It’s awfully easy to take certain things for granted, especially when they happen seamlessly and without fanfare. Put your trashcans on the curb; they’ll generally be emptied and the contents taken away to somewhere you don’t even want to know about. Flip a light switch; 99.9999 times out of a hundred and a light will come on. Flush your toilet... well, you get the idea.
There are some parallels that can be drawn in the boating world when it comes to this “taken for granted” theme. When was the last time you worried about someone rescuing you during a medical emergency 100 miles offshore? Ever wonder how coal, fuel oil, and iron ore get to where they’re going when shipping lanes are frozen over during winter? What about that tricky channel leading into your favorite dockside restaurant—who makes sure it’s well-marked? And what happens when millions of gallons of crude oil are spilled?
More often than not, it’s the members of the United States Coast Guard (USCG) that perform these (and other) often-thankless tasks, so we don’t even have to give them a second thought.
I’ve done countless USCG-related stories over the years, about everything from riding along with a buoy tender to evaluating new additions to the USCG boat fleet. But it wasn’t until I attended the Coast Guard Foundation’s 11th Annual Tribute to the United States Coast Guard in Washington DC recently that I gained a whole new appreciation for the difficult and dangerous work the USCG does. I also learned more about the organization that organized the event, the Coast Guard Foundation (CGF).
I arrived at the National Building Museum on a summery evening not expecting to know a soul, aside from other members of the boating media. The evening started with a cocktail reception, held beneath the National Building Museum’s massive roof, which is supported by huge 75-foot columns. It’s here that I ran into an old boss and friend, Jim O’Hare, who I hadn’t seen in nearly 10 years. An avid boater, O’Hare gives generously to the CGF. When I ask him about the foundation, O’Hare says, “It’s a great cause and we need all the help we can get. It’s important what the foundation does for USCG members and their families, and it’s work that needs to be done but seldom gets recognized. This event (and others like it across the country) raises money for and awareness of the foundation.”
Dinner kicked off at 7:30 p.m. sharp, and began with a video highlighting how the CGF helped a USCG family after their son, a USCG pilot, had been killed in a C-130 accident. CGF support allowed the family to honor him worry-free, during an unimaginably difficult time.
In addition to helping families honor fallen family members, the CGF also provides college scholarships to their surviving children, who often have difficulty paying for an education after losing a parent. And the CGF boosts morale through welfare and recreation programs at USCG facilities around the globe. One of my tablemates commented on the video, saying, “I knew about the foundation, but had no idea about the depth of their services.” I didn’t either. You can find out more about this important work by visiting the Coast Guard Foundation website.
The rest of the evening focused on keynote speeches by James R. Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, and Admiral Paul Zukunft, the Commandant of the USCG. While both spoke of the missions we normally associate with the USCG, such as search and rescue, aids to navigation, and maritime law enforcement, the two also spoke to the importance of intelligence in the USCG’s daily missions. Admiral Zukunft said, “There’s a Coast Guard cutter with more than 8,000 pounds of cocaine on her foredeck this evening thanks to satellite intelligence we received this morning. On another side of the country, we interdicted a cargo ship involved in human trafficking. And this is all while we’re making sure ships have safe navigation channels to travel, oil spills are being prevented, and lives are being saved. Today’s Coast Guard is a different animal, from when I joined.” Director of National Intelligence Clapper commented, “The USCG not only benefits from intelligence, but provides it. The organization is a crucial spoke in our intelligence-gathering wheel.”
As we spoke among ourselves at the table during the presentations, we all sort of agreed that as boaters, we have a lot to be thankful for. When we pick up the VHF radio mic in an emergency, we expect someone to come help us—and so do commercial fishermen, ship pilots, and anyone else who uses our waterways. When we travel in unknown waters we expect accurate and well-marked navigation channels. We expect to not have to worry about terrorists hiding away on a ship and doing their worst in our local ports.
It’s awfully nice not have to worry about this stuff, whether you’re relaxing or trying to make a living while on the water. Something to think about, the next time you're kicking back with a cold one and a fish on the end of your line.