Written by: Jennifer Jeffery
The U. S. Coast Guard is celebrating its 225th year on August 4, 2015. The origins of this military service are found in the Revenue Cutter Service, which was formed in 1790 when the first Congress approved the building of ten ships to protect the coast. In 1915, the Revenue Cutter Service and the U.S. Life Saving Service merged and acquired the apt name U. S. Coast Guard. Today the U. S. Coast Guard has eleven statutory missions including maritime law enforcement, national security and military preparedness, polar, ice, and Alaska operations, search and rescue, maintenance of aids to navigation and protection of marine resources.
The Coast Guard has a long tradition of adaptability and tenacity. Over the years, mission areas have expanded and the men and women of the Coast Guard have risen to the challenge of adapting to the changing needs of the nation. The Coast Guard has a proud tradition of stepping in and doing what it takes, often with little resources. Ida Lewis was officially appointed as the keeper of the Limerock Lighthouse, Newport, Rhode Island in 1872 when her father died. She was just sixteen. A year earlier, while she was taking care of her ailing father and maintaining the lighthouse, she had made her first rescue. She single-handedly saved four young men who had overturned their sailboat in rough water. She went on to serve in what was then the U.S. Life Saving Service for thirty-nine years and saved eighteen lives. The history of the Coast Guard is full of interesting stories of individuals like Ida Lewis who were ready to step in and serve when needed.
One search and rescue case from the time when I served at Coast Guard Station Crisfield, Maryland on the Chesapeake Bay illustrates the spirit of this military service. The Coast Guard Cutter Tackle, a sixty-five foot small harbor tug and the Coast Guard Cutter Chokeberry, a sixty-five foot inland buoy tender were co-located with the small boat station. We often conducted training and law enforcement operations with their crews and sometimes got underway with them to assist with their missions. I was on radio watch on a busy summer afternoon and we were working two mayday calls at the same time.
The case closest to the station involved a twenty-five foot boat that had overturned in the creek that the station was located on. The creek opened directly out into the Chesapeake Bay. Some people were able to make it to shore or were picked up by other boats; two people were not accounted for and were later found to have drowned and there were two people who could not swim who were trapped under the boat. They were alive but refused to leave the safety of the air pocket underneath the boat for the waters outside. The station’s forty-one foot small boat was on scene talking to the trapped boaters and in the watch center we were contacting the police divers in Salisbury, Maryland which was forty five minutes away. We weren’t sure how long the air pocket would last or if the people under the boat would be okay for that long.
I remembered that one of the men, Mike, stationed on the CG Cutter Tackle was a diver and that he had his gear with him most of the time. I relayed this information to the Officer in Charge of the station and he sent me to get Mike and his gear while he asked for permission from the District office to send Mike to rescue the stranded boaters. We were given permission to conduct the rescue. Mike went under the boat and encouraged the two people to come with him and used the air from his tank to help them make it to the surface, where they were taken onto the waiting Coast Guard boat. This particular rescue was not something we were trained to do, but the core values that we lived by like working together, thinking quickly and strategically to find solutions in emergency situations and finding resources where there seems to be none allowed us to succeed in saving the lives of the boaters that day.
I am proud to be a veteran of this small but mighty service. I wish the Coast Guard a happy birthday. To the men and women who have served in the Coast Guard and to those who are still serving, thank you for always being prepared to do the task at hand whether it be saving a life, protecting our shores or wildlife, or participating in missions with the other branches of the military to ensure our national security.
Jennifer Jeffery has served as IVMF’s Academic Advisor for the Veterans Career Transition Program (VCTP) since 2012. She joined Syracuse University in 2005, having previously worked in the advising and academic support office of The College of Arts and Sciences. Prior to making the transition to the civilian workforce, Jeffery served in the Coast Guard for over seven years. She was a machinery technician third class and stationed at search and rescue small boat stations in Michigan, Maryland, Virginia and Florida, working mainly in search and rescue and law enforcement. She holds an associate’s degree in ecology and environmental technology from Paul Smith’s College and a bachelor’s degree in geography at Syracuse University.