Vice Admiral Linda Fagan, commander Pacific Area, presents the Meritorious Service Medal to Capt. Gregory Stanclik during a modified change-of-command ceremony held aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (WAGB 10) while the cutter undergoes maintenance in Vallejo, California, dry dock facility, June 12, 2020. Cmdr. (Capt. select) William Woityra relieved Stanclik as commanding officer of the Polar Star during a scaled-back ceremony presided over by Fagan. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Shelbi Kreiger)

Command of Nation’s Only Heavy Icebreaker Changes Hands

The crew of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (WAGB 10) held a modified change-of-command ceremony Friday 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 represent 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 miles 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.

Stanclik’s first deployment saw the cutter break 16.5 nautical miles of fast ice, and included a port visit to Wellington, New Zealand, the first U.S. Coast Guard vessel to visit the city in 30 years. During the deployment, the crew overcame numerous engineering challenges in the Antarctic environment, including responding to a flooding casualty, combatting an incinerator fire and sending divers into freezing waters to repair broken shaft seals.

On Stanclik’s second deployment, the Polar Star escorted a total of three ships to McMurdo station in a single season. The cutter also conducted a refueling evolution while resting in the Antarctic ice. Additionally, the Coast Guard partnered with the U.S. State Department and National Science Foundation to conduct Antarctic Treaty Inspections of Chinese, Korean and Italian research stations – the last time the Coast Guard supported such inspections was in 1995.

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 dry dock maintenance period each year to ensure the ship can complete the Antarctic deployment. The Polar Star is a 399-foot heavy icebreaker with a crew complement of 130 permanent crew members.

Stanclik will be transferring to the Coast Guard headquarters office of marine transportation systems in Washington, D.C., accompanied by his wife Kasia and daughters Isabella (1) and Laura (2 months).

“To the crew of Polar Star, the tide has shifted and it’s time for me to set sail on the next leg of my Coast Guard journey,” said Stanclick. “At the end of the day, if you remember nothing else, remember this: Polar Star is an incredible ship, and what makes her incredible is the crew. It has been an honor and a privilege to serve with you.”

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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