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Navy Vessel To Visit Unalaska Next Week With Around 1,000 Sailors

Berett Wilber/KUCB

Updated 9/23/19

After making a brief stop over the weekend, a large U.S. Navy ship is expected to call on Unalaska again — and stay for longer — next week.

"It's going to be noticeable," said Bailey Young, who's helping to organize the visit on behalf of the Unalaska Visitors Bureau. "They're not going be here for just a day."

Young was a member of the Navy for six years before moving to Unalaska. She said island residents should expect the port calling to be an even busier event than a cruise ship or U.S. Coast Guard cutter visit.

"Expect a lot of sailors," she said. "Picture the biggest cruise ship we've had in town and add maybe a couple hundred more in personnel. They're looking at 1,000."

While Navy officials have declined to confirm the name of the vessel, citing security protocols, they said it'll visit Unalaska after participating in the Arctic Expeditionary Capabilities Exercise (AECE) that's brought 3,000 members of the Navy and the U.S. Marine Corps to Seward, Kodiak, and Adak this month.

"AECE is one in a series of 2019 U.S. Indo-Pacific Command exercises to prepare joint forces to respond to crises in the Indo-Pacific," said a written statement from the Navy. "AECE will specifically test the ability of joint expeditionary forces to conduct logistical transfer in the Arctic environment, including wet logistics over the shore, expeditionary mine countermeasures, mobile diving and salvage, and an offshore petroleum discharge system."

In Unalaska, Navy officials said they've had to change their original plan of opening the ship for public tours on Friday, because the vessel is loaded with more equipment than expected. They said they're reaching out to smaller, "targeted" tour groups — including local students and city officials — as a result of the limited space.

Still, Young said sailors should have plenty of free time to do volunteer work, explore the town, and patronize local businesses.

"Financially, I think it'll be really good for this community, especially — yes, they are sailors. Yes, let's address the elephant in the room: They do like to drink," she laughed. "But they also like to be part of [the community] where they're at. A lot of them will probably be interested in hiking. I think they're going to want to know what it's like living here."

The visitors bureau is recommending that businesses stock up and that drivers prepare for increased pedestrian traffic.

More than that, Young said Unalaskans should be ready to adapt, as the island hasn't hosted a Navy vessel in many years and the branch only provides so many details in advance.

"This is new to this community," she said. "Are they giving [sailors] overnight liberty? Meaning, are they able to stay off the ship overnight? I don't know those things. It could be a possibility."

The Navy doesn't have a base in Alaska, but it's looking to establish a more permanent presence in the state as sea ice declines and Arctic waters open up.

Officials said the branch wants to be ready for international competition for resources and control of increasingly navigable waterways.

"All the trading nations of the world are going to seek to take that shortcut to the markets," Rear Admiral Scott Gray told KMXT in Kodiak in May. "We'll see an increase in shipping and transportation up here. So our presence is just a continuation to ensure that we protect the sea lanes for trade for all nations and that we are trained and ready to operate in the difficult environment that is the north."

Laura Kraegel reported for KUCB from 2016 until 2020. She was KUCB's news director starting in 2019. We are proud to have her back in the spring of 2023 filling in as an interim reporter for KUCB.
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