The Coast Guard has been carrying out missions above the Arctic Circle for decades. During World War II, for instance, the service’s Greenland Patrol was tasked with providing escort service for ships traveling to and from Greenland, which is almost located almost entirely within the Arctic Circle. One of its most notable achievements came in September, 1941 (just three months after the Patrol was founded), when the Coast Guard Cutter Northland captured the Buskø, a Norwegian sealer that was working with a land-based German radio station to assist in U-boat deployment.
Other Coast Guard missions, such as performing icebreaking to clear shipping routes and transporting scientific research teams, require Coast Guard vessels to journey north into the Arctic Circle or into nearby frigid areas such as the Bering Sea. With the establishment of the Center for Arctic Study and Policy in September, 2014, the Coast Guard is likely to embark on even more missions into the unforgiving region.
The Coast Guard Arctic Service Medal was authorized by Commandant Owen Siler on May 20, 1976 and officially established on October 15 of the same year. The medal’s original eligibility requirements specified that it was to be awarded to any Coast Guard member who spent 21 consecutive days on a Coast Guard mission above the Arctic Circle during summer operations or served aboard a vessel operating in polar waters (Bering Sea, Denmark Strait, Davis Strait).
The award was also given to members of the Coast Guard who took part in flights from shore installations located above the Arctic Circle or from one of six specific Coast Guard Loran Stations: Cape Athol, Cape Christian, Port Clarence, Barrow, Bo (Norway), and Jan Mayen Island (Norway). Coast Guard personnel who served at those same six stations for 21 consecutive days were also awarded the medal.
But the original requirement of 21 consecutive days was changed in March, 2000 to 21 cumulative days within a calendar year. A little over eight years later, the length-of-service requirement was changed back to 21 consecutive days, only to be switched to its current form in December, 2012 to 21 non-consecutive days within a year; this applies to land, air, and sea units.