nation’s commerce, you
protect Alaskans, and you protect America’s greatest maritime resources,
and you do it better than anyone else, with efficiency and skill.”
received a citation for exceptional meritorious service. He’s been
nominated for a promotion to vice admiral, and a post as the Coast
Guard’s Deputy Commandant for Mission Support in Washington, D.C. The
position is subject to Senate confirmation. Ostebo says it will allow
him to continue focusing on the Coast Guard’s Arctic mission. He says
there’s still a lot of work to be done in that part of the world.
“It’s more than just exploration. It’s the
maritime commerce piece. It’s what’s the Bering Strait is going to look
like 10, 20 years from now? Will it look like the Straits of Hormuz or
the Straits of Malacca? You know, one of these big international
This will be Abel’s first tour in Alaska, but he says he’s
no stranger to the Arctic. In his previous command in Boston, he
supervised the International Ice Patrol. That’s the Coast Guard program
established to monitor icebergs in the North Atlantic to avoid another
“We also supported
Operation Nanook, which was practice mass rescue, environmental cleanup
in the Arctic. And the other thing we did, we supported the North
Atlantic Coast Guard Forum to 17 nations that band together. Eight of
those are the Arctic nations.”
Abel says he plans to travel
extensively in Alaska and work with local communities to learn as much
as he can about the state’s unique needs.
“The far reaches at these high latitudes are going to be
the challenge, and I’m going to have to learn from the folks that’ve
been standing watch a little longer than I.”
Abel is already planning
to visit Nome, where Mayor Denise Michels says marine traffic has
increased so much that the port, which used to close in October, is now
open into November.
year we had over 400 dockings in Nome. Every year it’s more and more. We
have more cruise ships this year.”
Michels hopes Abel can visit in July, when vessel traffic is at its peak.
“Safety is a concern, environmental issues is a
concern. The marine mammal migration through the Bering Strait, which
is the choke point where we’re at, you know, it’s our front yard. So, to
have him understand are concerns for subsistence, food security is
going to be very important for his leadership for the next couple of
The Coast Guard’s 17th District is based in Juneau. The
commander leads 2,500 active duty, reserve, civilian and auxiliary
personnel statewide, and manages operations over more than 3.8 million
square miles and more than 44,000 miles of coastline.