KODIAK - Capt. Michael Neussl bid farewell to Kodiak with an emotional, at times tearful, speech to the Coast Guardsmen of Air Station Kodiak inside Hangar Three when he ceded his command of the air station to Capt. Andrew Berghorn.
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Neussl paid tribute to the guardsmen who had served under him and to the community of Kodiak.
"This is a Coast Guard city, whether the commandant recognizes it or not - this is a Coast Guard city," he said Friday.
Neussl said he was honored to have lived here and sent his children to Kodiak schools. He talked about the close relationship between the community of Kodiak and the air station.
"We are your employees, your customers, your students and your teachers. We play with you and we pray with you," he said.
Neussl has been commander of Air Station Kodiak since July 2003. Under his command, guardsmen were awarded 26 medals and participated in many dramatic and celebrated rescue missions.
Neussl mentioned the December 2004 grounding of the Selendang Ayu and the May 2006 rescue of six airplane crash survivors in Hallo Bay.
The Selendang Ayu rescue was both heroic and tragic. The 340-foot Malaysian cargo vessel broke down in the Gulf of Alaska and its captain failed to call for help until rough weather set in. Nineteen people were evacuated from the ship, but six were lost when a Coast Guard helicopter crashed during the rescue. The weather was so bad it broke the cargo ship in two.
This year at Hallo Bay, rough weather contributed to the crash of a de Havilland Beaver airplane and left six survivors clinging to a sinking airplane in waters cold enough to kill.
All six were rescued by Coast Guardsmen responding from Air Station Kodiak. Two C-130 airplanes and two rescue helicopters were deployed in the response.
Neussl said none of the rescue missions out of Kodiak could take place without the support of Air Station Kodiak personnel, including guardsmen and civilian employees, who do everything from maintaining aircraft to fixing meals on the Coast Guard base.
"They are really the unsung heroes, and not likely the recipients of the medals," he said.
In closing, Neussl referred to the Coast Guard motto, Semper Paratus, "Always Ready."
Neussl held back sobs and wiped away tears while talking about the Coast Guard's motto and mission.
"They are not just words on the wall or words on a piece of paper. They are the guiding principles that this crew has lived by - and in some cases nearly died by - day-in and day-out during my entire tenure here," he said.
Neussl's next assignment is chief of response for the 14th Coast Guard District, Honolulu.
During the change of command ceremony, Neussl received a Meritorius Service Medal from Rear Adm. Arthur E. Brooks, commander of the 17th Coast Guard District. The award was Neussl's third Meritorious Service Medal in 26 years in the Coast Guard.
Neussl is replaced by Capt. Andrew J. Berghorn. In Berghorn's most recent assignment, he served as chief of search and rescue for the 9th Coast Guard District in Cleveland.
In a brief address to Air Station Kodiak, Berghorn told the assembled guardsmen they would support each other in continuing their mission.
"We will take care of each other, and we'll do the right thing the right way," Berghorn said.