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Known as the “Bulldog of the Bering,” the Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley is 283-feet of heavy steel defending Alaskan and Arctic waters and protecting the lives of sailors braving those tumultuous seas.
The Alex Haley began its life as a U.S. Navy vessel, the U.S.S. Edenton, and served as a salvage and rescue ship for 24 years before its transfer to the Coast Guard. By that time, the ship’s engines were beginning to show their age and, to better conduct Coast Guard missions, they were replaced by four 16-cylinder diesel engines. However, those weren’t the only changes in store for the veteran vessel.
Before the Alex Haley could truly take its place among the Coast Guard’s fleet, it needed an overhaul. It’s salvage equipment and machinery were soon replaced by a flight deck, retractable hangar and an air-search radar allowing the vessel to serve as a platform for long-range search and rescue missions. The ship also needed a new name to go along with these changes in capability, and that honor went to Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, Alex Haley, the Coast Guard’s first African American chief petty officer, first Chief Journalist and author of Roots: The Saga of an American Family.
With a new look and a new name, the Alex Haley was introduced to the Coast Guard, July 10, 1999, and began its new life in Kodiak, Alaska.
The Last Frontier’s severe environment, weather and isolation challenge mariners every day, but Alaska’s waters are teeming with aquatic life necessary to sustain the health and economy of its people. That’s where the Alex Haley and its complement of 100 officers and enlisted crew members come in. Charged with conducting search and rescue, fisheries law enforcement and homeland security operations, the crew of the Alex Haley, along with embarked MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crews, dutifully patrols the Bering Sea for lawbreakers and lives in peril.
“The crew has taken their cue from Alaska. They are a robust and adventurous group which has embraced its untamed environment,” said Cmdr. Jon Kreischer, commanding officer, Alex Haley. “At sea, they have learned how to keep each other safe operating at the extremes. On land, morale and social events center on the great outdoors no matter the weather.”
Aside from their traditional missions, the crew members of the Alex Haley proudly serve as ambassadors to Alaskan communities living above the Arctic Circle. Visiting towns like Kaktovik, Wainwright and Utqiaġvik as part of annual Arctic Shield operations, the crew of the Alex Haley strengthens the Coast Guard’s partnerships with the people who make Alaska’s furthest reaches their home.
“As maritime traffic through Arctic waters increases, it becomes even more important for the Coast Guard to maintain a presence there,” Kreischer said. “The Alex Haley’s range of capabilities makes it an ideal platform for providing protection to mariners, communities and the environment in North Alaska.”
“The Alex Haley’s redundant engineering systems were designed to remain at sea for lengthy Navy salvage operations, and it carries over 100,000 gallons of fuel,” Kreischer continued. “Additionally, the vessel weighs in at over 3,000 gross tons providing a good ride and a flight-capable platform. These unique features are the principle reason the Alex Haley is the only medium endurance cutter able to carry out Coast Guard missions in the Bering Sea and Arctic Ocean.”
Like many Coast Guard cutters before it, the Alex Haley has a storied history and decades of service behind it. The vessel might have 49 years of wear and tear to show for it but, just like a grumpy old bulldog, the crews who maintain it and come to understand its quirks know the cutter will remain loyal and true to the Coast Guard’s mission to save lives and protect U.S. shores.