Admiral Nathan Moore with Cutter Hickory in the background, immediately after he visited the Hickory’s crew in January 2022. Courtesy USCG Petty Officer 1st Class Nate Littlejohn
Rear Admiral Nathan Moore is the commander of Coast Guard operations in Alaska and the surrounding waters. He was inspired to join the Coast Guard by his uncle, who was a helicopter pilot stationed in Alaska. When Moore assumed command of the Alaska district in April 2021, he said there was no place he’d rather be. “For a Coast Guard person, this is the best place to operate,” he told us. “It’s the most challenging both environmentally and in terms of remoteness…but it’s rewarding…and it’s a great place to live.”
I’m sure a lot of your day-to-day is serious business, but what’s one piece of your job that you just love, that’s just plain fun?
The fun part is getting to visit our people and do things along the coastline. For example, getting up in a Coast Guard helicopter and flying over mountains and glaciers. Getting out in the boat and running along the coastline to see our folks operate is an incredible experience. The conversations I have sometimes with helicopter pilots is, “Can you believe that you get paid to do this?”
My next question is a big one. There’s a lot of talk about Alaska being the only arctic state in the nation, and I’m just curious if you could do your best to summarize what makes that important. Why is there increased attention on the Arctic and Alaska?
I think it’s fair to say that a great power competition exists today in the Arctic and the northern Bering Sea in ways that we haven’t seen before. As the ice recedes, the traffic is increasing through both the Northern Sea Route and the Northwest Passage. We expect that to continue. When there’s more traffic, there’s more risk for a mass rescue and oil pollution and response. There are liquid natural gas carriers running the Northern Sea Route through the Bering Strait today. That means there is a huge increase in activity that is going to demand more Coast Guard services in that region. So, that’s something we’re working very heavily to adjust to.
Probably the best example of what the Coast Guard is doing is building new icebreakers. We have two that are fully funded and are on the way to a fleet of at least three unlimited, heavy icebreakers. That’s something that’s badly needed to get us in position to respond with our missions, and to exert U.S. sovereignty up there. When those icebreakers come, it’s going to be an incredible increase in capability for us.
During your time in this role so far, what stands out as something that made you really proud of the work the Coast Guard does in Alaska?
I had a fantastic experience in Sitka on Alaska Day, which is the anniversary of the raising of the U.S. flag and the purchase from Russia. The Coast Guard always participates heavily in that ceremony because the Coast Guard was heavily involved in the actual transition back in 1867. In fact, Revenue Cutter Lincoln—the revenue cutter service was the precursor to the Coast Guard—brought the first U.S. flag up to Sitka for the lowering of the Russian flag and raising of the U.S. flag. So, the Coast Guard’s been part of Alaska since the day we first raised the U.S. flag here.
We go to Sitka every year, and there’s a parade and a reenactment of the transfer ceremony. I was down there this past fall with our folks that are stationed in Sitka. During the parade a woman yells at me from the crowd, “Hey Admiral, thanks for rescuing my brother last week!” I could hear her clearly, and I looked over at her, waved, and I said, “You’re welcome.” Obviously, I did not personally rescue her brother, but that cemented to me the incredible community tie and relationship the Coast Guard has with folks in this state. It’s not tangential; it’s direct. Many people have had personal experiences with the Coast Guard, and I find that real touching.
Is there anything you personally hope to accomplish during your tenure?
I spoke a minute ago about the great power competition. I can kind of summarize what I’m hoping to do here in two points. One is I want to make sure that we advance our ability to defend U.S. sovereignty in the Arctic. I think that’s very important. Second, I want to make sure we provide the same services to the coastal communities in Alaska that we do everywhere else in the United States. Things like search and rescue, environmental response, fisheries, and law enforcement. Given the size and scope of Alaska, that’s always a challenge.