USCG Auxiliary Wants You!
By Marie L. Monyak
March 20, 2006
Ketchikan, Alaska - The United States Coast Guard Auxiliary wants
you, men and women alike! Do you believe in serving your community?
Would you like to be actively involved in saving lives? Would
you like to increase your personal skills, not just in boating
but in leadership and administration?
Auxiliary photo courtesy Noreen Folkerts
Would you like to help reduce
the number of boating accidents and fatalities right here in
If you think you have to sign up for a tour of duty in the military,
think again. The United States Coast Guard Auxiliary is just
that, an auxiliary. Defined in the dictionary as an aide, or
to provide assistance, the Auxiliary is the non-military, uniformed,
volunteer organization that takes pride in assisting the Coast
Guard in a variety of ways.
Still don't think you qualify? If you have a skill, the Auxiliary
will find a position for you. Do you have experience as a cook?
Are you a teacher? Do you have experience in radio communications
or in computer technology? What about operational and administrative
Founded in 1939 by an Act of Congress, the Auxiliary is broken
down into organizational units. Designated as District 17, the
State of Alaska has 13 basic units known as Flotillas. Although
Auxiliary members wear the Coast Guard uniform, they hold positions
rather than rank. Each Auxiliary has a Flotilla Commander and
in Ketchikan that position is held by local resident and Associate
Pastor of the Clover Pass Church, Grant Smith, who also serves
as the Volunteer Chaplain for the Coast Guard.
With 19 years of service with the United States Coast Guard,
Lt. Cmdr. Susan J. Albright, Director of the Auxiliary for District
17 stationed in Juneau, visited Ketchikan and the Flotilla last
week. Lt. Cmdr. Albright, along with Flotilla Cmdr. Smith and
Flotilla Vice Cmdr. Doug Giles were kind enough to take time
out for this interview. While in Ketchikan, Albright is hoping
to recruit new Auxiliary members.
"We really want the people of Ketchikan to know that the
Auxiliary saves lives," Lt. Cmdr. Albright said. Flotilla
Cmdr. Smith added, "Primarily, we teach boating safety and
it's through that teaching, through prevention, that lives are
Auxiliary members aren't always found on the waterways. Once
qualified through the Coast Guards free training program, volunteers
can assist in classrooms teaching community members about boating
safety, perform vessel safety checks, assist with marine environmental
protection, stand radio watch at the Coast Guard Station, provide
administrative duties for the Flotilla and the list goes on.
Vice Cmdr. Giles was quick to add, "We can find a position
for anyone, we take the volunteer's skills and experience and
match it to a position. They don't have to know anything about
boating." Giles used a cook as an example of a position
that requires no boating experience. He also said, "Couples
can volunteer, it's a great way for a husband and wife or a couple
to spend time together in an activity that helps [the community]."
Owning a boat is not a prerequisite for volunteering but boat
owners are encouraged to join and receive reimbursement for some
expenses. Search and rescue operations and safety patrols are
just two of the important functions boat owner volunteers can
"By performing our functions; assisting with searches, vessel
safety checks, training or radio watch, we [the Auxiliary] are
freeing up the regular Coast Guard to perform more important
duties," Cmdr. Smith stated.
Saving taxpayers millions of dollars, each year the Auxiliarists
save almost 500 lives, assist 15,000 boaters in distress, conduct
over 150,000 vessel safety checks and teach over 500,000 students
about boating and water safety.
Are you looking for statistics a little closer to home, like
say, Southeast Alaska? Lt. Cmdr. Albright provided the following
information. Why not consider these statistics and think about
how you can help?
In Southeast Alaska alone, there have been 62 recreational boating
fatalities in the last 10 years. Of those fatalities, 57% were
not wearing PFD's (personal flotation devices) and in 29% of
those cases it is unknown if they were wearing PFD's. (The numbers
do not reflect commercial fishing boats fatalities). These may
only be numbers to some people but they were family, friends,
neighbors and loved ones of many Southeast residents. And they
may have been preventable.
The United States Coast Guard Auxiliary members teach many classes
on boating and water safety to its volunteers and the general
public free of charge. With classes in fundamental to advanced
boating skills, personal watercraft safety, reading nautical
charts and boating fun for children, these programs all have
one ultimate goal; to save lives.
Lt. Cmdr. Albright pointed out some important messages that the
Coast Guard and Auxiliary want to get across to all boaters:
- Wear your PFD (lifejacket).
- File float plans.
- Be prepared for rapidly changing
- Have a means of communication.
- Cold water kills!
Lt. Cmdr Albright expanded
on several of those topics. She quickly pointed out that a VHF
radio (emergency channel #16) is a superior means of communicating
compared to a cell phone. Inexpensive, the VHF's battery lasts
longer than a cell phone and does not experience dead spots like
On the subject of float plans,
Lt. Cmdr. Albright pointed out that it's just common sense to
let someone know where you are going and when you're scheduled
to return. "In an emergency, search and rescue can't find
you if they don't know what area to search."
Last, but certainly not least, Lt. Cmdr. Albright dispelled a
common myth when she said, "Cold water kills! People think
they have a certain amount of time before hypothermia sets in.
What they don't realize is that when they fall overboard without
a lifejacket, their head goes underwater and the shock of it
causes them to open their mouth causing them to take in water
and they sink to the bottom." When you look at it that
way, it makes perfectly good sense to wear your PFD.
Based on information provided, an extremely helpful program conducted
by the Auxiliary is the Vessel Safety Check that is a risk free
way for boaters to check that they are meeting the legal minimums
and avoid a potential citation later. Risk free because no citations
are issued as a result of the safety check. Those boaters that
pass the examination are awarded a Coast Guard decal to display.
Examples of some of the items checked include:
- Personal flotation devices.
- Registration and numbering.
- Navigation lights.
- Fire extinguishers.
- Distress signals (flares,
- Battery connections and cover.
These items are currently required
by state and federal laws and if missing or non-operative, can
result in a citation if your vessel is inspected by the Coast
Are you a parent with young children? Even if you don't own
a boat, growing up in Southeast Alaska means your child will
most likely be on the water at some point in their life. The
Auxiliary not only provides several safety classes for children
but is also one of the sponsors of the Kids Don't Float education
In Kids Don't Float, Auxiliary teams work to reduce the fatality
rate and increase public awareness of child drowning issues.
In addition to education, the program includes a life jacket
loaner program. Found at harbors and public boat access areas
throughout the state of Alaska, boaters can borrow the appropriate
size life jackets for children free of charge.
As everyone already knows, safety measures learned at an early
age stay with a person throughout their lifetime. Another marvelous
program administered by the Auxiliary which addresses that issue
is Coastie the Safety Boat. Using a remote controlled robot
boat, aptly named Coastie 08, children learn boating and water
safety. Approximately the size of a jet ski, Coastie 08 travels
in its own trailer to boat shows, schools and anywhere it can
interact with young people and spread its safety message.
These are only some of the programs administered and operated
by the Coast Guard Auxiliary and the benefits the community derives
from them. What about benefits to the volunteer? There may
not be monetary recompense but pride, respect and free training
are just a few of the benefits for Auxiliarists.
Lt. Cmdr. Albright spoke with admiration about the Ketchikan
Flotilla when she said, "The Auxiliary members are treated
with the same respect as "regular" Coast Guard members
and are appreciated for the services they provide."
Wearing insignia on his shoulder similar to an officer, Flotilla
Cmdr. Smith said, "Regular Coast Guard is not required to
salute me, yet they do anyhow just out of respect." It
became obvious that the Auxiliarists are a respected, integral
part of the mission in Ketchikan.
Auxiliary members take part in training sessions, conferences,
patrols, cruises, ceremonies and social events. A great deal
of satisfaction is derived by participating at a level tailored
to each person's individual capabilities.
The United States Coast Guard Auxiliary is a 501(c)3 non-profit
organization and as such volunteers receive no pay. What a
volunteer does receive is a great deal of pride in wearing the
Coast Guard Auxiliary uniform and knowing that they belong to
a very special group of people that contribute to saving lives
in their own community.
Once a member, Auxiliarists carry a Coast Guard identification
card allowing them access to the Coast Guard Station and for
limited use at the Base Exchange. Membership to the Federal
Credit Union and supplemental insurance is available. "While
working as a volunteer, liabilities and injuries are covered
under the Federal umbrella," Lt. Cmdr. Albright said.
Do you have what it takes to volunteer a few hours a week or
up to as much as 20 hours? Are you looking for a way to be a
contributing member of the community? Flotilla Commander Grant
Smith is waiting for your call at 617-1182.
On the Web:
Marie L. Monyak is
a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
A freelance writer is an uncommitted independent writer
who produces and sells articles to a publisher such as SitNews.
Contact Marie at mlmx1[at]hotmail.com
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