From the Homefront: How Coast Guard Day is celebrated across the service

August 4th is a special day for the Coast Guard and its members, as well as the families that support them. It is a day to honor the organization’s past and present, along with the men and women who have served and who serve today. It’s a day to spend time with shipmates and the entire Coast Guard family! Here are just some of the ways Coast Guard units and their families celebrate the Coast Guard’s birthday.

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Twice a month, Coast Guard All Hands will feature “From the Homefront,” a column for Coast Guard spouses by Coast Guard spouse Shelley Kimball. Shelley has been married to Capt. Joe Kimball, chief of the office of aviation forces at Coast Guard headquarters, for 15 years. She currently serves on the board of directors for the Military Family Advisory Network.

August 4th is more than a date on the calendar.

“It is a day to remember the past but also to honor the accomplishments of the service and those who support it,” said Adm. Paul Zukunft, commandant of the Coast Guard.

Coast Guard units across the country will be marking the day with picnics and family outings, bringing together and celebrating those who have moved the service forward.

Portrait of Shelley Kimball.
Portrait of Shelley Kimball.

“Congress tasked our young nation 226 years ago with establishing a system of cutters, Revenue Service, to enforce tariffs and to prevent smuggling,” he said. “And while our original mission still stands, today we have grown to encompass a unique mission set that sends our service members all over the globe.  We celebrate this service and its 88,000 members and their families that support them as they answer the call of duty.”

The Commandant said that recalling the accomplishments of the service and its members is important as the Coast Guard enters another year.

“It is fitting that on this 226th anniversary we remember that we inherited a service that has served in 16 wars and conflicts, has saved over 4 million lives and has safely facilitated trillions of dollars in maritime commerce,” he said. “Our Coast Guard remains, as it was for Alexander Hamilton in 1790, an indispensible instrument of national security and prosperity.”

Celebrating the day together is also a time to recognize families’ roles in Coast Guard life, which he said he sees time and again in his travels with his wife, Fran DeNinno, who is an ombudsman-at-large.

The author’s son at his favorite Coast Guard Day at Air Station Miami. Photo courtesy of Shelley Kimball.
The author’s son at his favorite Coast Guard Day at Air Station Miami. Photo courtesy of Shelley Kimball.

“Our Coast Guard families don’t take an oath to ‘support and defend the Constitution,’ yet the role they play is no less important,” he said. “As Fran and I have traveled, we have met spouses and partners with full time jobs, with children at home or with careers on hold. Many are juggling deployment cycles with school calendars and making it all look easy. We all know that it is anything but easy. Coast Guard family members may not have taken an oath, but they serve our nation too. All Coast Guard families are an inseparable part of our lives and our mission. Fran and I thank them for all they do.”

For Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Steven Cantrell and his wife, Janet, who is also an ombudsman-at-large, coming together is an important part of unity among families.

“Whenever I visit a unit or hear about a crew’s accomplishments, I know there’s a great sense of pride of serving in the Coast Guard,” Cantrell said. “We’re a family. But without the families at home and their endless outpouring of support, it would be much more difficult for our members to get the job done. Janet and I thoroughly enjoy meeting with Coast Guard families from different walks of life all over the country. It’s amazing to see how that sense of Coast Guard pride goes beyond the uniform.”

Celebrations across the country

Whether the celebrations are big or small, Coasties all over the country will be getting together for Coast Guard Day. Even our OCONUS families will be celebrating.

Families in Kodiak, Alaska, will get together for a 5k race, a barbecue, a free movie and bowling, said Catherine Rauh, the ombudsman for the Coast Guard Cutter Munro.

Eli Lirette, who was 5 at the time, stuck to a Velcro wall at last year’s Coast Guard Day in Kodiak, Alaska. Photo courtesy of Wendy Lirette.
Eli Lirette, who was 5 at the time, stuck to a Velcro wall at last year’s Coast Guard Day in Kodiak, Alaska. Photo courtesy of Wendy Lirette.

“It’s a great way for our Coast Guard families to meet each other and enjoy some great activities in Kodiak,” she said.

“Celebrating together in Kodiak is a great way to bring together everyone who makes up the community there,” said Wendy Lirette, the ombudsman for the Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley.

“Kodiak is such a great place to really get to know other aspects of our whole CG community,” Lirette said. “Before living here, I didn’t even know the difference between a Jayhawk and a Dolphin but now I will always be able to pick out those and a C-130 by sound!

Thousands of miles away on the island of Oahu, Hawaii, families will be celebrating similarly. Melanie Walmsley, the ombudsman for Coast Guard Cutter Kittiwake, said that being stationed where they are makes the day that much more important for them.

“The Coast Guard Community here really relies on each other, as we are thousands of miles away from most of our families,” Walmsley said. “This gives us all an opportunity to celebrate the year’s accomplishments and relax.”

Families in the area get together on the island of Oahu to socialize at an event that includes face painting, water slides, bounce houses, and outreach tables. And having the Coast Guard’s anniversary in the summer is helpful, too.

“It is usually one of the first events that our new incoming families attend. So, it’s a great opportunity to welcome them to the ‘family,’” Walmsley said.

Back on the mainland in the Washington, D.C. area, there will be a picnic for Coast Guard families with a 5k race and 1-mile fun run, a volleyball tournament, rock climbing, a dunk tank, a video game truck, and a bounce house, among other things.

Rachel Conley, the ombudsman for the National Capital Region, said that it is a great event for connecting (or reconnecting) with Coastie friends.

Sector North Bend famiies celebrating Coast Guard Day at Loon Lake, Oregon. Photo courtesy of Kristin Jones.
Sector North Bend famiies celebrating Coast Guard Day at Loon Lake, Oregon. Photo courtesy of Kristin Jones.

“Coast Guard Day is the perfect opportunity to celebrate our history and enjoy the camaraderie of our amazing community, in a family-friendly, fun setting,” Conley said. “Whether you’re looking to make new friends – or visit with old ones, network, share experiences, or just enjoy a care-free, fun-filled day – Coast Guard Day offers something for everyone and will hopefully enrich your Coast Guard experience.”

Sector North Bend, Ore., takes its Coast Guard Day to the banks of Lake Loon, Oregon. Families get together to enjoy paddle-boarding, kayaking, fishing, swimming, and playing on the beach, according to Kristin Jones, the ombudsman for the area.

She said it is an opportunity to commemorate the service, but to also honor the men and women who are a part of it.

“For us, Coast Guard Day is a family event. It is important to gather together as a Coast Guard community and family to celebrate such a special day,” said Jones. “We celebrate with families and friends to connect with outlying units, build relationships and enjoy the Coast Guard’s Birthday.”

Capt. Jon Hickey, commanding officer of Coast Guard Base Alameda speaks at last year’s event. He was accompanied by Vice Adm. Charles Ray. Photo courtesy of Christine Cole.
Capt. Jon Hickey, commanding officer of Coast Guard Base Alameda speaks at last year’s event. He was accompanied by Vice Adm. Charles Ray. Photo courtesy of Christine Cole.

Base Alameda on Coast Guard Island in Alameda, Calif., will have a petting zoo, horse and carriage rides, as well as rock climbing, inflatable bumper balls, a zip line, and food trucks, said Christine Cole, ombudsman for the base. Local venders and community organizations join in to connect with Coast Guard families.

Cole believes it’s important to include families in a morale event like this because they are an integral part of Coast Guard life.

“The families are just as much a part of the Coast Guard as the military members,” she said. “The service members devote their time and energy to protecting our waters, wild life, rescue efforts and much more. They are able to do so because the families devote their time to keeping the homes and kids safe while keeping the household running smoothly.”

Cole said that everyone gathers for this event that is akin to one big birthday party.

“Like any birth, it is important to celebrate who we are and where we came from as a Coast Guard community. It is important to recognize our roots and to look towards the future and envision how to grow to become a better service,” she said. “It is the legacy of the Coast Guard that propels us forward in the right direction.”

How is your unit celebrating? What do you love about Coast Guard Day? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not to be construed as official or reflecting the views of the Commandant or of the U.S. Coast Guard.

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