PUBLISHED: 4:07 PM on Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Coast Guard conducts humanitarian mission across Southeast Alaska
Wind and freezing rain blew hard against the Coast Guard Cutter Liberty as it approached Elvin Cove on Dec. 10. Within the harbor, the rain turned into blustery snow. Damp air held the ever-present mist of Southeast Alaskan winter. The scene would call to mind an image of a dramatic rescue in the harsh Alaskan elements, but this was a different kind of mission all together.

Patty Lewis, Vice Chairman of the Incorporated Community, greets the arriving crew excitedly, anticipating its cargo of blankets, coats and new toys. Items donated by Juneau residents were offloaded as Lewis offered tours of the town and thanked the crew repeatedly for their efforts. The only resident young child quietly observed the Liberty's crew at work. "This is the first cutter to moor at Elvin Cove for fifty years," Lewis said.

After offloading, the crew received a tour of the tiny community. Built on top of pilings and connected by a network of docks, the town has several large lodges now closed for the winter. The town has a large diesel electric generator and several thousand gallons of fuel, also used to refuel fishing boats that stop in from time to time. A busy vacation spot in summer, the village only has about 14 residents in winter.

Elvin Cove has one store, which opens for one hour three times a week and Christmas gifts are hard to find explained Lewis. "With all the new stuff, the town will definitely have something under the tree for everyone."

Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer Eric J. Chandler
  Patricia Phillips, Mayor of Pelican, welcomes Lt. Jon Kreischer, Captain of The Coast Guard Cutter Liberty, and Ltjg. Kalen Kenny, Executive Officer of the Liberty, who arrived in Pelican on Dec. 10.
The Coast Guard Cutter Liberty got underway December 10, 2007, on a humanitarian mission to bring donated items to the remote villages of Southeast Alaska, where town authorities began distribution. Elvin Cove was the first of five villages visited by the Liberty this year. Next were the larger towns of Pelican, Hoonah, Angoon and Kake. Much like Elvin Cove, these towns are very isolated.

The residence of Juneau are aware of the challenges of living in the isolated regions of Alaska, and have filled the Southeast Alaska blanket, coat and new toy drive collection bins for many years. The spirit of giving has been demonstrated in this tradition annually, but this year bins and storage areas filled faster than usual. This year's haul was so large that the Liberty had to make two trips. Shoreside storage areas reached capacity far before anticipated and much faster than in previous years. "We had to move stuff to alternate areas after our storage became full faster than we had expected," said Petty Officer 2nd Class Vernon Bontrager, a crewman on the Liberty and second year participant in the program.

Coast Guard members of Sector Juneau, Integrated Support and Command Ketchikan, the Juneau Area Chiefs Mess and 17th District administrative staff have worked together gathering items from collection bins and bringing them to the Coast Guard Cutter Liberty's storage facility. There the crew of the Liberty spent several days sorting the items, washing clothes and taking blankets to local dry cleaners. Donated items were laundered for free at local dry cleaners, as another community contribution. Arriving in temperatures between 20 and 40 degrees, new blankets and coats were accepted with gratitude and town officials prepared programs to distribute the goods among senior citizens and the people who need them most. In towns with no toy stores, the children were cheerful at the arrival of the Liberty and their cargo of new toys.

"The mayors and authorities of each town wanted to express their sincere appreciation to the Coast Guard and residents of Juneau for their efforts," said Lt. Jon Kreischer, Captain of the Cutter Liberty. "The donations were more than double what we have received in previous years, and I believe the operation has been a total success."