Sole US Icebreaker Changes Command

The crew of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (WAGB-10) has held a modified change-of-command ceremony at the Mare Island Dry Dock. Capt. William Woityra relieved Capt. Gregory Stanclik as commanding officer of the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star during a scaled-back ceremony designed to support COVID-19 physical distancing practices, which was presided over by the Pacific Area Commander Vice Adm. Linda Fagan.

“The ingenuity of Capt. Stanclik and the crew of Polar Star ensured that this ship kept running and that the channel to McMurdo Station in Antarctica stayed open,” said Fagan. “Your efforts directly support the Coast Guard’s continued leadership in the Arctic and Antarctic regions.”

The change-of-command ceremony is a historic military tradition that represents the formal transfer of authority and responsibility for a unit from one commanding officer to another. The event reinforces the continuity of command and provides an opportunity to celebrate the crew’s accomplishments.

As the cutter’s 23rd commanding officer, Stanclik took command in June 2018 and led two Operation Deep Freeze deployments, where the nation’s only heavy-icebreaking cutter broke 36 combined nautical mi. of ice to construct ice channels and to escort a total of four cargo ships for the resupply of the United States’ major science bases in Antarctica.

The Polar Star crew has conducted Operation Deep Freeze deployments annually since the ship’s reactivation in 2014. Polar Star’s primary objective for the operation includes breaking a channel through the fast ice to resupply the McMurdo Research Station in the Ross Sea. Resupply ships use the channel to bring food, fuel and other supplies to support a year of operations by the U.S. Antarctic Program.

As the nation’s only operational heavy icebreaker, Polar Star is 44 years old and goes through a drydock maintenance period each year to ensure the ship can complete the Antarctic deployment. The Polar Star is a 399-ft. heavy icebreaker with a crew complement of 130 permanent crew members.

Prior to becoming Polar Star’s new commanding officer, Woityra served as the executive officer, or second in command, on the Polar Star. This is Woityra’s second at-sea command. He previously served as the Coast Guard Cutter Healy’s operations officer and as commanding officer of Coast Guard Cutter Neah Bay.

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