Coast Guardsmen get birthday call from senior leaders

As our service celebrated its 224th birthday yesterday, five servicemembers received a surprise phone call, and one a surprise visit, from the Coast Guard’s most senior leaders. Commandant of the Coast Guard Adm. Paul Zukunft and Vice Commandant of the Coast Guard Vice Adm. Peter Neffenger each recognized three servicemembers who exemplify excellence in mission execution and support at their respective units.

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Commandant of the Coast Guard Adm. Paul Zukunft calls Coast Guardsmen to wish them a happy Coast Guard Day from his office at Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington, D.C., Aug. 4, 2014. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.
Commandant of the Coast Guard Adm. Paul Zukunft calls Coast Guardsmen to wish them a happy Coast Guard Day from his office at Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington, D.C., Aug. 4, 2014. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

As our service celebrated its 224th birthday yesterday, five servicemembers received a surprise phone call, and one a surprise visit, from the Coast Guard’s most senior leaders.

Commandant of the Coast Guard Adm. Paul Zukunft and Vice Commandant of the Coast Guard Vice Adm. Peter Neffenger each recognized three servicemembers who exemplify excellence in mission execution and support at their respective units.

The Coast Guard Honor Guard performs at a ceremony at the Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C., Aug. 4, 2014. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.
The Coast Guard Honor Guard performs at a ceremony at the Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C., Aug. 4, 2014. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

The Commandant gave his first thank you in person to Petty Officer 1st Class Emmanuel Garcia as a surprise walk-in to the Base National Capital Region clinic. Garcia, a health services technician, deployed in one of the first groups of Incident Management Assistance Team personnel who supported the Department of Homeland Security unaccompanied alien children mission in McAllen, Texas.

Lt. Nicole Tesoniero, commanding officer of Coast Guard Cutter Key Biscayne, was next. She received a call from the Commandant following a month in which she led her crew through 305 operational hours in support of Sector Key West migrant interdiction operations. The two shared sea stories, which she later said was the highlight of the call as the Commandant is a fellow 7th Coast Guard District patrol boat skipper.

“The Commandant offered a unique perspective on the importance of a crew in achieving excellence that really hit a chord for me,” said Tesoniero. “As we put over lines this morning at Sector Key West, our 110 was the old lady on the pier as we moored among the Coast Guard’s newest fast response cutters. Though these cutters are equipped with the latest technology that will lead our organization into the future, it is the excellence of our crews that will guarantee our success.”

“Key Biscayne remains at the tip of the spear because it is manned by the greatest crew that I have the privilege of serving with,” added Tesoniero.

The Commandant’s last birthday phone call was to Petty Officer 2nd Class Tyler White. White was coxswain of a Station Tybee Island response boat that recently responded to the grounding of a casino boat. As coxswain, he coordinated the movement of more than 100 passengers from the dangerously grounded vessel.

“My phone call from the Commandant was an honor,” said White. “His comments and praise felt real and heartfelt which made me proud to serve in the United States Coast Guard.”

Later in the day, three other servicemembers had conversations with the Vice Commandant, providing a unique opportunity to reflect on the continuity of Coast Guard mission execution.

First to get a call was winner of the 2013 Fireman First Class Paul Clark Boat Forces Engineering Award, Petty Officer 3rd Class Samuel Guess. Serving aboard Coast Guard Cutter Active, Guess is a member of the auxiliary division and received the prestigious annual award for sustained superior performance, proficiencies and leadership.

Vice Commandant of the Coast Guard Vice Adm. Peter Neffenger calls Coast Guardsmen to wish them a happy Coast Guard Day from his office at Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington, D.C., Aug. 4, 2014. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Kyle Niemi.
Vice Commandant of the Coast Guard Vice Adm. Peter Neffenger calls Coast Guardsmen to wish them a happy Coast Guard Day from his office at Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington, D.C., Aug. 4, 2014. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Kyle Niemi.

The Vice Commandant then talked with Petty Officer 1st Class Jonathan Rice from Sector Humboldt Bay. As the aviation survival shop supervisor, Rice shared how he was able to keep the shop together despite his junior role in his position. As a junior first class petty officer with only eight months time in rank, he provided seamless continuity of leadership for a period of three months following the retirement of the shop chief and before the new shop chief arrived.

Rounding out the calls was Petty Officer 2nd Class London Venzon, a member of Surface Forces Logistics Center on detached duty in Oakland. Venzon is considered a “go-to” storekeeper who works diligently with the product lines to support the operational customer.

“It was one of the most enjoyable phone calls I have ever received in my storekeeper career,” said Venzon after the call. “I was in awe. He asked me about my daughter; he knew her name too. He also thanked me for all my hard work to support the fleet, which makes me want to do more. For the Vice Commandant to call me was a tremendous honor and motivation.”

All six of these Coast Guardsmen strive to achieve the highest standards of readiness, efficiency and proficiency as they serve the American public. While the phone call took just a few minutes out of the day, it was a reminder of committing to excellence.

“With the relentless pace of operations, maintenance requirements and training opportunities, we sometimes forget to take a moment to reflect on unit accomplishments,” said Tesoniero. “By taking time to recognize my crew today the Commandant reinforced that what we are doing is substantial and nationally relevant. I am proud of my crew and know that we are just one of the many units striving to uphold the Commandant’s vision of excellence on a daily basis.”

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