The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (WAGB 10) held a change of command ceremony Monday at the Maritime Museum in Vallejo.
Vice Adm. Andrew Tiongson, Coast Guard Pacific Area commander, presided over the ceremony in which Capt. Keith Ropella relieved Capt. William Woityra as Polar Star’s commanding officer.
During Woityra’s two year tenure in command, Polar Star broke ice at both ends of the earth. In 2021, the ship set a record for the highest winter Arctic latitude by any U.S. surface ship. During the ship’s 25th deployment to Antarctica in 2022, the crew navigated into uncharted waters and broke the world record for southernmost navigation by any vessel.
“It has been an incredible honor to have served these fine men and women as Polar Star’s commanding officer” said Woityra. “This team has made tremendous sacrifices, but never shied from our critical calling to operate in the most remote and hostile environments on the planet. We have accomplished so much over the last two years because of this incredible team.”
Woityra’s next assignment is as the Oceania Policy Division Chief at U.S. Indo-Pacific Command in Honolulu, Hawaii. Woityra has served at sea for more than 12 years of his 23-year career breaking ice in the Arctic, Antarctic, Great Lakes, the Baltic Sea, and along the coast of Maine. His career included assignments on the Coast Guard Cutters Polar Star, Healy, Thunder Bay, and Neah Bay. He has navigated the Northwest Passage, and visited both the North and South Poles.
Ropella reports to Polar Star from the Office of Navigation Systems at Coast Guard Headquarters. With 12 years of sea service, Ropella takes command as Polar Star is completing its annual dry dock. Crews are upgrading Polar Star’s machinery monitoring and controlling and propulsion power systems during the dry dock maintenance period to improve reliability and align the 46-year-old cutter with the modern fleet.
The change-of-command ceremony is a time-honored military tradition. The event, which has remained unchanged for centuries, includes a reading of the command orders in the presence of the ship’s crew members to ensure continuity of command.
Polar Star, the nation’s only heavy icebreaker, deploys annually to Antarctica in support of the U.S. Antarctic Program and National Science Foundation. The ship and 155-member crew, transit 12,000 miles to Antarctica, and break through ice up to 21-feet thick, clearing a path through frozen waters for supply ships to reach Antarctica’s logistics hub at McMurdo Station, Scott-Amundsen South Pole Station and other international bases. The critical supply deliveries allow the stations to stay operational year-round.