The men and women of the Coast Guard are strongly united with the communities in which they serve. As this is national volunteer week , Compass is highlighting a recent volunteer effort led by the crew of Coast Guard Cutter Boutwell .
Volunteering is a way for Coast Guardsmen to connect with those they serve, but for many sailors who go out to sea, the ability to connect with their community is easier said than done. Chief Petty Officer Steven Pacheco, a member of Coast Guard Cutter Boutwell’s engineering division, was determined to find that connection despite being underway, and led a project that connected his crew with a global community.
Working with the U.S. Embassy in Panama, Pacheco found a grade school that was in need of major repairs. Volunteers from Boutwell traveled to Chepo, Panama, a town located northeast of Panama City. The gratitude of the community was present the moment they arrived, as 600 schoolchildren lined the walls of the school to lead them to a welcoming ceremony, where the students shared traditional music and dance.
“I have volunteered for several community relations projects while visiting other countries and this was the most moving welcome I have ever experienced,” said Chief Petty Officer Erin Thorpe, a member of Boutwell’s operations department. “Being afforded the opportunity to go to a school and offer any assistance is a reward in itself, having the entire school embrace Boutwell volunteers is a gift that is beyond measurable.”
After the crew’s warm welcome, and the energy and excitement of the students, the volunteers had work to do. The volunteers broke up into teams focused on specific needs of the school. The meticulous work the crews use to maintain their ship was utilized on the school as volunteers completed tasks such as removing trash and debris from the schoolyard and moving cement rain gutters that required covers for the safety of the students.
Volunteer electrician’s mates spent the day using their critical skills to troubleshoot the schools electrical issues. While working around the school, the volunteers noticed some electrical safety hazards, specifically in the gym area where the children played, and were able to make those areas safer.
“In my 18-year career, and several ships and several port calls, this was by far the best community relations project that I have ever been part of,” said Pacheco. “To see the smile on those kid’s faces to play with them, to do things for their school was unbelievable.”
Petty Officer 2nd Class Marcel Cruz is a storekeeper aboard Boutwell, but also lends another key support role for the crew as the translator for their patrol. While there was a bond that was formed with the community, Cruz strengthened his bond with his crew, as he was urged to join the volunteer project by his shipmates.
“I feel proud and grateful for the experience,” said Cruz. “I can honestly say that my shipmates motivated me to participate in this event and seeing so many of them willing to participate during liberty was all I needed to make my decision.”
Boutwell, a high endurance cutter homeported in Alameda, Calif., has a reputation of being “The Best in the West,” and they proved that by not only succeeding in their mission, but also by helping out their global community.
“A primary purpose of our patrol is hemispheric security which supports improved public safety and citizen welfare,” said Capt. Thomas Crabbs, Boutwell’s commanding officer. “Panama and the United States share a strong and mutually beneficial partnership in that pursuit. It is always very rewarding when we can share our time and goodwill with the citizens of our partner nations.”