Wow – you were 227 years old yesterday and I totally forgot to congratulate you. And you were such a HUMUNGEOUS part of my life!! From 1969 until 1991 I carried around an orange card from you that came with benefits, privileges and hazards. For those 22 years you were part of the Department of Transportation and your job was maintaining buoys and other aids to navigation, patrolling the waters for criminal activities, and search and rescue.
Now you are part of the Department of Homeland Security and your job has expanded. You are still keeping our coasts safe though. Back in 1790 when George Washington created the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service, who knew that you would grow to be so important to so many? (See http://coastguard.dodlive.mil/2017/08/tlbl-first-fleet-offshore-patrol-cutters/ for more of this story.) The men and women who fill your boats and stations have saved so many lives over the years and provided many families, such as mine, with amazing life experiences!! It’s incredible!!!
My 22 years as a Coast Guard dependent included 12 different schools before I began college. I was born in North Carolina when my dad was stationed on Frying Pan light tower. Two years later, we were in Virginia and he was on a boat – my brother was born at a naval hospital. We stayed in Connecticut when Daddy went to ‘Nam to service machinery. Sometime after that we lived at a light-house when he had a tour of duty on another boat in Fernadina Beach, Florida. Then promotions sent him on to yet another boat in Miami. He liked serving on boats. Especially the 180’s.
Boats are apparently isolated duty stations. I think it is because the service member is gone so often. We didn’t see much of my father when he was on the 180’s. The boat was at sea anywhere from 1/3 to 2/3 of every month. It makes sense that they would make those tours of duty shorter. From what I can tell, a standard tour of duty for a 180 was 18-24 months. But if your rank changed before your tour was up, you could get moved before that. We sure did get moved around frequently.
One of those boats was the USCGC Red Cedar, upon which he was a plank holder. I have that certificate safely stored and plan to have it cleaned and mounted someday soon.
Our transfer from Miami to Valdez, Alaska included a cross-country trip just as winter was ending. We went up the East Coast in a truck with a cab over camper, then got on the Al-Can. Back then, the Alaska – Canada highway was a gravel road and poorly maintained. A guy in a Cadillac ran us off the road at one point when my brother and I were in the camper laying over top of the truck cab so we could see out the front. Somehow Dad managed to gun the engine and get enough speed as we were going down to get back up the ditch and onto the road. My brother and I were tangled on the passenger side of the bed laughing our heads off, while Mom was shouting in the walkie-talkie to us to make sure we were okay. Dad was pissed.
I still have the wooden gun box Dad made to fit under the truck seat so he had a safe place for his collection to pass the car inspection at the Alaska-Canada border. It’s a good memento from that trip. I remember sitting and watching him make it, patiently answering question after question about the trip and where we were headed.
That trip was also memorable because we took in two hitchhikers just as we left Canada and crossed the border to Alaska. It was pouring down rain and they looked absolutely miserable. Dad took pity on them, made my brother and I sit up front in the truck, and put them in our camper. Mom bitched at him the whole time they were in there. They were so incredibly grateful though. Not only did they not steal a thing, or rifle through our stuff, they apologized profusely for dripping water on the floor from their wet gear. The next night was clear. The made a campfire and shared s’mores with us. They had crazy hair and shaggy beards, made them scary looking. I have always remembered that. Some strangers are really good people. Even if they are scary hitchhikers.
Another highlight of that trip awaited us when we came through Thompson Pass. There was SNOW!! Not much of it. But my brother and I didn’t remember snow. Sure, there were pictures of it in the albums with us in cute little outfits. I don’t know about you; however, I don’t recall much from before I was six. This was therefore my first true memory of experiencing snow. Dad parked the truck beside the road and we had a snowball fight.
In Valdez, Dad was once again a plank owner, (yup – planning to frame that one also), then he made chief, got to do what sounded like some really silly, embarrassing traditions for that accomplishment, and we headed to Ketchikan and another boat. Let’s see… I think that was the USCGC Laurel.
Part of the way through 6th grade my granddaddy died. Dad got a family hardship transfer to North Carolina. We did our second cross-country drive. That one involved my Gramma Lorena. It’s a long story. I’ll leave it for another time. Dad’s new duty station was not in the same town that Gramma lived in. It was on a boat several hours away.
I never saw that boat. We lived with Gramma. Dad lived on the boat. And, as I’ve mentioned previously, Dad wasn’t on it long. He made Warrant Officer and went off to OCS while I finished 6th grade in Elizabeth City. I have strong memories of there. Some very, very positive and some extremely much NOT.
The end of OCS meant – you guessed it – another move. This time Mayport, Florida. I don’t recall the boat’s name this time. I do recall though that Dad said making officer was both a mistake and a blessing. He didn’t like all the paperwork, he hated that he wasn’t getting his hands dirty in the engine room anymore, but he loved that he had extra money to spend on various toys. I suspect he liked being the Engineering Officer as well. He’d earned it.
For once, Dad served out the full 24 months of the tour without getting shuffled off to somewhere else. We had two complete years of school without interruption. It was a little weird.
At the end of the two years though Dad was ready to go again. He had itchy feet, wanted to see more of the world, and Mom did too. They liked to be outdoors adventuring and exploring. So, they put in for Alaska again. This time we drove to Kodiak in a renovated van. Mom and Dad slept in the van. My brother and I got to erect a tent every night and sleep in that. We competed to see how fast we could set it up together, alone, with one parent or the other helping. Good times. Saw some amazing things. I’ll share those another time.
Kodiak, Alaska has the largest Coast Guard base in the world. The folks here specialize in Search and Rescue, but they take good care of the aids to navigation and keep an eye on the international waters as well. We have planes, helicopters, and boats at our base. The MWR services are absolutely incredible. The base is a small town unto itself. It is possible to live on-base for a 3-4 year tour of duty and never leave it. Some folks do. Others, like us, start out in base housing, then move into the community both literally and figuratively.
Dad, once again, was stationed on a 180. This time it was the USCGC Ironwood. At every duty station Dad ever had, we used to get to go aboard for holidays and special occasions. We’d have a meal in the galley, sometimes watch a movie. Sometimes the CO would take the boat out for a small family cruise. One year for Coast Guard day, we got to go out and watch as the Ironwood changed out a buoy. I had never seen it done before.
When a 180 pulls a buoy up out of the water, she heels over on her side. It looked and felt like we were about to capsize. I squealed and grabbed my dad by the arm. My brother didn’t look all that happy either. Dad, of course, was stoic. Been there. Seen that. Bought the uniform. The Ironwood kept tipping and kept tipping and… there was a sort of pop and the buoy jigged a bit. I’m guessing it came loose from the bottom. The crew hauled it up and secured it, we leveled out some. It was followed by, however, many fathoms of gigantic, rusty, orangeish-gray chain which were attached to it and then, slowly, this mass emerged from the water.
It was covered in mud and seaweed and who knew what all. But it was the mooring anchor for the buoy. It had shifted from its proper place and it needed to be put back – with a new freshly painted buoy – also waiting on deck. The crew secured it to the side and we steamed over to where it was supposed to be – a fairly short cruise – as a lopsided walrus with a big, old mucky wart on its side.
Releasing the anchor and chain took moments. The crew had detached the original buoy from the chain and attached the chain to the new buoy as we shifted position. And other crew had moved the rigging cables for the hoist. Everything was good for lowering the new buoy. That happened rapidly and the Ironwood was once again a sleek 180 instead of an out of shape marine mammal.
We didn’t tip over quite as far that time. I wondered about that, so I looked back and forth between the buoys several times as it was happening. I finally realized the old one was covered in barnacles – inside and out. A single barnacle weighs very little. Layer after layer must add up after a while though!
And that was my dad’s final duty station as a service member. He retired the year I turned 16 with 20 years of service to the United States Coast Guard. One of the many people who have made up a proud tradition of service to our country over the last 227 years.
So, thank you Coast Guard, for giving my father a place to grow and shine. Thank you for giving my family a home for the first half of my life. And thank you for the many opportunities to experience the world that you provide those of us who have been and are a part of you. I’m proud to be a Coast Guard brat. Proud my father served with you. Proud that you are there to protect our coasts.