Dozens gathered on the docks of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Station Juneau on Thursday to look on as a new leader was given command over the Alaska district and its approximately 2,700 service members.
The 17th Coast Guard District will now be under the command of Rear Admiral Daniel Abel, who is transferring to Alaska from Boston where he most recently served as the commander of the First Coast Guard District.
“Our duty is simply put, but incredibly challenging,” Abel said. “We stand the watch for the Last Frontier.”
The logistical challenges and unique hardships that face the Coast Guardsmen serving here are not lost on Abel who knows the facts of his new district — 44,000 miles of coastline and nearly 3.9 million square miles of open sea to patrol.
“The distances and hostile conditions of Alaska demand that you be the all-star team,” Abel told his new district. “Indeed, you are just that. You have a well-earned reputation for being the best of the best.
“My primary charge to you is to bring every crew back from every mission,” he added.
The district’s outgoing commander, Rear Admiral Thomas Ostebo, is heading to Washington, D.C., where he has been nominated by the President to serve as the Coast Guard Deputy Commandant for Mission Support. His nomination is pending congressional approval.
“It’s about using ‘we’ instead of ‘I’ when we receive credit; and it’s about saying ‘I’ instead of ‘we’ when criticism is being leveled and there needs to be responsibility,” Ostebo said.
Much of Ostebo’s speech just before he transferred authority of the district to Abel was dedicated to praising those he’s worked with and for while in Alaska.
“I’ve been humbled, honored and proud to serve with the men and women of D17,” Ostebo said after calling it the best district in the Coast Guard.
Praised for his dedication to working individually with Coast Guardsmen in Alaska, Ostebo couldn’t pass up the chance for some good-natured ribbing.
After thanking his classmates from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy class of 1981 for taking the time to attend Thursday, he quickly excluded one friend who “probably didn’t have anything better to do.”
Following the ceremony, Ostebo met with a few reporters to talk about his time in Alaska and his future plans. For now, those are in Washington, but he said the people and beauty of Alaska have made such an impression on him and his wife that they plan to retire here.
“I’ve had the great fortune to live in the paradise called Juneau for three years and to befriend all of you,” Ostebo said, adding later, “Southeast Alaska and Alaska in general gets under your skin. It’s a home for my family.”
Wrapping up his speech, Ostebo had one more person to acknowledge. Looking at his wife and wiping away tears, he said just a single word.