Written by Petty Officer 3rd Class Ali Flockerzi
The road doesn’t look like it leads anywhere. It is a winding, dirt path that twists and turns through a shady forest. The green trees form a long canopy, creating a leafy tunnel overhead. In a few spots, the trees clear to give a view of horse pastures spread out on farmland and the rolling hills of a large golf course.
On the northern tip of Eaton’s Neck, beyond the pastures and forests, sits a Coast Guard station. It would be well hidden to the public, if not for the freshly painted signs indicating its location. The main house of the unit sits on top of a hill, looking out toward the sea. The station has a rich history. Having been founded in 1849, it is the oldest of all the Coast Guard stations in New York and the fourth oldest in the United States.
One of the station’s crew members sits on the porch staring at the door as if willing somebody to open it for him. He whines and barks periodically as a humid rain begins to fall from the dark, cloudy sky. Luckily, the roof protects him from the weather and somebody finally hears his call and comes to his aid.
Nate is the dog mascot for Coast Guard Station Eaton’s Neck. He has been with the unit for almost 10 years now and has everybody well trained. The Coast Guard men and women know when to feed him and what his favorite treats are. His favorite activities include working out with the crew and sitting outside the galley, or the station’s kitchen, where all the human food is kept.
“The dog loves to eat. He’ll sit outside the galley and bark at the door, wanting to come in,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Seth Pritt, a boatswain’s mate stationed at Eaton’s Neck. “He’s begging for food most of the time.”
Nate may love food, but he also loves to stay active with his shipmates. When he’s not howling at the back door of the galley, he can be found in the station’s weight room supervising the crew and helping them stay strong. He enjoys running around wildly on the volleyball court during station sports days, cheering loudly in approval. Despite getting older, Nate still musters up the energy to tag along on 2-mile runs with his companions.
“Having a mascot keeps the morale up and everybody loves having him around. People come to visit the station and they ask about Nate. He’s a staple of the unit,” said Pritt. “When you have a rough day, he’s there waiting on you to give you kisses and some love.”
Nate is named after Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathan Bruckenthal, a member of the Tactical Law Enforcement team who was killed in Iraq while serving on his second tour of duty there. He was the first Coast Guardsman to die in wartime action since Vietnam.
In a hallway in the main house, a glass case displays photos of Bruckenthal, awards he earned posthumously and stories of his service. One photo shows a broad-shouldered man wearing a black, bulletproof vest with a gun strapped securely to his hip and a rifle in his hands. Dark sunglasses hide his eyes but his strong stance indicates the pride he must have felt doing his job while serving his country overseas. A photo just below that shows his tan, smiling face as he sits next to his wife, Pattie. He seems relaxed and content just being next to his loved ones.
Nate the dog is lying in the same hallway, happily greeting his shipmates who walk past, busy with the day’s work. Each person takes the time to say hello to Nate or give him a pat on the head. He gazes at each of them lovingly and also seems content just being near his loved ones. How fitting that Bruckenthal would be memorialized through a happy, loving Coast Guardsman like Nate.