A version of this story originally appeared at Coast Guard Heartland and was written by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Lally.
“Hello all stations, hello all stations,” crackles throughout a dimly lit room at Coast Guard Station New Orleans. The room is about the size of an apartment loft; a gray, semi-circle cavern with screens and speakers hidden behind its walls complement the room.
Listeners within earshot hear a voice report a vessel sinking in the Louisiana waterways on channel 16. Watchful eyes scan a huge area map on the wall behind the desk looking for the area in which the vessel is reported.
“The report isn’t in our area of responsibility, but it looks like it is in Coast Guard Station Grand Isle’s,” reports the watchstander.
When you think of the Coast Guard you probably think of helicopters and boats first, but do you ever think how the rescuers know when to go out or where to go?
Hidden behind the scenes of rescues or law enforcement missions are the watchstanders of the U.S. Coast Guard. These are the men and women who few see, but the effects of their dedication and vigilance ripples throughout the maritime community.
“We are the eyes and ears for the maritime community, our shipmates and families and the American public,” said Fireman Kelly Yost at Station New Orleans.
As watchstanders, these servicemembers play a vital role in saving lives.
Most every Coast Guardsman to come out of basic training is required to stand some type of watch at their first unit. This requires dedication and commitment, vigilance and steadfastness and devotion to duty.
One of the most important tasks any Coast Guardsmen will ever accomplish in their careers is standing a taut watch, even if it seems unimportant at the time.
“It’s important I stand an attentive watch to help support those who go out to rescue people,” said Seaman Lyndsey Singer at Station New Orleans. “I’m new here still and not boatcrew qualified yet, but this is how I can contribute to the team.”
Over a four-hour period the sputtering static of radio noises can be all that happens on watch. But then there are other times when the radios are alive with sound as watchstanders direct response assets and gather information.
Regardless if a watch is eventful or not these men and women of the Coast Guard maintain the first line of defense in a rescue or maritime emergency.
Their vigilance could very well mean the difference between life and death for those on the water. These are the unrecognized rescuers of America’s maritime community. The ones monitoring the airwaves for distress, they are the saviors in the shadows.