Written by Ens. Kathleen Dillon
Situated in Central New Jersey, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst is home to over 40,000 military members from all five service branches. The base is also home to the Coast Guard’s Atlantic Strike Team, a unit of 45 active duty and 35 reservists. These men and women possess some of the most diverse skill sets in the military, standing ready to respond to operations as varied as oil recovery, hazardous substance removal and incident management support.
Still, as many Coast Guard members know, being “Always Ready” doesn’t necessarily mean being always out of harm’s way. At the entrance of the Atlantic Strike Team’s main building is a plaque honoring Petty Officer 1st Class Dennis Perry, a strike team member who perished during a mission in 1974.
Perry and other Atlantic Strike Team members were responding to an oil spill from an oil tanker located on the St. Lawrence River in Ogdensburg, New York. During dive operations to examine damage to the vessel’s hull, Perry failed to re-surface and was later presumed dead. Since then, the crew at the Atlantic Strike Team has strived to honor his sacrifice and memory every year by laying a wreath in the building named after him.
“Perry’s service to the Atlantic Strike Team and to the U.S. Coast Guard is humbling,” said,” Cmdr. Eric Doucette, Atlantic Strike Team commanding officer. “His legacy continues to live on in our daily operations as we strive to uphold Perry’s dedication to country and mission.”
Last year marked 40 years since Perry’s diving accident.
At the Atlantic Strike Team’s annual Coast Guard Day celebration, the unit recognized Perry’s devotion to the Coast Guard in an address to event attendees. Doucette and several crew members also led a memorial wreath laying ceremony. They posted the event photos on their Facebook page.
A few months later, June Osborne, Perry’s daughter contacted the strike team to thank them for recognizing her father during the Coast Guard Day festivities.
“I found a picture of the wreath ceremony on your Facebook page,” Osborne said. “I am beyond thrilled to have found out he is still being remembered and honored.”
The Perry family then made plans to visit the National Strike Force facilities for a tour.
In mid-December, strike team crew welcomed the Perry family and personally thanked them for Perry’s sacrifice to his nation. The family was taken on a tour of the unit and interacted closely with the crew throughout the day. The crew also learned more about Perry from the many stories about his life before and during his career in the Coast Guard.
Sometimes, putting on a Coast Guard uniform can become mundane and even routine when done day after day.
However, at the National Strike Force, the mission can be anything but routine and the sacrifices often great. Perry serves as a welcome reminder of the humility and bravery of what the Coast Guard uniform stands for. His memory and legacy will always be at the heart of the Atlantic Strike Team.