Docked in the heart of Newport, R.I., a city rich in naval history, Coast Guard Cutter Willow feels right at home maintaining aids to navigation in some of the most challenging waterways in New England. Beyond its buoy tending responsibilities, the cutter also performs a myriad of missions including maritime security, marine protection and search and rescue. “In Omnia Paratus,” prepared for everything, is the cutter’s motto, and one member of Willow’s crew lives up to that motto and more.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Alicia Zeller is Willow’s only health services technician, but her responsibility to keep the crew healthy and “Omnia Paratus” does not overshadow her dedication to duty as a critical part of the more than 40-person crew.
During Willow’s recent Arctic deployment, Zeller provided first-class medical care for the crew in addition to other operational roles throughout the ship. Her work commenced as Willow left the heat of a New England summer to hone their Arctic capabilities alongside international navies as a participant in Operation Nanook. After Operation Nanook, the crew continued their icy-water transit to meet with Danish naval vessel Ejnar Mikkelsen. As the cutter made history sailing just south of Petermann Glacier – the northernmost a buoy tender in the U. S. Coast Guard has ever been – Zeller was busy preparing for a mass casualty exercise.
Zeller worked hand in hand with members from Ejnar Mikkelsen and Thule Air Force Base, Greenland, to plan a mass casualty drill that escalated into a mass medical evacuation. Understanding proper medical readiness and the ability to transport patients is a priority at the remote Thule Air Base – the U.S. Armed Forces’ northernmost installation – and Zeller and the medical crews planned everything precisely.
Despite the challenges of the operation, including language barriers and the isolated landscape, Zeller effectively trained Ejnar Mikkelsen and Willow crewmembers as first responders who triaged and treated the exercise’s “patients.” Zeller’s expertise and direction helped both crews learn more about responding at Thule Air Base and, more importantly, allowed responders to hone their skills to save lives.
“Petty Officer Zeller has been an integral part of the success of Willow’s operation in the Arctic. Her enthusiasm and dedication to her profession, her shipmates and the Willow, allowed me to integrate seamlessly with the crew and command,” said Lt. j.g. Jason James, the crew’s physician’s assistant temporarily assigned to Willow for their deployment. “She specifically made it possible for me to provide the high level of care to all aboard, ensuring readiness was maintained.”
While Zeller’s primary role is to run sickbay and provide medical assistance to her shipmates, she is also heavily involved in daily operations. Zeller qualified on the bridge of the ship as a helmsman, lookout and master helmsman. Zeller also stepped into the role of an in-port officer of the day, a position on the ship where the watchstander is a direct representative of the captain and has responsibility for the ship while in port.
“While standing double watches, Petty Officer Zeller was still able to assist and facilitate numerous serious medical conditions and allowed the appropriate care and disposition, rapidly and appropriately ensuring the health and welfare of all attached to Willow,” said James.
The figure of speech “Jack of all trades, master of none” is often used to refer to a person who has various skills but cannot fully excel at any of them. Zeller’s exceptional medical skills paired with her ability to stand the watch alongside her shipmates prove that she has undeniably mastered her trades.