A big job

Coast Guard commander tackles challenge in Alaska


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Coast Guard Cpt. Paul Mehler III, of Peters Creek, poses for a photo at his downtown Anchorage office May 9. Mehler, of Eagle River, assumed command of Coast Guard Sector Anchorage 11 months ago.

MIKE NESPER

Throughout his two-decade-long career in the Coast Guard, Cpt. Paul Mehler III has traveled throughout the country and the world.

Now, he can add Alaska to his list.

Mehler assumed command of the Coast Guard Sector Anchorage last June. He’s responsible for more than 35,000 miles of coastline and 4,000 miles of navigable rivers.

“It’s the largest geographic area for command in the Coast Guard,” he said during an interview at his downtown Anchorage office May 9.

The challenge of the job is one aspect that attracted Mehler to the position.

“It’s the most dynamic and exciting zone the Coast Guard has right now,” he said. “Just the unprecedented growth we’re seeing. I wanted to be part of that.”

Along with sector commander, Mehler has four other titles that come with his job. He serves as captain of the port, federal maritime security coordinator, officer in charge of marine inspections and the region’s search and rescue coordinator.

“My business card could be full,” he quipped.

Mehler is responsible for all waterway activities; ensuring all ships follow and carry out their Coast-Guard-approved plans; inspection, licensing and crewing of commercial vessels; and overseeing search and rescue operations.

 

Worked in Senate

Before coming to Alaska, Mehler served as a senior advisor to the U.S. Senate Oversight Committee on Coast Guard and maritime activities.

“We worked a lot of Arctic hearings,” he said.

His three years in the Senate gave Mehler an appreciation for the marine environment in Alaska, which prompted him to ask his wife, Michelle, what she thought of moving to the Last Frontier.

“She was all about it,” Mehler said.

Wanting to get “the whole Alaska experience,” Mehler, his wife and their Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Gilligan, moved into a log home in Peters Creek. Their first year in the 49th state has been remarkable, Mehler said.

“We continue to just be in awe of the beauty of Alaska,” he said. “Alaska is amazing.”

Mehler graduated from the Massachusetts Maritime Academy in 1990. He has served all over the U.S. in rivers, the Great Lakes, the Gulf Coast, the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and has been to 46 countries.

Each experience helped Mehler gain valuable knowledge in his path to sector commander.

“Everything prepares you for the next job,” he said. “The Coast Guard builds on your leadership.”

Mehler has also served as commanding officer of the marine safety unit in Chicago and was a Coast Guard liaison at the Department of Homeland Security when it first formed.

Mehler’s current job also requires a lot of traveling. He’s been to Dutch Harbor, Barrow, Kodiak and Valdez to name a few.

Traveling to remote destinations like Red Dog Mine is difficult for the Coast Guard, Mehler said, and a new challenge for him.

 

A unique state

Of all the places Mehler has served, Alaska stands out as having some of the most helpful citizens when it comes to search and rescue missions.

If the Coast Guard requests assistance from personal watercraft, Mehler said, Alaskans always respond.

“They all help,” he said. “I hadn’t seen that in other places.”

In other states Mehler has been stationed, residents would only assist if they were close by. In Alaska, citizens are willing to travel much farther to lend a hand, Mehler said, which he attributed to their appreciation for the state’s unique challenges, including weather and remoteness.

“Here, I find folks will go far out of their way — much more than I’ve seen in other places — to assist,” he said. “It’s quite impressive of the spirit of the Alaskans how they help each other.”

Mehler said the Coast Guard receives so much support from residents it’s his goal to return the favor.

“The community embraces you so much, you never want to let them down,” he said.

 

Philadelphia native

Mehler grew up in a blue collar Philadelphia home. His father, now retired, was a police officer and his mother was a waitress.

His dad’s career influenced Mehler to also serve his community. Though the word “service” is absent much of the time when most discuss the military, Mehler said, it’s something he always remembers.

“I never forget that,” he said. “I am serving my country.”

Though he’s eligible for retirement, Mehler said he’s focused on the present, which couldn’t be better.

“This has been a dream job,” he said.

Mehler has two years left on his tour in Alaska before deciding what’s next.

When it is time for Mehler to say goodbye to the Coast Guard, there’s only one question he has to answer.

“At the end of the day, are you proud of what you accomplished?”

For Mehler, there’s not a doubt in his mind.

“I love the Coast Guard,” he said. “I would do it again.”

 

Contact Mike Nesper at 694-2727 or mike.nesper@alaskastar.com.

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