A salute for Coast Guard icebreaker Healy and its meritorious service

Seattle Times - Editorial Staff

CONGRATULATIONS to the Seattle-based crew of the Coast Guard cutter Healy. A difficult assignment handled with courage and distinction was formally recognized by the Commandant of the Coast Guard.

Crew members Tuesday were presented with the Coast Guard Unit Commendation award by Vice Adm. Manson K. Brown, Pacific Area commander.

The Healy was wrapping up a seven-month science mission in 2011, when its assignment was extended a month to help deliver 1.3 million gallons of fuel to Nome, Alaska. The Healy's ice-breaking capacities were employed to escort a Russian-flagged tanker through 300 miles of Bering Sea ice to Nome. The Healy then led the vessel 400 miles back to open water.

Nome's crisis was managed because the Healy's crew combined personal valor and meritorious skills to use a ship only rated for medium ice-breaking duty to reach and supply a remote Alaskan town.

The assignment was courageously taken on, but the Healy's performance has its limits. The Healy is the United States' only operational icebreaker, and primarily designed for research. Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell and Alaskan Sen. Mark Begich are working to avoid the decommissioning of the Seattle-based Polar Star, a heavy-duty icebreaker.

The U.S. needs to make the investment in icebreakers to match the rigorous conditions in the Arctic and meet the nation's obligations to defend and protect its interests in the region.

The Coast Guard has the personnel to match the challenges, but they need the equipment and vessels appropriate to the hazardous conditions.

The honor for the Healy's crew comes as Washington state receives word of another proud moment. The U.S. Navy plans to name a new submarine after the state. Puget Sound is home to the Navy's third-largest fleet

The last ship to carry the state's name had a distinguished record in World War II. The crew of the battleship USS Washington spent 34 months in the Pacific, steamed more than 280,000 miles and earned 15 battle stars.

These are tributes and triumphs in war and peace that make the state very proud.