Meet the Polar Star crew – Cmdr. Mary Ellen Durley

U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer David Mosley.

Cmdr. Mary Ellen Durley is deployed aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star as part of its mission to assist in the annual resupply of U.S. Antarctic Program research stations. The National Science Foundation manages the U.S. Antarctic Program.

Background:
Cmdr. Mary Ellen Durley
Number of trips to Antarctica: two
Unit/department: Command/XO

Q. Where is your hometown?
A. Potosi, Wisconsin

Q. How long have you been in the Coast Guard?
A. Since 1991 (starting with the Coast Guard Academy).

Q. Why did you join the Coast Guard? Why do you stay/what keeps you motivated?
A. I joined the Coast Guard because I wanted to serve my country; I wanted to do something different. I did not know how to swim, but I received a postcard about the Coast Guard Academy, and I was intrigued by it. I had been looking at the other service academies, and never knew about the Coast Guard Academy. I did some research, asked a lot of questions and was eventually accepted. My father was drafted into the Army and served in Okinawa prior to the Vietnam War, so serving our country runs in the family.

Q. What is your unit history?
A. Coast Guard Academy, Coast Guard Cutter Acacia (180-foot cutter) in Charlevoix, Michigan, Coast Guard Cutter Juniper (operations officer) in Newport, Rhode Island, the Leadership Development Center (LAMS instructor and OCS nautical science branch chief), Coast Guard Cutter Sassafras in Guam (XO), Coast Guard Cutter Thunder Bay (CO) in Rockland, Maine, International Affairs Post Graduate School at Virginia Tech, International Training Detachment in Yorktown, Virginia, Coast Guard Alder (CO) in Duluth, Minnesota, Office of Cutter Forces, in Washington, D.C., currently on the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (XO) in Seattle, Washington and was recently selected for O-6 at the Office of Navigation in Washington, D.C.

Q. What are some of your responsibilities on the Polar Star?
A. As the XO, I manage personnel, am responsible for the cutter’s daily routine and handle administrative items to ensure things run smoothly.

Q. What do you do on a typical duty day?
A. Taking care of the daily needs of the crew and the commanding officer and resolving personnel issues, both administratively and medically.

Capt. Michael Davanzo, commanding officer, and Cmdr. Mary Ellen Durley, executive officer, of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star, evaluate ice conditions, Jan. 11, 2017. The Polar Star's crew is responsible for creating a navigable pathway through Antarctic ice for resupply ships to resupply the National Science Foundation's McMurdo Station. U.S. Coast Guard photo but Chief Petty Officer David Mosley.

Capt. Michael Davanzo, commanding officer, and Cmdr. Mary Ellen Durley, executive officer, of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star, evaluate ice conditions, Jan. 11, 2017. The Polar Star’s crew is responsible for creating a navigable pathway through Antarctic ice for resupply ships to resupply the National Science Foundation’s McMurdo Station. U.S. Coast Guard photo but Chief Petty Officer David Mosley.

Q. What’s your most memorable experience on the Polar Star? Why?
A. Coming to Antarctica and breaking the ice channel, including navigating the ship along the ice pier in McMurdo and the challenges of that navigation.

Q. Why is this mission (Operation Deep Freeze) important? How do you/your crew contribute?
A. It is a national strategic mission for our nation. We’re partners to the National Science Foundation and Joint Task Force – Support Forces Antarctica in the U.S. Antarctic program, ensuring the science and resupply missions continue. We work hard to overcome the issues of conducting these missions with a 40+ year-old ship and the unique challenges of navigation in such pristine and rugged terrain.

Q. What do you do for fun when not on duty (on or off the ship)? Hobbies?
A: I enjoy musicals, movies and theater. I live with my sister in Seattle and I have fun spending time with her and her family. Exploring the areas in and around Seattle is always an adventure, as well.

Q. Anything else you’d like for us to know/include?
A. I’ve been at sea a lot in my career and there is something very special about being underway. I would like the younger generations to understand the uniqueness and sense of family that one finds on a cutter, the yearning of the sea and the ability to work together as a crew to accomplish a mission.

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