220 years of service

Posted: Thursday, August 05, 2010

The U.S. Coast Guard celebrated its 220th birthday Wednesday, and the men and women of District 17 Sector Juneau joined in those celebrations.

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A letter from President Barack Obama, who shares the same birth date, was forwarded from Coast Guard Admiral Bob Papp to the district to kick off the day.

An organization more than 200 years old, especially a military one, is bound to have its own traditions and rituals. And the Coast Guard is no different. One of its most well known institutions is the salute.

According to sector commander Capt. Melissa Bert and Lt. Cmdr. Marc Randolph, lower-ranking guardsmen initiate salutes, and wait for a return hand-to-cap-and-back before snapping their right hand back to their side. Guardsmen of equivalent ranks greet, but do not salute one another. Salutes are eschewed in favor of a greeting when guardsmen are indoors and not wearing covers, or hats.

"There is never a wrong time to salute," Elderberry Senior Chief Daniel Burke said. "On a ship it is once a day, get it all out of the way. On land it is every time you see somebody."

The Coast Guard's ships also carry out rituals. For example, when a number of vessels are moored together, the one with the most senior officer aboard, the senior officer present afloat, flies a green and white flag.

The color of each ship's hull also carries meaning. A black-hulled ship is a buoy tender, and is primarily tasked with aiding the Coast Guard's efforts to aid marine navigators. District 17 has five black hulls: Maple, Spar, Hickory, Anthony Petit and Elderberry.

Law enforcement and search-and-rescue ships are painted with white hulls, while red-hulled boats are icebreakers.

"I don't think my wife would like me on a red hull," laughed Lt. Cmdr. Jonathan Musman, the executive officer aboard the Ancapa. "Red hulls are gone a lot."

One other tradition still alive and well in the Coast Guard is that of joining up to avoid the ordinary and seek adventure.

"I knew I wanted to do something different after high school," said Mary Blitzer, a Massachusetts native who is an ensign aboard the Maple. "I still wanted my college degree. The USCG academy (in New London, Conn.) was only an hour away. I went to the campus and fell in love with it and the people. I was moored up in Juneau on my first conning evolution on a black hull."

Meanwhile, Seaman Michelle Huffman, from South Carolina, has spent her entire one-year of service in Juneau. She said she "wanted to try something new. I love the water and been on it my whole life. You get to come to work every day and work on the water."

Some join the Coast Guard to honor a different tradition: that of family members joining the military.

"My parents are Navy so I am kind of from everywhere," Doyle said. "Coast Guard is a smaller service and everyone is important.

She said the Coast Guard was the right choice for her, because she is not judged by her gender.

"A lot of the services don't allow women to do certain jobs, but in the Coast Guard if you can pull your weight, you can do it. No one is above anyone else because of sex."

District 17 spokeswoman Lt. j.g. Kelly Hansen and her husband, Lt. Brian Drew of the Spar, entered into a different traditional institution after joining the Coast Guard: marriage. They met at a briefing when both were stationed in Juneau. Drew said both enjoyed doing the same things.

Hansen said it's helpful to have a companion who understands the duties of a guardsman.

"When you work together and develop relationships, as in any job, it's great to have somebody who understands," she said.

• Contact Klas Stolpe at klas.stolpe@juneauempire.com.

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