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Rising Star at Thule AB
THULE AIR BASE, Greenland – The “Rising Star” normally launches the first week in July, in preparation for port season. Thule’s deepwater port, located 750 miles north of the Arctic Circle at the Air Force’s northernmost base, is only open for two months of the year when the ice clears from North Star Bay. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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Thule tugboat plies frigid Arctic waters

Posted 9/30/2013   Updated 9/30/2013 Email story   Print story


by Steve Brady
21st Space Wing Public Affairs Office

9/30/2013 - THULE AIR BASE, Greenland -- Life at Thule Air Base is unique. Located 750 miles north of the Arctic Circle at the Air Force's northernmost base, residents must acclimate to bitter cold, months of darkness and even the occasional polar bear wandering through base.

While Air Force bases are synonymous with aircraft and runways, another unique Thule aspect is that it is home to the northernmost deepwater port in the world. With that comes a need for an Air Force boat - a tugboat to be exact.

"Some small boats are used by security forces in Florida and some missile retriever boats are used to return target drones at Tyndall AFB," said Tech. Sgt. T. Read Harris, 821st Support Squadron vehicle maintenance representative. "But Thule can claim the only Air Force tugboat."

The "Rising Star," Thule's harbor tugboat, was built by Swiftships in Morgan City, La., and delivered in 1991. The 71-foot tugboat is powered by two Detroit diesel two-stroke V-16 engines, each producing 900 water-churning horsepower.

Each summer, when the port is not frozen, Thule stages its annual resupply mission for fuel and other necessities needed for the long and brutal winter. During resupply, the tugboat obediently motors into North Star Bay to align massive cargo ships to the pier, push fuel tankers into position, and guide the fuel hoses to transfer the essential fuel to the base. It is also used to push icebergs away from the pier to prevent damage in the ice-cold 41 degree water.

"We have the boat because there is no maritime support this far north in the Arctic," Harris said. "Without the tugboat, our annual fuel resupply would not be possible. Because of this, I know I play a part in the survivability at Thule."

The boat is operated and maintained by Danish contractors, and overseen by Harris, who makes sure technical orders and AFIs are followed.

"I ensure the boat is serviced and inspected before 'port season' and ensure the boat is prepped for winter storage," he said.

At the end of the brief summer, the Rising Star is pulled out of the frigid water on a tracked trailer and stored on the beach. There it slumbers through the dark winter, awaiting its next mission when winter releases its icy grip on Thule Air Base.

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