The U.S. Coast Guard lived up to its motto of being “Always Ready” in 2011 – from interdicting the first drug sub in Caribbean waters to providing humanitarian relief to a drought-stricken island nation, Coast Guard crews had a remarkable year. As 2011 winds down, Compass brings to you “Your Coast Guard in 2011” – a series highlighting the top stories, missions and cases from around the nation. Visit us every day this week to read about each district and the extraordinary men and women of the U.S. Coast Guard.
We head to the Great Lakes today, to learn just how hard the men and women of the 9th Coast Guard District work to save lives, break ice and prepare for future disasters.
Written by Petty Officer 3rd Class George Degener.
The 9th Coast Guard District has responsibility for the largest freshwater system on Earth – the Great Lakes. Made up of massive inland seas stretching from Minnesota to Upstate New York, the Great Lakes contain enough fresh water to cover the lower 48 states to a depth of 9 1/2 feet.
To serve and safeguard this shared treasure, Rear Adm. Michael Parks, 9th Coast Guard District commander, introduced the Coast Guard’s Great Lakes Maritime Strategy in January 2011. Founded on national policies and priorities, its objectives are designed to help the Coast Guard serve and protect the people and environment of the 9th District.
“The nation expects, and the Great Lakes region relies on, our ability to accomplish our missions,” said Parks. “We must grow and sustain the best and most professional watchstanders, cutter, air and boat crews, marine inspectors and all in between.”
The seasonal demands and changing environment pose a special challenge to crews operating in the Great Lakes.
When water hardens, Coast Guard icebreakers clear paths for commercial vessels delivering goods to ports throughout the region.
In 2011, eight of the cutters in the 9th District fleet, along with one temporarily assigned to the Great Lakes from Connecticut, were joined by two Canadian Coast Guard ships for coordinated, international ice-breaking missions known as Operations Coal Shovel and Taconite. These efforts facilitated the movement of roughly $2 billion worth of critical goods on the Great Lakes.
Search and rescue
While search and rescue is only one of the Coast Guard’s 11 missions, it is perhaps the most well known. During the Fourth of July holiday weekend, Coast Guardsmen stationed across the Great Lakes – in smallboats, cutters and aircraft – as well as members of the Coast Guard Auxiliary, saved 16 lives, assisted 379 people, saved or assisted $2.3 million worth of property, and conducted 591 vessel safety boardings. To put those numbers into perspective, throughout the rest of 2011 the men and women of the 9th District saved 437 lives, assisted 5,335 people, saved or assisted $3,807,974 million worth of property and conducted 13,256 vessel safety boardings.
The 9th District released the Great Lakes Recreational Boating and Water Safety Campaign Plan, establishing the overall policy for the Coast Guard’s recreational boating safety and water safety campaign within the Great Lakes region. The plan, which included sophisticated modeling by the staff at Purdue University, led to a decrease in water-related deaths and an increase lives saved in 2011.
Partnerships supporting the missions
One of the Coast Guard’s priorities is leveraging partnerships to produce efficient and comprehensive service. Regardless of mission – from ice breaking to search and rescue and pollution response to law enforcement and security – solid partnerships exist between the Coast Guard and Canada. In late August, Sector Detroit personnel participated in Detroit River Readiness 2011, a two-day, cross-border security, mass rescue and oil spill response exercise with participants from more than 65 U.S. and Canadian federal, state and local emergency response agencies. Similar exercises also took place throughout the region.
People behind the missions
The missions performed to protect those who live, work and play on the Great Lakes could not take place without the district’s hardworking men and women.
2011 included many heroic actions. Actions like when the officer-in-charge of Coast Guard Station Holland, Mich., and numerous other local authorities saved dozens of people from a dangerous wind-driven current next to the pier. Chief Petty Officer Mark Rose arrived at the beach that day and found several people yelling for help. He grabbed a life ring, ran out onto the rocks and threw it toward a man and a woman who were being swept along the pier. Rose then pulled them to safety. After that, he went on to save 12 more people. Local agencies and members of the public also performed rescues, and authorities estimate that altogether, at least 28 people were safely recovered from the water.
While it is rare for Coast Guardsmen to rescue so many swimmers in one location, it is not unheard of in the Great Lakes. Such hazardous swimming conditions are a prime example of the unpredictability and danger that exist in this seasonal, saltless, shared system. Rapid weather changes are common and can turn an idyllic summer day into a tragic one.
The geography, size and strategic importance of the Great Lakes region are often underestimated. Coast Guardsmen here put forth their best each and every day to protect people on the Great Lakes, protect people and property from threats delivered by the Lakes, and protect the Lakes themselves.