Written by Petty Officer 2nd Class George Degener.
We remember Lt. Jessica Hill and Petty Officer 2nd Class Steven Duque, crewmembers assigned to the Coast Guard Cutter Healy that tragically perished eight years ago while conducting dive operations alongside Healy in the Arctic Ocean on Aug. 17, 2006.
This enormously sad and shocking event sent shockwaves through not only the Coast Guard dive program, but the entire service. In memory of Hill and Duque, a memorial was erected at Coast Guard Base Seattle, Healy’s homeport.
“As homeport to Healy, it is quite fitting to have erected a monument to both BM2 Duque and Lt. Hill,” said Capt. Marc Lebeau, commanding officer of Base Seattle. “With the approval of the Hill and Duque families, Base Seattle took on the project to re-locate the diver memorial to a more visible location on Base. We took on the project with a rededication ceremony in mind to correspond with the eighth anniversary.”
In front of more than 50 Coast Guardsmen, members of the dive program, icebreaker sailors, and family and friends of the two divers who lost their lives, a new monument, stone bench and inscription were revealed in a location open to the center of the base, able to be seen by all that walk toward the cutters moored at the pier.
The inscription reads:
USCGC HEALY Diver Memorial
Here we pause to remember our fallen Coast Guard Shipmates LT Jessica Hill and BM2 Steven Duque.
Their tragic passing occurred 500 nautical Miles NW of Barrow, AK in position 77-12.965’N 177-38.400’W on 17 August, 2006 while conducting diver training under the Arctic ice, alongside USCGC HEALY (WAGB 20).
While these cherished members of our Coast Guard family did not return to us that day as they had left, our memories of them, and how they touched our lives, will forever remain with us.
We honor their loss by remembering their ultimate sacrifice and renewing our pledge to continually seek ways to minimize risk in the arduous and unforgiving elements in which we operate.
Rededicated 17 August 2014
This monument is not the only way the Coast Guard honors the memory and sacrifice made by Hill and Duque. Healy’s crew held a remembrance ceremony while underway, and a monument to Duque sits at Coast Guard Station Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Duque’s first unit.
“The Coast Guard dive program was put at a crossroads with the two very real options of cancelling the dive program or continuing the program and taking steps to prevent a similar tragedy from occurring again,” said Cmdr. Karl Lander, a Coast Guard diver with Arctic diving experience, who spoke at the memorial rededication. “The Coast Guard chose to continue the dive program and began a series of changes that are still ongoing today.”
The service has established an enlisted diver rating, and soon will have the first rated enlisted divers and warrant officers with a dive specialty. Allowing these dedicated individuals to focus on diving as their primary duty, rather than as a collateral one, represents an unprecedented change in the wake of tragedy, and is perhaps the greatest way to honor the service and legacy of Lt. Hill and BM2 Duque.